Brainerd city officials Tuesday received an up-close look at the Wausau Paper dam, a facility the city has expressed interest in buying.
The dam, which Wausau officials said dates back to the late 1800s, generated electricity for Wausau Paper before that company ceased production at the northeast Brainerd plant in April. City officials said earlier this month they were in discussions with an unidentified potential buyer for the plant facility. The dam would be sold separately from the Wausau Paper facility.
The tour was part of an adjourned Brainerd Public Utilities Commission meeting and included some Brainerd City Council members. One of the council members, Mary Koep, said at the conclusion of the tour she wanted to know the immediate and the long-range cost to the city that would come with a dam purchase as well as significant and verifiable evidence indicating benefits outweighed the cost. She suggested two years was a suitable time period for when the city should realize the benefits of a potential dam purchase.
“If you can’t do that, then to me, it’s not worth it,” she said.
Council member Chip Borkenhagen said Tuesday that immediate payback is not always possible and sometimes an investment has to be made in the future. Borkenhagen said the city has made no final decision on the possible purchase of the dam.
“There are all kinds of stones that have to be overturned,” he said.
Koep said she’ll be interested to see what the city’s consulting engineers on the potential purchase have to say about the dam’s potential benefit to the city.
Shawn O’Brien of Wausau Paper, who conducted one of the tour groups, said the dam generated an average of 17 to 18 million kilowatts a year, which is sold back to Minnesota Power.
O’Brien said four full-time personnel and some part-time relief help staff the dam 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The grates in front of the generators are operated manually, he said. The heat source for the dam building is steam and electric, he said.
“These generators are not new but they’re built like a tank,” he said. “Not much can go wrong with them.”
He said government regulations strictly dictate the level at which dam operators can keep the river. O’Brien also described how the cement apron immediately downstream of the dam helps break up the flow of water and protects the dam’s structure.
Earlier at its meeting, which was conducted at the Brainerd Public Utilities Center in Baxter, the commission agreed to consider a request from Steve Johnson, an owner of Lift Tech Marine, which makes boat lift motors on County Road 45.
Johnson installed LED lights in order to save electricity and money at his plant. He said he had hoped to recoup his investment by qualifying to get rid of his demand meter and qualifying for a lower electrical rate charge from the city. He said his business has seen a decrease in its electrical consumption but there was a one-month spike when he let a friend plug his motor home into business building’s electricity. That spike resulted in the clock starting over when the business must demonstrate its consumption had decreased for a 12-month period.
Johnson said a six-month record of decreased electrical consumption should be sufficient.
“I think I’m doing my part,” Johnson said.
PUC Finance Director Todd Wicklund said a 12-month record of decreases has the policy before reductions so that the high- and low-demand periods of both summer and winter are recorded.
Commission members said they’ll review the situation and possibly make a decision next month.
The PUC heard Brainerd City Council President Bonnie Cumberland invite the commission to a 5 p.m. Oct. 1 dedication of the Buffalo Hills Trail.
The commission moved to place Brainerd Public Utilities Commission Superintendent Scott Magnuson to the top rate (Step D) of his salary scale. Magnuson was named acting superintendent in May of 2011 and superintendent in March of 2012.