WiLLMAR — Investing in transmission has been a major focus of Willmar Utilities over the past several years, and that was evident during a recent tour for the Utilities Commission on Aug. 8.

“In the enterprise, any time we have a chance to invest in streaming, we like to invest in streaming,” Harren said, noting that there’s a guaranteed 10-11% return on investment for streaming. “We’ve made a number of investments over the years that provide additional reliability, additional capacity for Willmar, in addition to the return on investment that you’re guaranteed through (utility commission) approval.

According to Willmar Municipal Utilities electrical engineer Jeron Smith.

Willmar Municipal Utilities is a member of Missouri River Energy Services, which generally conducts the transmission planning studies required to obtain permits from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator to build other 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 has done transmission planning studies related to the 2018 shutdown 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 the upgrade of the Willmar substation.

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

One setback of the Willmar substation project is that some 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 can support the upgrade, according to Harren.

Willmar 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 expansion at the Priam substation included the installation of three breakers and additional equipment to facilitate a new transmission line that will connect to and help power a portion of the Willmar substation, Smith said. He noted 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 adjacent to the power plant in downtown Willmar, which will be demolished once the substation is online, according to Smith. It is hoped the $5.3 million substation will be in service in November.

However, this being the latest substation project, it is being impacted more by supply chain issues, Smith said. The control building for the substation is already more than a month late, but Willmar Municipal Utilities has been informed that it will arrive in November.

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

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

“It is a very narrow place. It will be really interesting to see how they take down the plant and clean it up. It’s like trying to fit a size 10 foot into an 8 shoe. It’s challenging,” Marti 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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