Power plant set to fade into the sunsetThe five – four after June 24 -- remaining River Falls Power Plant employees are working toward the finish line in more than one sense.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
The five – four after June 24 -- remaining River Falls Power Plant employees are working toward the finish line in more than one sense.
Sixty-one lead power plant operator Bruce Lloyd put it this way: “The faster and better we do our work now, the faster we put ourselves out of a job.”
The era of the 1900-built power plant is indeed coming to an end. Monday night, June 20, the River Falls Utility Commission voted unanimously to “decommission” the plant.
It will officially close Friday, July 1, but the phase-out will go on for an indefinite period, perhaps months.
According to Utility Commission President Jim LaPoint, “The focus now is how to re-purpose that facility and its equipment because it is an asset that we have available.”
LaPoint said that could mean selling the power plant to another power company, like Xcel, to run.
Another option is finding a vendor to buy, extract and remove the five dual-fuel combustion turbine engines and sundry other equipment and tools. The second option would still leave in question the empty power plant itself.
LaPoint said he will soon be talking with staff from U.S. Rep. Ron Kind to see if the congressman has ideas for the power plant’s transition and future.
LaPoint said the decision to close was, for him, a “melancholy one.”
“The plant’s part of our local history,” he said. “We’ve always been able to tout our community’s ability to generate our own power in times of need. That’s a unique situation to be in for a community our size.
“Now, with changing technologies, there’s no turning back the clock and the power plant has become obsolete. We knew this was coming, but our commission looked long and hard and analyzed every angle before making its decision.”
The Utility Commission also accepted a $2.9-million payment from WPPI -- the 51-member nonprofit energy consortium it belongs to -- to close the plant. WPPI had contracted with River Falls to keep its plant operational until Oct. 1, 2015.
However, WPPI no longer needs the River Falls Power Plant to produce electricity for the system-wide grid.
The local power plant has been idling on “standby” for 3 1/2 years. It remains capable of being activated and generating electricity with 10 minutes notice.
LaPoint also paid tribute to the power plant’s “human aspect.”
“The jobs are going away, and I wish it were different,” he said, adding that employee severance packages being offered should help.
“These guys are highly skilled mechanics who work at the plant and hopefully will find other work. They’ve kept the plant meticulously clean and running properly around the clock, year after year.”
LaPoint said the power plant’s “winding down” phase begins after July 1. He said if a buyer is to be found for the plant or for the machinery, everything must be maintained. That would mean keeping someone on duty to oversee that maintenance.
If no buyer is found, the engines and other equipment would probably have to be scraped and hauled away. LaPoint wants to avoid that sad scenario and the expense involved.
“We would like to liquidate what we have and maximize the revenue by what we can sell off,” he said.
Read more on this story in the June 23 print edition of the River Falls Journal.