GRE's gentler pace

SPIRITWOOD, N.D. -- With the deadline pushed back to January 2012, construction on Great River Energy's $276 million Spiritwood Station, a power plant generating electricity and steam heat, has slowed its pace.

John M. Steiner / The Sun A welder works on a portion of steam line Monday at the GRE Spiritwood Station in Spiritwood, N.D. The steam line will lead to Cargill Malting Plant.

SPIRITWOOD, N.D. -- With the deadline pushed back to January 2012, construction on Great River Energy's $276 million Spiritwood Station, a power plant generating electricity and steam heat, has slowed its pace.

In March, GRE planned to ramp up to about 500 workers to meet the original startup date of Oct. 1. The crews had begun working two shifts 24/7 on the heat and power plant in September. With the new date to be up and running, the number of construction workers has dropped to 350 and the hours of work reduced.

"We were working seven days a week and nights," said Dennis Pozarnsky, GRE's construction site manager. "We've backed off from that. Now we only work a night shift or a weekend if specialty work is required."

Since construction began in late 2007, the coal-fired power plant has been hampered by weather -- particularly wind, rain, cold and snow. Upping the manpower got the plant closer to its original completion date, but the economy in Minnesota coupled with a drop in the demand for electricity there moved the date back. GRE's customer base is in Minnesota.

"The economy is very bad for our customers in Minnesota," Pozarnsky said. "By waiting until January 2012, we're delaying the impact of a rate increase on our customers."


As it is, the extra hours and manpower earlier this year means construction of the power plant will be completed this fall. Once construction is finished, work at the plant will be geared toward testing and debugging all the equipment, instrumentation and computerized systems.

"We'll stretch the checkout and commissioning to January 2012," Pozarnsky said. "This gives us more time to check out everything."

Trains carrying 50 carloads of dried lignite coal from GRE's Coal Creek Station will begin delivering every three or four days in 2011. The rail cars will be pulled into a covered building and drop the coal into hoppers in the ground. The setup is designed to keep coal dust to a minimum due to the proximity of Cargill Malt.

"We have a dust collection system there that acts like a big vacuum cleaner," Pozarnsky said.

From the hoppers, the coal goes up a conveyor belt to a huge concrete silo next to the boiler building. The coal is fed by another conveyor belt from the silo to the boiler.

Construction work continues in the turbine building, but it's mostly fabricating pipes to carry processed steam to Cargill for use in its manufacturing process. Outside workers build structures to hold those pipes, which will be heavily insulated to keep the steam hot regardless of the weather.

Initially, the turbine uses the steam to generate electricity. There are other pipes in the turbine building circulating water to cool the condensers or to cool the steam back to water for reuse.

"We reuse the water as much as possible," Pozarnsky said.


Much of the water used in making steam comes from the Jamestown Wastewater Treatment Plant. What can't be reused is sent back to the plant for treatment.

Pozarnsky describes the work being done in the boiler building as doing the finishing work on a new house. All the basics are there and crews are working on the boiler's components.

"A lot of the work is concentrated in the boiler area now," he said. "There are a lot of smaller pieces and instrumentation that are going in."

Crews are also working on the air quality control portion of the plant. Work is being done on the sprayer-dryer-absorber, which collects the gas from the coal burning and reduces it to particles. What's left goes to the bag house for further separation of the solids. The fly ash goes to a silo to be hauled away.

"Only clean flue gas goes up the stack," he said.

Should Cargill want steam by October as originally agreed, Pozarnsky said, Spiritwood Station will be able to supply it. The water delivery system is working well, he said. And the gas-fired boilers, intended as backup for the coal-fired main boiler, will be ready soon to make steam.

"The gas-fired boilers and water will be operational by September and the steam will be sent if they need it," he said.

The staging area, once the size of a small village and filled with construction materials, is empty now. The remaining material is much closer to the plant and fills perhaps a Jamestown city block or two of space.


"Everything is consolidated so we're ready for winter," Pozarnsky said.

But no matter what Mother Nature throws out this winter, Spiritwood Station will be under roof and comparatively warm and cozy for the first time since construction started.

Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at

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