Madison's 10-MW plant helps out during energy emergency

MADISON'S ELECTRICITY generation plant remained in operation from the early-morning hours of Saturday until Thursday, but the city's utility personnel may soon get a break with milder weather arriving this weekend. The 10-MW plant helped regional power producers and electricity transmission organizations meet an incredible demand for electricity during this week's extremely low temperatures.

Southwest Power Pool officials sent out notifications late Thursday morning to its member utilities that its 14-state region is no longer under an energy alert.

The regional electric power transmission authority and SPP member utilities and transmission groups had struggled since the weekend to provide enough electricity for a large swath of the country hit by bitterly-cold temperatures.

Madison's municipal utility participated in the energy alert as a community to help conserve energy so the transmission system would not develop widespread, uncontrolled outages. The city's utility staff also operated a 10-megawatt peak-power generation plant that produced additional electricity to relieve some of the stress from the regional energy system.

According to Brad Lawrence, Madison's utility director, the city's generation plant started running at 2 a.m. Saturday. The generators in the 10-MW plant have run continuously since then, and Lawrence said on Thursday that the plant is scheduled to run until midnight.

The city of Madison and Basin Electric Power Cooperative have worked together to construct and maintain the 10-MW plant. The city's generation plant was completed and tested in April 2005, and the facility is owned by Madison. Basin Electric, based in Bismarck, N.D., leases the generation plant from the city and provides the money that meets Madison's annual bond payment which financed the plant's construction.

As a part of the agreement, Madison is responsible for funding the upkeep and improvements to the plant.

Typically, Madison's generation plant only operates for a short period each month to test the facility and ensure it operates properly. Madison's plant benefits Basin because the North Dakota cooperative can use its output as a peak-power plant to provide additional electricity during extremely hot or cold days. On those extreme days, Basin's electricity generating resources can become stretched to the limit -- as everyone has witnessed this week.

According to Lawrence, the city's utility staff receives its generation orders for the next 24 hours daily between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Early Thursday, Lawrence said the staff anticipated that they would shut down the plant at either midnight on Thursday or noon on Friday.

"The price schedule for SPP is all in the blue now, which means the demand has waned," Lawrence said. "There is an outside chance that we might be able to end the run earlier today as market conditions allow."

As of 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, the SPP was no longer under an energy alert. SPP officials said due to continuing high loads and other severe-cold weather implications, the power pool remained in a period of conservative operations until 10 p.m. on Saturday for the entire SPP balancing-authority area.

While the Madison generation plant was running this week, Lawrence said the utility staff was manning the facility using three 8-hour work shifts. Lawrence worked from midnight to 8 a.m. Roy Brown manned the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, and Skyler Sutten was working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. One person was working at the 10-MW plant during each shift.

Lawrence said the Madison plant was generating about 10,200 KWH of electricity each hour.

Madison's generation plant runs five Caterpillar diesel engines to power five 2,000-kilowatt generators to produce electricity. Lawrence said during this week's operation, the plant burned an average of 700 gallons of fuel each hour. The demand for diesel fuel requires that two tankers deliver fuel each day to keep the generators operational. Lawrence said the plant's supervisors don't let the plant's main fuel tank fall too low on diesel.

"We keep a close watch on fuel," Lawrence said. "We can get (about 20 hours) out of a tank of fuel."

"It has been a challenge to operate the plant in these cold conditions," Lawrence said. "We have had some issues that required us to think outside the box, but we have kept the plant operational the entire time."