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Prairie Island outage boosts local economy

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Prairie Island nuclear plant has two reactors. Each runs 18 to 24 months between refueling. RiverTown Multimedia file photo2 / 2

On Oct. 13, nuclear generators at the Xcel Energy plant at Prairie Island began the process of shutting down for scheduled maintenance and refueling. This event is expected to last until mid-November and it is the second such refueling this year.

To assist with the outage, nearly 1,000 specialized contractors from across the country are now living temporarily in Red Wing.

"Refueling projects like this are a big part of how Prairie Island contributes $550 million in economic activity each year," said Patty Brown, Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce executive director. "The additional workers contribute significantly to our community by staying here and spending money locally."

During its normal yearlong operating schedule, Xcel employs about 2,000 people — including contractors — at Prairie Island. The plant is among Red Wing's largest local employers and is the most significant property tax contributor, paying $21.4 million in 2016.

The two nuclear reactors at Prairie Island plus the Monticello reactor also result in 10.5 million tons of carbon avoidance for the state, and the Prairie Island nuclear plant is the largest carbon-free energy source in Minnesota.

"Our nuclear units for the summer peak period of June, July, and August ran at a 98.7 percent capacity factor," Tim O'Connor, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for Xcel Energy, reported to local leaders at a community breakfast on Oct. 18. "I'll ask you who else is doing that? ... And I like wind and I like other things, but I like nuclear a little better."

Even with two 30-day refueling outages occurring this year, Prairie Island will deliver an average of 92 percent capacity factor for 2017. Additionally, during the current outage, Xcel plans to replace the transformer, overhaul the turbine and replace several large motors and pumps.

"The upgrades we're making are investments in the future of Prairie Island, the Red Wing area, and the Upper Midwest," said Scott Northard, site vice president. "Our nuclear facilities are a key component of Xcel Energy's clean energy strategy and will help meet our goal of generating 63 percent carbon-free electricity in the Upper Midwest by 2030."

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