Investing in transmission is a good thing for Willmar Municipal Utilities – West Central Tribune

WiLLMAR — Investing in transmission has been a major focus of Willmar’s municipal utilities over the past few years, and that was evident during a recent Aug. 8 municipal utility commission tour.

“In the enterprise, whenever we have an opportunity to invest in transmission, we like to invest in transmission,” Harron said, noting that there is a guaranteed 10-11% return on transmission investment. “We’ve made a number of investments over the years that provide additional reliability, additional capacity to Willmar, in addition to the return on investment that you’re guaranteed through the (utilities commission) approval.”

Transmission infrastructure is regulated to prevent utilities from overbuilding infrastructure that isn’t needed, according to Willmar Municipal Utilities electrical engineer Jeron Smith.

Willmar Municipal Utilities is a member of Missouri River Energy Services, which typically conducts transmission planning studies required to obtain permission from the Mid-Continent Independent System Operator to build additional transmission facilities.
Willmar Municipal Utilities also partners with Great River Energy because it owns a significant amount of transmission in southwest Minnesota, Smith noted. WMU is doing transmission planning studies related to the 2018 closing of a bioenergy plant in Benson owned by Xcel Energy, according to Smith.

Smith explained that the closing of the plant created a “void” in the area, which led to the construction of the Priam substation and upgrades to the Willmar substation.

The construction of the Priam substation in 2018 was a $5 to $6 million investment, and the current Priam substation expansion is a $1.2 million investment. The expansion taking place at the Willmar substation is an $8.3 million investment, according to Smith.

One obstacle to the Willmar substation project is that several key electrical components needed for the new control building have not yet been delivered due to supply chain issues. According to Smith, this slows down the testing process needed to get the additional substation up and running.

The next major transmission investment is expected to be $2 million to $4 million in 2027, if the transmission planning study can be completed by then and MISO supports the upgrade, according to Harron.

Willmar Municipal Utilities will either replace the older Toshiba transformer at the Willmar substation or add a second transformer at the Priam substation, according to Smith.

The Priam substation expansion included the installation of three additional breakers and equipment to facilitate a new transmission line that will connect to and help power a portion of the Willmar substation, Smith said. He noted that the advantage of the Priam substation is its proximity to transmission lines that cost $1 million per mile to build.

Willmar Municipal Utilities is building a new substation next to Willmar headquarters, which will be demolished once the substation is energized, according to Smith. The $5.3 million substation is expected to be operational in November.

However, because it is the newest substation project, it is the most affected by supply chain issues, Smith said. The control building for the substation has already been delayed more than a month, but Willmar Municipal Utilities has been told it will arrive in November.

If the project isn’t completed and the power plant’s substation can’t be energized until November, it will delay the power plant’s demolition, Smith noted.

Demolition of the power plant is currently out for bid and the deadline has been extended to give contractors additional time to submit bids, according to Facilities and Maintenance Supervisor Kevin Marty.

“It’s an incredibly tight site. It will be really interesting to see how they take the plant down and clean it up. It’s like trying to fit a number 10 into an 8 shoe. It’s a challenge,” Marty said.

He noted that scrap metal prices are currently elevated, which should help reduce the cost of dismantling the plant. However, there is a lot of concrete and other materials that need to be removed from the plant.

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