Willmar Municipal Utilities looks to expand investments in transmission; water plant project moves forward

·3 min read

Jul. 19—WILLMAR — Willmar Municipal Utilities continues to invest in its future, with plans to spend millions on both water and electric improvements.

At the July 12 WMU Commission meeting the commissioners were updated on not only the major project to take place at the Northeast Water Treatment Plant, but also future electric transmission investments the utility provider wants to make over the short and long term.

When receiving and delivering power through the electrical grid, Willmar pays to use transmission facilities, such as transformers and power lines, owned by other utilities. On the flip side, Willmar receives revenue from others who use the facilities owned by WMU.

On an average year, WMU pays $3.5 million in transmission expenses while earning $2 million in revenue, leaving about a $1 million shortfall the utilities provider has to pay out.

"The goal in our transmission investment is to neutralize that as much as possible," said Jeron Smith, WMU electrical engineer.

To do that, WMU can increase its investment in transmission, which is the plan. Next month, work will begin on a $8.3 million project at the Willmar Substation, which will expand the 230KV facilities and replace the aging 69KV. There will also be a $1.2 million project at the Priam Substation to expand the 115KV facilities. Both should be in service by spring 2022.

Transmission work will also include building a new power plant substation in downtown Willmar, a $5.3 million project.

"We have to get all of our equipment out of the power plant building and build an exclusive substation for that equipment," Smith said.

Design is underway and the needed transformer has already been ordered, but the project isn't quite shovel-ready yet.

"We still have a ways to go on that," Smith said.

A transmission project that is still several years out is the construction of a new substation on the south side of Willmar.

"Our load is growing to the south. If that continues, we'll look at a new substation, but we are not there yet," Smith said.

On the water front, the Northeast Water Treatment Plant project will improve water quality by installing a new biological filtering system to remove contaminants such as ammonia, iron and manganese from the water. The project could also assist the city in meeting stricter requirements regarding salt in wastewater discharge and make sure Willmar has enough water to meet the growing demand in the city.

The design for the $21 million project is nearing completion and WMU staff hope to go out for contractor bids early next year. The commission gave its approval for work on the project plans to continue.

"This project needs to move forward on a timely basis right now, or we might have to look at additional restrictions on water usage throughout the city," said Commissioner Bruce DeBlieck.

WMU has been looking at an improvement project at the northeast plant for over a decade. During those years, the costs for the project have increased dramatically. What was once an estimated $8.5 million project has now more than doubled in price. A big driver of those increases has been the rise in cost for equipment, building materials and labor.

While water rates have increased by 80% over the last few years to help pay for the project, WMU is also looking for other pots of money.

"We have been looking at various grants and funding options," DeBlieck said. "Hopefully something comes up before our construction bidding dates."

One option WMU hopes to take advantage of is state bonding funds. In June the commission passed a resolution approving staff to make a grant request to the Minnesota State Legislature. At the July 12 meeting, General Manager John Harren said the request has moved forward in the process. Whether WMU receives any bonding money won't be known for several more months.

"It is being entered into the book," Harren said.

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