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DMU retiring Engine 1
March 13, 2020


DELANO, MN – It’s the end of an era at Delano Municipal Utilities, where Engine 1 is being dismantled and removed to make way for two new, much more efficient generators.

The engine was purchased in 1945, and it was quite the process to do so.

The utility applied to the War Production Board for a permit to purchase an engine.

In March of 1945, Commission Secretary CN Lundsten and Superintendent Al Weihe traveled to Washington, DC, and attended seven hearings before finally being granted a priority permit to purchase the Fairbanks Morse 1200 horsepower diesel engine and auxiliary equipment.

A lot has changed since then.

“This plant was designed at a different time for a completely different reason,” DMU General Manager Paul Twite said. “It was never designed to be a backup. When this plant ran, it ran for months and months and years. It never shut off. Whereas now, the way the energy markets are, things turn on and off very quickly.”

Foreman Jim Griebel said Engine 1 ran continuously until the late 1960s. Two new engines took some of the load off in the early ‘70s, but it still ran during peak times.

About 25 years ago, the engine underwent a rebuild, with new pistons, cylinders, piston rings, and reshimmed bearings.

“It was a time-consuming procedure,” Griebel said. “It took us six to eight months.”

It ran as needed through the mid-2000s, Griebel said. After that, it was run twice per year.

Engine 1 has been out of commission since a July 10, 2018, fire that occurred during a required annual test of it.

Following the fire, DMU leadership had three options.

“We could abandon it, repair it and get it back in the game, or upgrade it into something more modern,” Twite said.

Abandonment was the least popular option, followed by repairing it.

“The problem would be we don’t know how much it would cost to fix it,” Twite said. “ . . . You could spend money on repairing it, but you still have a generator that doesn’t put out the capacity as these newer models.”

Engine 1 can generate about 850 kilowatts of electricity. The two new units that will replace it will combine to produce 4 megawatts of electricity while taking up the same amount of space.

“It’s a matter of economics,” Twite said. “ . . . While it’s a large engine, it’s [generating] a fraction of the energy output. If we get paid for our energy, get compensated for the energy we put out, does it make sense to invest in an engine that doesn’t produce much energy?”

The answer is no, as the utility works to modernize its equipment.

“We’re looking at modernizing this because our customers want energy right now,” Twite said. “We hear our customers loud and clear. We hear two things: ‘We want low rates and reliability.’ That’s what we’re trying to do, achieve those two benchmarks.”

The two new generators will be owned by Diamond Leaf Energy, which will lease them to DMU for 10 years, at which point the lease will be transferred to the utility.

They will be able to be fired up, essentially, at the push of a button, compared to the 20-plus minutes it takes to fire up Engine 1. (More information about these generators and that agreement will appear in a future edition of the Delano Herald Journal.)

Engine 1 ran at a slower pace, something Griebel enjoyed.

“It was one of the funner engines to run because of it’s slow speed,” Griebel said. “It only turns at 300 rpm. It’s a comfortable speed. Others are higher and it’s more stress being by them. That one sat there and went chug, chug, chug.”

His father, a 27-year Navy veteran, also had an affinity for such engines, which were commonly used in marine vessels.

“My dad operated one when he was in the Navy, and I ended up working on it here,” Griebel said.

It seems fitting that Engine 1 is being removed mere weeks before Griebel is retiring from the utility after a long career there. (See more on Griebel’s career in a future edition of this newspaper.)

“We’re both going out about the same time. We’re a couple old dinosaurs going out,” Griebel said with a chuckle.

Like dinosaur bones, Engine 1 will likely end up on display somewhere, as Griebel said having it run is out of the equation.

“After they took a look at it, it wasn’t practical to put it in operation,” Griebel said. “To put it on a foundation and display it is much cheaper . . . They’re still working on some different venues.”

It has chugged along for several decades, and now it is time for it to sit idle.

“It did its job for quite a while,” Griebel said.

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