We hear a lot about new energy projects. But in the Granite Falls area in southwest Minnesota the latest energy news is about Xcel Energy's plan to tear down a dam on the Minnesota River. The Twin Cities-based company also wants to remove an old coal fired power plant there.
But to do so, the company needs to win approval from government regulators -- and that could take a while. Lloyd Hilgart, Excel Energy's director of peaking and wind, says the company hopes the dam could be removed within three years, but it may be a decade before the power plant is completely gone.
Originally built to harness the river's current to generate electricity, the dam is about 16 feet high and located about one mile downstream of the power plant. It should not be confused with a much larger dam on the Minnesota River in downtown Granite Falls, which will remain.
Xcel officials say it will cost more than $2 million to remove the dam. Once it is gone, the river in that area should look much as did before the structure went up in 1904.
The spot in the river is actually called Minnesota Falls. But Hilgart says there never really was a waterfall there, more of a series of rapids. Those rapids will return once the dam is gone.
Hilgart says there are some environmental benefits from the dam removal, among them helping fish move freely through that stretch of river.
When you drive into Granite Falls from the south, the coal fired power plant is visible from Highway 23. It was last used seven years ago. When it was operating it generated about 50 megawatts of electricity, a relatively small amount for a coal facility.
Hilgart says taking down the plant is a work in progress. Right now what he calls a major asbestos removal project is underway.
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