Events highlight relationships
Minnesota Power’s hydroelectric facilities captured the spotlight in 2014 as the company rededicated to service its “Hometown Hydropower.”
Minnesota Power employees, industry representatives, elected officials, community leaders and others gathered at a series of events during the summer and fall in advance of Thomson Hydro’s return to generating electricity after being damaged by floodwaters in 2012.
The events took place in or near communities with hydro facilities and included public tours of powerhouses and the distribution of commemorative “Hometown Hydropower” medallions made of copper. Minnesota Power also gave grants to several community organizations and efforts, including the Fond du Lac Community Club, Coleraine Township volunteer firefighters, Ely Baseball Association, Carlton Area Development Corp. and the Taylor Chebet Twitchell playground project in Little Falls.
Employees, contractors who worked on the project, elected officials and hydropower industry representatives met at Fond du Lac Hydro Station south of Duluth in May to celebrate the facility’s $8 million refurbishment. The refurbishment included an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy that helped finance replacement of the station’s original turbine.
Jose Zayas, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, congratulated Minnesota Power on its improvements at Fond du Lac and said in a statement: “Over the life of the project, Minnesota Power was confronted with numerous engineering challenges and an unprecedented weather event. The successful completion of this project exemplifies the hard work and dedication of the Minnesota Power staff and represents a great example of how the federal government can partner with industry to create jobs and bring our hydropower infrastructure into the 21st century.”
Minnesota Power highlighted its Little Falls Hydro Station as part of the annual Little Falls Dam Festival in June. Employees and retirees gave guided tours of the facility, whose origins date to 1849 when the Little Falls Mill and Land Co. was formed to build a dam and sawmill to supply lumber for buildings at Fort Ripley. As part of the celebration, Brad Oachs, Minnesota Power chief operating officer, and Bonny Carlson, manager of renewable business operations for MP, presented a Hometown Hydropower medallion to Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem and Greg Kimman, Little Falls public works director.
In August, Minnesota Power officials and local dignitaries gathered to rededicate to public service the Prairie River Hydro Station north of Grand Rapids, Minn.
“Renewable energy driven by the power of water is nothing new to our company or the people and industries we serve,” Tom Donofrio, director of Engineering Services and Minnesota Renewable Operations, told the guests assembled under a tent near the powerhouse. “And yet today, renewable energy is top of mind among policy makers, regulators and our government representatives. Minnesota Power’s EnergyForward strategy—we believe in a balanced mix of generation sources—is recognition of this renewable renaissance.”
A few days before the Prairie River event, Minnesota Power had an information booth at Tall Timber Days in Grand Rapids, home of the Rapids Energy Center.
The recreational opportunities found at Minnesota Power’s reservoirs were highlighted in August with a summer picnic for the public at Island Lake Reservoir north of Duluth. Picnickers also were able to view displays by the Duluth Archaeology Center and Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center.
Minnesota Power develops, manages or shares responsibility for more than 150 public recreation sites stretching across more than 400 miles of hydro reservoir shoreline at its 17 reservoirs.
“I can’t help but wonder what tourists and other travelers think when they stop by this scenic place to take a swim, wet a fishing line or simply breathe in the cool, clean air. It doesn’t seem anything like a power plant or landscape dedicated to energy generation,” Brad Oachs, Minnesota Power chief operating officer said in remarks to those gathered in the recreation area’s new pavilion. “We would like people to know that Minnesota Power represents more than just power. Our management and all of our employees value the land and the lakes and the trees and all the natural beauty that make our home base a special place. Environmental stewardship has always been a hallmark of Minnesota Power. It always will be.”
Community leaders, government representatives, Minnesota Power employees and festival-goers gathered in Ely, Minn., in September to salute the Winton Hydro Station during Ely’s Harvest Moon Festival.
Al Hodnik, ALLETE chairman, president and CEO, spoke about Minnesota Power’s historic commitment to generating hydro energy and the company provided tours of the powerhouse located a few miles north of Ely. Minnesota Power invested nearly $1 million in improvements there since 2005 and in 2014 completed a rebuild of the Birch Lake Reservoir Dam with an investment of about $2.5 million.
In October, employees and contractors gathered at the Thomson Hydro Station where ALLETE Chairman, President and CEO Al Hodnik thanked them for their efforts in repairing and refurbishing the historic station.
Brad Oachs, MP chief operating officer, also offered his thanks.
“My gratefulness for the work and the positive ‘can-do’ attitude you have demonstrated each and every one of the 841 days since that historic 500-year flood event that impacted our St. Louis River Hydro system beyond anything we had ever experienced before,” Oachs said. “Rebuilding Thomson was not part of our plans in June 2012. But when the opportunity presented itself we took advantage of the extended outage to not only repair the damaged facility but to also accelerate 10 years of planned maintenance work into two years to position Thomson for safe and reliable operation for the next 100 years.”
In November, the first of Thomson’s six units returned to generating power since the facility was damaged by floodwaters in June 2012.