(Photo by Gabe Licht)
In 1970, SMU purchased two Pratt & Whitney jet engines that power a GE turbine.
Though the equipment is 42 years old, it has not been used very often. Its most recent use, prior to its test Thursday morning, was for maintenance purposes last week.
"It's more of an emergency, peaking type unit," SMU General Manager Steve Pick said. "It's expensive, so normally it won't be run for that purpose."
The cost is estimated at 13 cents per kilowatt hour, which is more than double the retail rate of 5.8 cents per kilowatt hour, but lower than the cost to replace the energy from elsewhere.
While SMU has not used the equipment for emergency generation in at least 10 years, it generates $150,000 through a long-term lease with Corn Belt Energy, as well as an agreement with the North Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association.
"We do sell some excess capacity just having it here ready to generate," Pick said. "It entitles other companies to lease it and run it if they need it."
How much energy can it produce?
"It does not have enough capacity to serve the entire town of Spencer," Pick said. "It can generate 20 megawatts and Spencer's load ranges from 32 to 34 megawatts."
When the equipment was first purchased, 20 megawatts would have been enough to power the entire community.
In recent years, it has been run mostly for maintenance, training and accreditation purposes. Thursday morning, the machine was accredited by NIMECA.
The equipment was overhauled in the mid 1990s, had fuel tanks replaced five or six years ago and was upgraded with electronic controls a year later.
With those repairs and upgrades complete, SMU is confident in its emergency equipment.
"It will be here for a long time," Pick said.