Northeast power plant about to go back on line

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2000

No news is good news in the utility world, but today there was news from the northeast side of Austin.

Tuesday, May 09, 2000

No news is good news in the utility world, but today there was news from the northeast side of Austin.

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After five weeks of down time for renovations and repair work, the northeast power plant is not cooperating with plans to start producing electricity again. The plant was on schedule to go back on line Monday. There have been a few unexpected hiccups, however. The latest is a computer card for the control system that’s being flown in from Texas.

Power and water director Don Freed expected the card to arrive this morning. He’s hoping that once the card is slotted in its proper place, he and the staff at the plant will be able to proceed with the process of getting back on line.

"The problem with electronics is that you can identify a bad part, but until you replace it, you don’t know if that was the entire problem," Freed said.

Monday’s problems were unforeseen, but timely, coming at the end of more than a month dedicated to fixing things.

"There were no major problems, but the reason we do this is to head off any catastrophic failures," he said. "Finding the small problems before they become bigger problems is what we want. If we hadn’t found anything wrong it would have meant that this wasn’t the time to shut down for repairs yet."

The bulk of the more than $650,000 in repairs came in two parts: the first, a once-every-seven-years inspection and overhaul of the 1971 model turbine generator that powers the plant as well as the first ever replacement of nearly 8 tons of duct work in the electrostatic precipitator, where ash particles are removed from the gases exiting the furnace. Freed was pleased with the performance of his crew and with the results of the work.

"Basically the inspection revealed that the turbine and its components were in pretty good shape," he said, "And the duct work had to be done because we were getting to the point where we were putting patches on patches."

Freed said that staff worked 10-hour days, six days a week since shutdown on March 31 to get the project done on schedule. Boiler operators became repairmen and everyone did what was necessary to give the nearly 30-year-old turbine a new lease on life. Contractors did most of the duct work, which is functional and cosmetically should be finished by the end of the week.

Now, not only will the turbine be more efficient and less likely to break down, the process of removing pollutants will be that much easier. Both projects together cost roughly $650,000: $500,000 for the duct work, which hadn’t been replaced since the plant was built in 1971; and $150,000 for the turbine work.

Ultimately, the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, of which Austin Utilities is a member, will pay for both projects, although SMMPA paid for the duct work as a capital project and the turbine costs will be paid back through the power purchase contract with SMMPA.

Freed said the staff at the plant did an outstanding job.

"They were dedicated, got things done on time, great workers, all of them," Freed said.