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2013 top stories: #1 - Prairie Island work benefits local economy

The new steam generators for the Prairie Island nuclear plant were made in France and then traveled by river barge to Red Wing, arriving in April. They began the journey in February. (Republican Eagle file photo by Tim Alms)

Work that drew hundreds of extra employees to Prairie Island nuclear plant and involved massive equipment that made the journey from France is about to wrap up.

During a refueling outage that began Oct. 22, hundreds of contractors joined Prairie Island employees to replace two steam generators as well as to complete maintenance tasks and prepare Unit 2 for its next operating cycle and replace a third of the unit’s fuel.

The project boosted the local economy during the outage, local officials said, and is expected to help in the future as well.

“In addition to the steam generator replacement project being a good investment for Xcel Energy customers, the local economies also benefited greatly from it,” community relations manager Pam Gorman said. More than 1,500 contractors have been working with regular plant staff on the project in the past few months, she said.

“These same contractors have been staying in local hotels and area homes, eating in local restaurants and shopping in local stores for the duration of their stay.”

Improvements at the plant also can help the area in terms of taxes.

The work sends more tax money to the city of Red Wing — if paired with a levy increase to capture the increased tax capacity — in the near future. The city has included the increased funds from Xcel in a long-term plan to tackle a backlog of infrastructure maintenance and repairs.

It expects to see an increased tax capacity starting in 2015 from the plant investments, city staff said this month.

Work has ‘gone very well’

Each of the two 550-megawatt reactors at Prairie Island is refueled about every 18 months. The other unit remains at full power.

The steam generator replacement extended this most recent outage, which lasted several weeks longer than the typical month or so.

“The work at the plant to install two new steam generators, in addition to replacing one-third of the unit’s fuel, has gone very well,” Prairie Island site vice president Kevin Davison said, adding the unit is expected to come back online soon.

The generators were manufactured in France and made a months-long trek to the plant here. They were shipped to New Orleans via ocean vessel, then loaded onto a river barge to travel up the Mississippi River.

Xcel Energy showed off the generators during an open house in June.

“Along with the extended plant license to operate until 2033 and 2034, this project demonstrates our commitment to maintaining safe, reliable, carbon-free and efficient operations at Prairie Island for the long term,” Davison said.

The steam generators in Unit 1 were replaced in 2004.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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