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 Municipal Utilities for the past several years, and that was made clear during a recent tour for the Municipal Utilities Commission on Aug. 8.

“At the utility, whenever we have an opportunity to invest in transmission, we like to invest in transmission,” Harren said, noting that there is a guaranteed return on investment for transmission of the 10-11%. “We’ve made a number of investments over the years that provide additional reliability, additional capacity to Willmar, plus the return on investment that you get guaranteed through (public utility commission) approval.”

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

Willmar Municipal Utilities is a member of Missouri River Energy Services, which generally conducts the transmission planning studies required to obtain permission from the Midcontinent System Independent Operator to construct additional transmission facilities.
Willmar Municipal Utilities also partners with Great River Energy, because it owns a significant amount of transmission in the southwestern part of Minnesota, Smith noted. According to Smith, WMU has been doing transmission planning studies related to the 2018 closing of a bioenergy plant in Benson owned by Xcel Energy.

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

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

One setback for the Willmar substation project is that a couple of key electrical components needed for the new control building have not yet been delivered due to supply chain issues. That’s slowing down the testing process needed to get the substation addition up and running, according to Smith.

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 Harren.

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

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

However, because this is the newest substation project, it is being more affected by supply chain issues, Smith said. The substation control building is already more than a month behind schedule, 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 powered up by November, the plant’s demolition will be delayed, Smith noted.

Demolition of the plant is currently out to bid, and the deadline has been extended to give contractors more time to submit bids, according to Kevin Marti, facilities and maintenance supervisor.

“It’s an incredibly tight place. It’s going to be really interesting to see how they take the plant apart and clean it up. It’s like trying to fit a size 10 foot into an 8 shoe. It’s a challenge,” Martí said.

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

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