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They will keep the lights on for us

By Staff | Jul 7, 2013

I sometimes live for a few days at a time without any electricity.

It’s called camping.

We have a camper permanently parked in a hidden valley on a branch of the Whitewater River near Altura, east of Rochester.

It is a very nice camping spot and a nice camper. But, we ‘rough it’ by not having electricity, water or sewer hookup.

OK, we do have solar/battery power, a propane gas cylinder tank and we haul in water to use.

Oh, and we have an outhouse. So maybe it isn’t quite as bad as I make it sound. But, it still is ‘roughing it’ style camping.

Like everyone else, it is a different story at home.

We rely on electricity to run just about everything in our house. And it seems strange when the power is off for one reason or another. No lights, no air conditioner (or furnace), no refrigerator or freezer and (gasp!) no television or computer.

When there isn’t electricity in our home it seems strange. And quiet.

A story in the June 10 Faribault County Register detailed how the residents of Blue Earth receive their electricity from Blue Earth Light and Water. BELW is a separate entity from the city of Blue Earth. It operates under its own charter and its own board.

BELW purchases the electricity from large power suppliers and generators and then resells it to local residents. They don’t generate any of the electricity themselves. At least, not usually.

Visitors and residents alike probably wonder about the large building complex located just one block off Main Street in downtown Blue Earth. A visitor to the city once asked about the nuclear power plant being located right in the center of the town.

Admittedly, there is a cooling tower similar to one at a nuclear plant at the BELW facility. But, they don’t do any nuclear power generation, of course.

That doesn’t mean they can’t generate power at the power plant, however.

They can. They just don’t do it very often. And it isn’t nuclear. They use large diesel engines instead.

Inside the BELW complex are five diesel engines that can drive electric generators.

In case of an emergency, the crew can fire them up and generate enough electricity to power all of the homes and businesses in town.

They don’t do it very often. It is not a cost effective way to generate electricity. Not with diesel fuel at $4 per gallon. Normally the engines are just fired up for testing and maintenance.

But, if they are needed, all of them together could belt out the 8.6 megawatts it takes to power the city during a peak usage period.

Not every city has that kind of a backup system. The citizens of Blue Earth are pretty lucky to have it.

If the power grid that supplies electricity to the area goes down for some reason, the guys at BELW can quickly fire up the generators and have power back on in Blue Earth literally within minutes.

Without it, we might all be doing some ‘roughing it’ camping for a few days.

Which could be fun, actually.

After all, that is what I am doing for the Fourth of July weekend.

No electricity, on purpose.