Birk tours renewable energy sites

Lt. gov. candidate visits Granite Falls hydro, ethanol plants

Photo by Deb Gau From left to right, state Sen. Gary Dahms, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Birk, and Mary Seifert spoke with Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski during a tour of the city of Granite Falls’ hydroelectric plant on Thursday

MARSHALL — The city of Granite Falls is still looking for $2.29 million in funding to help finish needed repairs at its hydroelectric plant. While the project already has support from area legislators, it’s also caught the attention of Republican candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

Matt Birk, running mate of gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, said the hydroelectric project was included in Jensen’s plan to reduce energy costs in Minnesota.

Birk said he and Jensen were calling for Minnesota to make use of a variety of energy resources, instead of focusing only on solar and wind power.

“We have to be realistic,” and focus on long-term solutions, Birk said.

Birk, along with Minnesota state Sen. Gary Dahms and Rep. Chris Swedzinski, toured the Granite Falls hydroelectric plant and the Granite Falls Energy ethanol plant on Thursday.

The city of Granite Falls is seeking additional funding for repairs and equipment replacements at its hydroelectric plant, city officials told Birk.

“We’re trying to get some additional RDA (Renewable Development Account) funding,” said Granite Falls City Manager Crystal Johnson. A total of $2.29 million is needed for critical concrete repairs, valve replacements and more, as well as gap funding for the replacement of one of the plant’s three turbines.

Johnson and Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski said the request had a lot of good bipartisan support at the state Legislature. However, the funding was part of legislation that didn’t get passed before the end of this year’s session.

Two years ago, Granite Falls had received $2.75 million from Minnesota’s Renewable Development Account. That funding allowed the city to complete some structural repairs at the hydro plant, and start the replacement of a 36-year-old turbine, said Johnson. However, there’s more repair work that needs to be done, and the COVID pandemic led to unexpectedly high labor and material costs for the new turbine.

The original low bid received for the turbine replacement ended up being $490,000 higher, city officials said.

Updating the hydroelectric plant would increase its electric output and create cost savings for the city. That would be positive for Granite Falls, Johnson said. The city is already dealing with property tax revenue losses after the decommissioning of a former NSP plant there.

Jensen and Birk’s energy plan calls for the state to harness resources like hydroelectricity, and recommends finishing the Granite Falls plant repairs with Renewable Development Fund money. It also calls for a moratorium on nuclear power plants to be lifted, and to re-evaluate whether existing coal-powered plants should be retired.

Birk said he learned a lot from touring the Granite Falls Energy plant as well.

“There’s a ton of potential there,” he said of ethanol. Birk said that while he wasn’t against electric vehicles, they weren’t necessarily an option for everyone right now. Meanwhile, ethanol fuel mixes are already available. “It’s something we could be doing right now.”

Birk also voiced support for the carbon dioxide pipeline proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions. The proposed pipeline would collect carbon emissions from more than 30 ethanol plants, including Granite Falls Energy, and transport them to an underground storage site in North Dakota.

“If they don’t get that through, Minnesota ethanol producers won’t be able to be competitive,” Birk said.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today