Column: An overlooked source for obtaining electrical power

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 19, 2002

About two or three months ago David Rask Behling suggested that I should check out the way some farm folks about five or six decades ago generated electricity, despite the fact they were miles away from the high lines.

As a result of his suggestion, I looked in a 1941 Sears Roebuck catalog at the Freeborn County Historical Museum. Sears was then selling small wind-powered generators which could be mounted on top of, or on the upper sides of farmsite windmills. The electricity generated was used by the farm families and/or stored in batteries for later times when there weren’t any breezes at all. This rural system was crude, but it worked for some farm families until connections could be made with the power companies or the REA systems.

Based on this research, I wrote a short article on this topic for the June issue of Ag Monthly under my other column heading of &uot;Between the Cornrows.&uot;

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Dean W. Dykeman of Austin, who retired in 1989 after 37 years employment with Interstate Power Co., happened to read this article and sent a letter. In this letter he had some interesting comments and information about a very obvious, yet overlooked, source for electric power in this region. He wrote:

&uot;I was raised near the Mississippi River, and even living in this level prairie land for the past 50-plus years, I’ve spent countless hours on the river recreating. Many of those hours have been just below the flood control-navigation dams alluded to in the enclosed article excerpted from the Winona Daily News about 6-8 months ago.&uot;

This article explained that a firm from Akron, Ohio, has applied for a permit to construct a 10 megawatt hydroelectric generating plant at Lock and Dam 5A near Minnesota City and just north of Winona. This plant &uot;could generate enough power to light up every home in Winona,&uot; according to the article.

The power plant would consist of a downstream powerhouse with six turbines. Those turbines would be powered with water carried through six 96-inch diameter pipes from the upstream side of the dam. The pipes would siphon water over the top of the dam and feed into the low pressure, low volume, and what are called low head

generators in the riverbank powerhouse. This article said it would take about a month to construct the project estimated to cost about $2 million.

Now, let’s go back to Dykeman’s letter:

&uot;As to practicality, even in extremely dry late summer seasons, there has always been the volume of flow which would power those generators, and I can see little reason why these dams should be limited to just one (purpose).

&uot;I’ve sent copies of this (Winona Daily News) article to a number of our political leaders with no response: our governor, our state senators, our state representative, and our U.S. Representative. Not one paid the courtesy of a response.

&uot;I can see no conflict with the performance of barge traffic. The (lock) gates can be opened and closed at will, thus accommodating adequate traffic requirements. When one considers that between the Twin Cities and the Iowa -Missouri line there are 20 dams, the potential becomes quite impressive.&uot;

To update this situation regarding a possible electric power generating plant at Lock and Dam 5A at Minnesota City, I contacted Jerome Christenson of the Winona Daily News at the end of June. He’s the person who wrote the article mentioned in Dykeman’s letter. Jerome said nothing has developed at this dam and he was not aware of the present status of the Ohio firm’s application.

In the next column we’ll continue on with this topic with emphasis on just how important the Mississippi River is for the generation of the electrical power used in this area.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon writes columns for the Friday editions of the Tribune.