Demand down so far it’s goosing the geese

Filed under:News coverage — posted by admin on January 26, 2010 @ 7:11 pm


Changes at Silver Lake trim wintering goose numbers


By Christina Killion Valdez
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

It’s probably a good thing that Rochester’s emblematic Canada geese come equipped with goose down coats. In addition to bitterly cold temperatures this winter, lower energy usage in Rochester means the Silver Lake Power Plant isn’t helping to keep the lake warm either.

“Last year when you would drive by you would see pieces of the lake open because of the water we discharge back into the lake,” said Tony Benson, Rochester Public Utilities spokesman. “This year you really don’t.

“It’s not a real good situation,” he said. “Unfortunately, the energy market just isn’t there. There just isn’t the demand.”

While some of the decrease comes from energy conservation, with RPU customers conserving 16 million kilowatts of power in 2009, much of it is due to the economy, Benson said.

“Some businesses changed from two shifts to one shift and don’t have machinery and systems running as much,” he said.

Also, as a member of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, RPU is contracted to purchase up to 216 megawatts of power each day, which is more than what’s needed on a typical winter day, Benson said. On Thursday, for example, RPU used about 170 megawatts of power, he said.

Occasional plumes of smoke are still seen coming out of the coal-powered plant, though, as RPU keeps a boiler running to provide steam through its contract with Mayo Clinic. It’s not enough to keep the lake open.

What that means for the geese is a move downstream.

A count earlier this week showed roughly 8,500 geese just below the Silver Lake dam, said Don Nelson, area wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

That continues a downward trend from 10,000 to 20,000 geese that wintered on the lake as recently as five years ago, he said.

A number of changes — not keeping the lake open, moving the food plots, habitat work around the edge of the lake — have contributed to the feathered population electing to fly past Rochester and on to Missouri and southern Illinois, he said.

Especially this year.

“Even that water by the dam is more frozen than I’ve seen it,” Nelson said. “There are still areas of open water that the geese are using, but they are really stacked in there. If, first thing in the morning, you walk along the path at U.S. 63 North, you’ll see wall-to-wall geese.”

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace