FAIRMONT - It took four years for Fairmont Energy Station to come into being, through the joint efforts of Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, the city of Fairmont and its residents.
The agency's newest generation resource, located at 611 N. Main St., replaces Fairmont's old city-owned steam-powered plant. The agency purchased the site from the city for $500,000, after receiving the approval of Fairmont voters in a November 2010 referendum.
Demolition of the old facility began in 2011, and the new plant is now up and running.
"Now what we have is a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, 30-million dollar investment in Fairmont," Dave Geschwind told the crowd gathered Wednesday at the plant's dedication ceremony.
Geschwind, executive director and chief executive officer for the agency, predicted more plants will be built in the likeness of Fairmont Energy Station in the future, not just in southern Minnesota by his agency but across the country.
Wind and other renewable energy sources are part of the solution for minimizing the environmental impact of power generation, he explained, but they aren't reliable for consistent usage. The power grid will need to fall back on the stability of clean-burning plants like Fairmont Energy Station.
The new plant uses four natural gas-fired reciprocating internal-combustion engines to produce up to 26 megawatts of energy. The Caterpillar engines, manufactured in Germany, are designed to exceed government expectations for pollution control, by reducing up to 90 percent of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. When demand warrants it, Fairmont Energy Station also utilizes two 12-megawatt diesel generators that were leftovers of the city's old power plant.
Such was the case this week in Fairmont, according to Peter Reinarts, manager of the agency's generation and operations. On Monday, the wind turbines were producing more than enough power, and Fairmont Energy Station was quiet. But on Tuesday, when the wind died down, all the plant's engines were quickly fired up and running.
It takes less than 10 minutes for the new 16-cylinder engines to be online, producing energy for the grid.
"All this is basically like a big car engine," said Reinarts, pointing out the fuel lines attached to each cylinder, the exhaust system and the equivalent of an enormous catalytic converter, during a tour of the plant Wednesday.
Fans to cool the equipment include silencers, and the overhead cooling vents that allow heat to escape the building also have silencers. The building's brick exterior functions both aesthetically and functionally - minimizing noise for the residential neighborhood just north of the plant.
Larry Jiroutek was one of several neighbors who attended the dedication Wednesday.
"I'm impressed by the facility, just amazed those big engines came all the way from Germany" he said.
Jiroutek, who used to work for a large engine manufacturer in the Twin Cities area, said he's pleased Fairmont was chosen as the site for such a progressive plant.
"It's good Fairmont got in on it from the beginning," he said.
SMMPA is a nonprofit that produces and purchases power for its 18 municipal members. More information about the agency is available online at www.saveenergyinmycommunity.com