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Rushford Electric Commission struggles with some "Powerful" decisions


Fri, Jun 20th, 2003
Posted in Features

A roomful of citizens listened to expert presentations Thursday night at the special meeting of the Rushford Electric Commission before getting the chance to air their questions and concerns.

The first expert to speak was Steve Schreurs of Associated Consultants Engineers, Inc. Schreurs reported on the investigation into alternative power site locations as well as generator equipment and warranties. Prefacing his remarks with a comment that his involvement was just generation—the building, and the generator - Schreurs said he had been directed to give a "broad brush" look at other possible sites. He pointed out a difference in cost of about $200,000 between the substation site and a site in the industrial park. Generation at the industrial park would need to be at a higher voltage and would require the addition of a step-down transformer at the substation as well. A possible bluff site would cost about $100,000 more to develop.

Schreurs said the bids from Cummins and Ziegler (Caterpillar) were close and both companies had good products with Caterpillar having more experience in the field. Currently a quantity discount of eleven per cent is available from Ziegler on a slightly larger generator because the city of St.Charles has recently accepted a bid from them.

Mike Wish of Dairyland Power Cooperative spoke next about the wholesale power contract with the city. The contract states the city may be asked to generate up to 300 hours per year. A price is figured for the cost of operation (strike price) and if the cost of power from Dairyland is over that cost the city could choose to generate. Using 2002 as an example, Wish said the city would have been asked to generate a total of thirty-one hours. The generators would run for a minimum of two hours at a time and the maximum hours on a day would have been six between the hours of two PM and eight PM. The only other times the generator would have run would have been for transmission outage and an annual test of the engines.

Wish, in an effort to put the numbers in perspective, pointed out that the difference in site costs would be $24,000 per year or $67.00 per day for a per customer cost of seven cents per day.

Brian Guenther of PowerPlus Engineering spoke last about the power plant location in regard to Rushford’s distribution system. He mentioned the need for a triple circuit from a bluff site and the fact that minor losses would occur in the system from there. The industrial park site would need to generate at 12.5 KV and would require a step-down transformer. With this setup, the generator couldn’t be put on line during a power outage and the transformer adds more "links in the supply chain" with a negative impact. Guenther went on to say that if a fourth generator was ever added, breakers would need to be replaced and the substation modified.

Q & A

After the experts had spoken, the public was allowed to speak for fifteen minutes with an individual time limit of four minutes. Mayor T.S. Roberton asked for a clarification as to whether the city would be required to generate by Dairyland. Wish answered there had been only two mandatory calls for power in the last five years.

Former mayor Al Morken, concerned with the potential for an ownership change of Dairyland, asked if a new owner would be required to honor the contract. Wish responded that the contract protects the city for the term of the contract regardless of ownership.

Paul Erickson, former councilman, commended the commission on their hard work and said, "It gives us a good feeling to have power when the lights are out." Continuing, he said he saw two issues—the site location and the choice of suppliers. Erickson pushed the substation site as the only feasible site citing the over half mile of cabling and the transformer necessary from the industrial park site, and the poor accessibility of the bluff site. He also opined that Caterpillar was a better choice and would be worth more in future years.

Ron Baxa of TriCounty Electric mentioned his concern for a good distribution system. Electric Commission Chairman Richard Fogal assured Baxa that the city has an ongoing program to upgrade the system and that no money would be taken from the upgrading to fund the generators.

Mark Wieser, a neighbor of the substation site asked what the city would do if the need arose to add a fifth or sixth generator in the future in the cramped area of the substation. Fogal answered the commission was already looking at needs fifty years down the road with the consideration of the fourth generator.

Richard Holle advocated the industrial park site mentioning the accessibility and expandability available there. He urged the commission to get the best possible site and forget the cost difference.

After the citizen input, the commission attempted to make its recommendation to the council on the engine bids and site location. With councilman Larry Johnson absent (at work), the four-person commission was deadlocked as they attempted to chose between Caterpillar and Cummins engines. Going back to the experts, the council asked for their recommendations and found the experts were reluctant to chose one over the other. The commission decided to table the decision until AC Engineering could be consulted regarding the warranties offered by the two companies as well as the need for a manual or automatic system.

Site Location

In choosing the site location, the commission first eliminated the bluff site. Commissioner Andy Prinsen made the case for the selection of the industrial park site, stressing the accessibility, room for expansion and the fact that the site would not place the generator in anyone’s backyard. He also mentioned the possibility of then running the generator more and selling power back to Dairyland. From the audience Molly Wieser added, "You have to look at what’s more important—people’s health or money!"

Prinsen was unsuccessful in persuading the rest of the commission, however, as they voted in favor of recommending the substation site as their first choice and the industrial park second.

With the bid extension (June 30) expiration fast approaching, the city council will need to make some decisions soon. The recommendation of the commission will be presented to the council June 23 at their regular meeting, and you can be sure the opponents of the selected site will be present too!

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