By Ron Brochu
ALLETE Inc. rededicated its Minnesota Power Co. hydropower stations, including the flood-damaged Thomson generating system, during the corporation’s annual shareholders’ last Tuesday in Duluth.
Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik also reiterated the company’s strong endorsement of non-ferrous mining in Northeastern Minnesota, saying companies such as PolyMet can stimulate the economy while operating environmentally friendly mines and processing plants.
Addressing company finances, he said ALLETE has increased its dividend twice in two years while still making large capital investments into its infrastructure. When needed, it has successfully raised capital, Hodnik added, and is using it to reduce emissions and produce larger quantities of renewable energy through its Energy Forward strategy.
“We have invested approximately $700 million,” and by the early 2020s, ALLETE’s fuel portfolio will diversify to become one-third natural gas, one-third renewable and one-third coal – a plan endorsed by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Using wind- and hydro-powered generators, the utility will meet Minnesota’s standard of producing 25 percent of its energy via renewables by the end of 2014. That will be 11 years ahead of the state’s 2025 deadline, Hodnik said.
The century-old Thomson station will resume generating electricity early this summer following two years of repair after suffering flood damage from June 2012 flooding, ALLETE said.
“To celebrate the resurrection of this historic facility and to highlight our significant investment in Minnesota hometown hydropower, we are today re-dedicating to public service Minnesota Power’s entire hydro system,” Hodnik said during his address.
About 10 inches of rain fell in the St. Louis watershed during a 24-hour period beginning June 19, 2012, swamping the six Thomson turbines, overtopping Thomson Reservoir and breaching a portion of an earthen dike at the forebay reservoir that feeds water into the generating station, ALLETE said in a news release. After reconstruction of its embankment and installation of a new spillway, the repaired forebay will soon be refilled and generators put back online.
The reconstruction and improvements at Thomson are estimated to cost about $90 million. The work was financed in part with a Department of Energy stimulus grant of $800,000. Beyond the Thomson flood recovery work, Minnesota Power also has invested in upgrading and reconstructing other hydro facilities on the system.
Additionally, Minnesota Power’s Prairie River hydro station, destroyed by fire in 2008, was rebuilt and put back into operation in the spring of 2013. In the fall of 2013, the company celebrated the centennial of its Sylvan Hydro station in the western area of Minnesota Power’s service territory. In 2005 the company replaced the penstocks at its Winton hydro facility, and extensive work was also done to rebuild the Birch Lake Dam, Minnesota Power’s last wooden structure. There were also improvements made to recreational facilities, at Island Lake and elsewhere across the hydro system.
Hodnik also addressed the accomplishments of Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward resource strategy.
“I’m proud of what we’ve already accomplished with EnergyForward,” he told about 800 shareholders at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. “By the end of this year, we will have essentially met the 25 percent by 2025 renewable energy standard set by our state. And we are on track to meeting the carbon objective targets set in Minnesota. With EnergyForward, we are reducing carbon, protecting human health and bringing environmentally compliant and socially responsive energy solutions to the real world.”
Lead director Bruce Stender was recognized by Hodnik for 20 years of service to the board. Heidi Jimmerson will succeed Stender as lead director.