Power plant: Fully primed, no longer needed thanks to changing economicsEarlier this month the last surviving World War 1 combat veteran died in Australia at age 110. The River Falls Municipal Power Plant, circa 1900, is about the same age. Like the WWI combat vet, the local power plant’s 110-year-plus lifespan is ending.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
Earlier this month the last surviving World War 1 combat veteran died in Australia at age 110.
The River Falls Municipal Power Plant, circa 1900, is about the same age. Like the WWI combat vet, the local power plant’s 110-year-plus lifespan is ending.
The shutdown decision is expected to be made official Monday night, June 20, by the River Falls Utility Commission. That would mean the plant closes July 1.
If the closing is indeed approved, River Falls Municipal Utilities General Manager Carl Gaulke said the power plant would “go into decommission mode.” Selling the five dual-fuel combustion turbine engines and other plant equipment would commence.
The power plant’s closure, Gaulke said, is simply due to changing market conditions. RFMU ratepayers won’t see higher electric bills.
“It’s really not a tough decision when you see what’s happening on the regional power grid,” Gaulke said. “But it’s a sensitive matter because you’re dealing with hard-working people at the power plant. They’ve maintained the engines and take pride in their jobs.”
After one employee recently took a job with Xcel Energy, the power plant has five full-time employees left. They provide 24/7 operating coverage during three work shifts.
Gaulke said two plant employees are close to retirement age. The others may find work either at another utility position or for the city when other employees retire or leave.
“It still a big question how that will all work out,” Gaulke said. “We’re going to go through the closing-down process and, as best we can, try to avoid layoffs.”
Gaulke said the power plant’s shutdown is inevitable.
“It’s pretty much decided,” he said. “But we’re working on all the details so we don’t have any surprises. I’ve never closed a power plant before.”
So just what happened?
Perhaps the most revealing statistic about the power plant’s obsolescence is this: While fully functional, the power plant hasn’t had to generate electricity since December 2007.
Basically, the River Falls Municipal Power Plant has been on standby for almost 3 1/2 years.
In fall 2010 WPPI said in writing it would phase out the output generation contract with River Falls by October 2015.
WPPI no longer has need for little power plants like River Falls. It co-owns big coal-producing plants at various locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
WPPI also owns wind-generating plants in Iowa and Wisconsin that supply more than 10% of its members’ electrical needs.
And WPPI also has power-purchasing contracts with other energy companies.
Finally, WPPI no longer calls all the shots when it comes to power needs and usage. That domain falls under the coverage of Midwest ISO, which provides open-access transmission service and monitors high voltage transmission systems in Midwestern states and Manitoba, Canada.
Midwest ISO oversees 93,600 miles of regional power transmission lines, including the three transmission lines that pass through River Falls.
Gaulke said that since 2000, Wisconsin has added over 7,000 megawatts of generating power and installed over $2-billion worth of new transmission lines.
“All that puts less value on our local plant,” he said.
Yet another factor driving the River Falls Power Plant shutdown are new pollution controls required for each of the five generators.
“The upgrades are mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Gaulke said. “These would have to be in place by May 2013 at a cost of $175,000.
“If we didn’t do the upgrade, we would be in noncompliance. There’s talk there could also be more EPA mandates coming in the years ahead.”
To ease the transition of shutting the power plant, WPPI offered RFMU a buyout deal that’s under consideration.
The buyout would total roughly $2.9 million. Payments would be spread out. The final one to RFMU would be paid by January 2015.
If the buyout is accepted by the River Falls Utility Commission, Gaulke said the power plant would close almost immediately this summer.
Editor’s note:These are your River Falls Utility Commission members: Mike Stifter, president; Jim LaPoint, vice president; Waldo Hagen, Grant Hanson, Tom Caflisch, Theron Drier and Waybe Beebe.
Get more details on this story in the May 12 print edition of the River Falls Journal.