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US city shuts down district heating scheme, citing costs

A district heating scheme in the northern US state of Minnesota is set to be shut down in 2020 after the local council deemed the cost of upgrading it prohibitive.

The heat network in the city of Willmar, where winter temperatures can drop to -18 degrees C, has been losing customers according to a report in newspaper the West Central Tribune, with increasing numbers of users transitioning to other heat sources.

After studies revealed that continued operation of the heat network would require significant upgrades and could raise prices to twice their current rate for the 220 current users, the municipal utilities commission took the decision to decommission.

An upgrade to the city’s coal-fired cogenerationà‚ plant (pictured) would reportedly save $1.2m per year if the district heating system were removed, while an upgrade that maintained district heating would only save $300,000 per year.

Councilor Shawn Mueske was quoted as saying that the necessary upgrades were “not economically feasible” but that the council had taken the decision to decommission “not lightly”.

The plant, which came online in 1913, was modernized in 1982 to use hot water rather than steam for heating. The heat network was expanded to serve more customers in 1983 and again in 2003.

According to Minnesota law, utilities must give their customers at least two years to find alternative sources of heat before a district heating scheme can be discontinued. The Willmar council added an extra year given the uncertain feasibility of installing many new heating systems within two years.

The council also put a financing programme in placeà‚ à‚ to provide five-year loans for customers to install electric heating.

Meanwhile, local radio station KWLM reported in March that if the district heating scheme were discontinued, the Willmar school district could face a $1.8m bill for a new heating system.à‚