A control panel dating back to the 1960s at Spring Valley Public Utilities will not be part of the tour, but plant foreman Stu Smith remarked that it will someday have digital controls instead of buttons and levers.   
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
A control panel dating back to the 1960s at Spring Valley Public Utilities will not be part of the tour, but plant foreman Stu Smith remarked that it will someday have digital controls instead of buttons and levers. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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Local residents have the opportunity during Ag Days to take the most electrifying tour one can ever take in Spring Valley.

Spring Valley Public Utilities (SVPU) is hosting guided tours of Spring Valley’s power plant Friday, Aug. 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., during Ag Days, and it’s a rare opportunity to see how the electricity used in homes from north to south and east to west is produced. SVPU Superintendent Stu Smith said tours aren’t usually given, but SVPU decided to open up the plant for one day only so people could see what they do.

“We figured out that the last tour we gave here was in 2009, when we put the new engines in, so it’s been eight years…we thought people might be interested in this, like the kids who were 3 at the time and came only for the pop and cookie…they might like to see what we do in here,” said Smith.

The tour will let people go on guided tours to see the big diesel and natural gas engines, what the switch gear looks like and how electricity is made before it goes out to the field. 

“It’s just great big, overgrown engines,” said Smith, “but we normally don’t allow people in the building because of the responsibility…if someone pushes a button, half the town could go out or worse, the whole town, and we’re known for reliability so we want to keep it that way.”   

SVPU is a member of the Southeast Minnesota Municipal Power Association (SMMPA), which usually provides the power, and the plant can generate enough electricity to power all of Spring Valley on the hot days when everyone’s air conditioner is humming, be it in the window or alongside the driveway. 

“On a real hot day, we can produce 5 megawatts, or 5,000 kilowatts, up to over 7 megawatts, and that will run the town even on a hot day when other towns have rolling brownouts,” said Smith.  “The bottom line is that if this building weren’t here, people might save 2 to 3 percent on their utility bills, but we’re fortunate to have leased everything to SMMPA, the organization that’s helping with the maintenance of the building and keeping it staffed.  SMMPA notifies us when this particular plant needs to be operated, and tells us how much we need to put out.  We have to do it within 10 minutes of them calling us, and they have the capability to turn on the plant from Rochester if they need to.” 

Smith commented that SVPU employees are pleased to welcome visitors to their rarely-visited workplace for the tour during Ag Days. 

“Our employees are pretty proud of the building and keep it looking nice,” he said.  “They take a lot of pride in that, so what we’re planning on doing is having people come in the front door of the office, go through the office to see more of it, then go through the building to see the engines and what our department looks like, then they can have coffee and refreshments, and then they can exit through the back door.  We want to show them how the plant works and how proud of it we are.”    

Spring Valley Public Utilities will welcome visitors to the plant on Friday, Aug. 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. unless there’s a reason to turn on the diesel engines.

 “If the engines have to run that day, it will be canceled,” he said.