The Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission voted Monday to advertise for bids to build two wind turbines on Willmar School District property located north of the Senior High School.
Bids will be opened March 18.
Last month, the Willmar School Board approved leases to let the utility build the turbines on the school property.
Utilities General Manager Bruce Gomm said the cost of the two turbines is estimated at $10 million. He said the utility will reapply for an interest-free loan from the Internal Revenue Service through the Clean Renewable Energy Bond (CREB) program to finance part of the cost. The entire cost will be repaid from utility revenues.
Staff electrical engineer Wes Hompe said the utility will apply for a city conditional use permit to allow the turbines to be erected within the city limits.
The utility would like to erect two more turbines at a site near Ridgewater College. The college has agreed to lease the site to the utility and the IRS has approved a $5 million interest-free loan for the two turbines at the college location.
However, use of the site is on hold because the Federal Aviation Administration and the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics say the proposed height of the turbines would pose a hazard to air navigation on both the primary runway and the future cross-wind runway at the new airport.
Gomm said the utility continues to be interested in the college site because the IRS approved the interest-free loan for that location.
Based on wind speed studies at the college and high school sites, the utility estimates four turbines could generate up to 10 megawatts of power or provide about 9 percent of the city’s electrical needs.
Officials believe the turbines will help Willmar comply with state renewable energy requirements. Total cost of the wind generation project is estimated at $19.2 million.
In other business, the commission approved a contract with Jon Folkedahl Consulting of Willmar to study the possibility of burning corncobs as fuel in the utility’s downtown power plant. The commission has also been working with Folkedahl on the wind turbine project.
The utility burns coal to produce from 7 to 8 megawatts at the power plant for district heating. Folkedahl estimates that corncobs produce from 75 percent to 90 percent of the heat that’s produced from coal.
Folkedahl said the use of corncobs would help the utility comply with renewable energy requirements and would result in reduced carbon dioxide and mercury emissions and less ash than coal.
Among other things, the study will look at storage and at harvesting technology. The cob is what remains after the kernels are removed, said Folkedahl. The four-part study will cost $107,000.
The commission gave Folkedahl the go-ahead to proceed with the first part of the study at a cost not to exceed $26,000. The study was recommended by Gomm.
In other business, the commission received a report on an evaluation of the financial advantages and disadvantages of being an owner in a multi-state electrical transmission system.
Jim Pardikes, vice president of MCR Performance Solutions of Northbrook, Ill., said the two-month evaluation determined that Willmar’s ownership in the Midwest Independent System Operator would not make financial sense right now.
The Midwest ISO was established in 1998 and oversees and ensures the flow of more than 100,000 megawatts of power on more than 94,000 miles of transmission lines in 15 states and Canadian province of Manitoba.
Pardikes said Willmar is avoiding payment of $1 million in transmission charges to Midwest because the utility’s contract with Great River Energy for 37 megawatts of power was “grandfathered’’ (in force) before Midwest was formed.
Once the grandfathered contract expires in 2015, Willmar would be better off joining Midwest as a transmission owner for a number of reasons, the evaluation said.
By David Little
12 February 2008
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