The Superior Express -

Editor's Notebook


February 25, 2021

After last week’s below zero temperatures, it almost feels like we are living in a tropical paradise. On Monday afternoon, at least one person called at The Express window in shirtsleeves. That didn’t happen last week.

Following the death of Rita’s father on Feb. 4, we closely followed the weather forecasts and looked for a time when her mother could safely attend a graveside service. Because of the COVID regulations, Mrs. Chatham could not attend a traditional church or funeral home service.

Thankfully, Saturday, the day picked for the funeral, was better than we hoped for. It was 58 degrees at the Osborne Cemetery with bright sun and dry ground.

With warming temperatures, the Southwest Power Pool’s electrical emergency which brought rolling power outages to this area last week, is over.

The power pool officially declared the emergency ended at 10 p.m. Sunday. At that time, member power companies were permitted to return to normal operations.

Hopefully, the emergency was a learning experience.

While we support the development of alternative energy sources, last week’s emergency demonstrated the need for a mix of energy sources and shows this country is far from being ready to abandon fossil fuels.

If we didn’t have enough electrical power to supply last week’s heating demand, how will be supply the power for an all-electric motor vehicle fleet?

We support the development of wind and solar power generating alternatives but with current technology those sources are only supplemental sources and should not be relied upon in times of emergency.

It was a good news-bad news story last week with the wind. Stronger winds may have increased the potential power produced by the wind turbines but the wind would also have increased the need for electricity. With little wind, ice accumulating on the turbine blades and stiff grease which slowed or stopped some of the turbines, the amount of power coming from the wind farms was less than expected.

I remember when drivers put light weight motor oil in their vehicles for winter use and heavier for summer. At the Blauvelt Station, 10 weight was common for winter and 30 weight for summer but we stocked oil as light as 5 and as heavy as 50. For transmissions, we had both 90 and 140 weight gear oil.

When all of this country’s power pools are considered, the Southwest pool has the greatest reliance on wind energy.

I suspect the turbine problem could be compared to an old dump truck I used to haul car wash mud.

The truck’s engine had insufficient oil pressure. I followed a mechanic’s advice to replace the engine oil with STP, a honey-like alternative. With several cans of STP in the crankcase, the old truck engine maintained the necessary oil pressure but it was hard to start. Even on mild days, I had to use a heater to warm the engine before it would start. On cold days, starting was impossible but that was okay as I only used the truck when the temperature was above freezing.

When planning to avoid a repeat of last week’s power outages, we need to look out of the box.

That is what happened in Boucherville, Quebec, 23 years ago. After an ice storm crippled her community, the mayor borrowed a diesel-electric locomotive from the Canadian National Railway and used it as a supersized emergency generator.

A modern locomotive uses a diesel-fueled engine to generate electricity which in turn powers the locomotive’s electric motors.

The Canadian rail line was close to the town’s city hall but not close enough, so a crane was used to lift the locomotive off the track. From there it was driven about 1,000 feet over a city street to a municipal building where it produced 375 kilowatts of emergency power. The heavy locomotive’s flanged wheels cut deep tracks in the city street which had to be repaired when conditions improved.

Cables from the locomotive provided electrical power to several buildings.

While the locomotive did an admirable job suppling emergency power, it couldn’t be returned to work hauling freight until gear box damage caused by the unusual journey down the city street was repaired.

A number of years ago, while visiting Richard Reinke’s Deshler plant, I was shown a ship’s generator system that was being used to shave the plant’s peak power demand. According to the tour guide, the generator had also been used to provide alternative power to the City of Deshler.

Something similar was sometimes done at Superior when the Ideal cement plant had it’s own power house.

Most days it is no longer economically feasible to operate small power plants but they are sure handy backups.

The Belleville Telescope newspaper reported that community’s power plant, which normally is idle, was returned to service last week and not only supplied the community’s power needs but was selling power at a profit to the grid.

As we continue to use increasing amounts of electrical energy, there may be opportunities to develop standby power systems. Farmers often have standby generators, perhaps communities should also. Let’s dream a bit about what could happen. Superior has a substation near the railroad tracks. An old locomotive or a cruise ship’s generator could be brought in, parked nearby and used to supply backup power.

On another page, shipping containers are being turned into houses and bale feeders.

I haven’t warmed to the idea of living in a shipping container but the story I recently read about converting a 40-foot shipping container into a big round bale feeder, looked like a good idea that could be used in this area.

Amazing what can be done when we look outside of the box and consider the alternatives.


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