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Business Briefs for 03/15/2014

Bemidji students place in competition

FARGO — Two students from Bemidji recently placed in the Innovation Challenge ’14 at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

The competition, which started in October, is sponsored by NDSU and the NDSU Research and Technology Park and showcases and encourages student innovation. A total of 34 teams took part with a total of three rounds of judging. In the product category, the third-place winners was Team WTM Ballistics, which included Mark Christiansen, a senior from Bemidji majoring in electrical engineering; Taylor Lee, a senior from Buffalo majoring in electrical engineering and Waylon Lindseth, a senior from Bemidji majoring in electrical engineering. The team is is developing a ballistics simulation laser target that involves a laser in a bullet casing and a target that simulates the trajectory of a bullet. The tool is a safer and more cost-effective way for hunters to practice accuracy. The tool also could be used for police or military training.

New standards mean phase-out of plant

FERGUS FALLS — Changing federal regulations on emissions at the nation’s power plants will affect operations at Northern Plains coal-fired power plants to varying degrees.

The impact will depend on the facility’s age, the type of coal used and the types of emissions-reduction technology installed.

For Otter Tail Power Co., tightening emissions standards mean the company will phase out its 138-megawatt Hoot Lake Plant in Fergus Falls. The plant has two coal-fired units, the first of which came on line in 1959, and uses subbituminous coal delivered via rail from Wyoming.

The plant will be phased out of commission and is scheduled to close permanently in 2020.

Brad Tollerson, director of resource planning and power services, said the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will require the Hoot Lake plant to reduce its mercury emissions by nearly 60 percent and its particulate emissions by 16 percent beginning next year. He said the company had three options for compliance:

• Shut the plant down in 2015.

• Carry out minimal upgrades to extend its life until 2020.

• Perform extensive upgrades to allow the plant to operate until 2040.

The Hoot Lake plant is the oldest of Otter Tail’s three coal-fired power plants and is already nearing the end of its life, so the second option was determined to be the most viable. The company is spending $8.6 million on upgrades to comply with the standards. That includes upgrading existing equipment to collect particulate matter and installing new equipment to collect mercury emissions, which will allow it to operate until 2020.

Otter Tail intends to replace the plant, but it is unknown whether a new facility will be built in the same location or elsewhere in the region.

The most likely source of fuel for a new plant is natural gas, but the Hoot Lake site doesn’t have the gas supply infrastructure needed to support a gas-fired plant. To install a supply line from the nearby Alliance or Viking pipelines would cost about $40 million, so Tollerson said other site benefits such as electric transmission access, water, ownership and general infrastructure would have to outweigh that cost to warrant a new plant in that location.

Ownership of a new plant is yet to be determined as well, but an anticipated increase in demand for electricity will likely require that Hoot Lake’s replacement plant is built to generate about 200 megawatts. To complete the project, Otter Tail may team up with another entity or go it alone.