Construction is underway in Faribault, Minnesota, on an independently owned and operated air separation plant that will be powered by reliable electric service from Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric (SWCE), one of Great River Energy’s 28 member-owner cooperatives.
Absolute Air—a consortium of five independent gas and welding supply distributors along with the Independent Welding Distributors Cooperative—will bring gases often used in the medical, electronic, food packaging, laboratory and metal fabrication industries to the Upper Midwest region beginning sometime in early 2021. Together, the consortium represents 30 business locations with more than 50,000 customers in a seven-state region.
“Now we’re going to be making a bulk of those gases for ourselves … It’s kind of a disruption to the normal course of business, and the eyes of the industry are on us,” said Brad Peterson of Mississippi Welders Supply, one of the five distributors that created Absolute Air, at the project’s groundbreaking. “The big guys are watching to see if we stumble, and the little guys are watching to see if this is a replicable model that they can go out and reproduce. I think we’re up to the challenge; we’re ready.”
Peterson said the plant is expected to be an economic driver for the region as many larger businesses seek out collocation opportunities “since these gases are so critical to their process.”
The Northern Industrial Park site chosen by Absolute Air was identified after Great River Energy Economic Development Services Manager Tom Lambrecht suggested Faribault as a location that would meet their needs. As a cooperative, Great River Energy is committed to the sustainable development of communities served by its member-owners, and works with local and state organizations to assist businesses planning to locate or expand in these areas. The site, served by SWCE, ended up not only suiting the plant’s infrastructure requirements but is also centrally-located for all five companies invested in the project.
“It was very important to have good electrical power, get a good rate and [find] a good provider that has good reliability,” Peterson said. “We’re working with Steele-Waseca Cooperative Electric and Great River Energy. Thank you for being part of this.”
Great River Energy is currently in the process of seeking approval from city officials to build a new substation and install new overhead transmission lines to help SWCE deliver the robust electric power needed to serve the plant.