Duluth News Tribune
The activity or inactivity of some of the Northland’s largest utility customers dramatically shapes the systems that deliver water, natural gas and electricity to all the region’s residents.
Perhaps nowhere was that influence more clear this past year than in Duluth, where Verso Corp. — far and away the city’s largest water consumer — stopped production at its local paper mill .
Ever-Green Energy, which operates Duluth’s district heating and cooling system, including the steam plant, has been one of the most successful water customers when it comes to improved efficiency and decreased consumption.
Ever-Green still ranks as Duluth’s fourth-largest water user, consuming 50.6 million gallons in 2021. But Terry Nanti, general manager of Ever-Green’s Duluth operations, said that usage is down more than 20 million gallons from 2015.
He said there are two primary developments that have enabled Ever-Green to so substantially reduce its water consumption. One of those was the steam plant’s shift away from using coal as its primary fuel. As it switched over more of its boilers to cleaner-burning natural gas, the plant has had to grind far less coal. Nanti explained that the steam turbine mill used to grind that fuel accounted for a substantial amount of the plant’s water bill.
In 2019, the mill guzzled an average of more than 3.7 million gallons of water daily, or in excess of 1.35 billion gallons annually, according to city records.
By 2021, the idled Duluth mill consumed an average of just 351,982 gallons per day, or just shy of 128.5 million gallons in the whole year. That’s a 90.5% reduction in usage, dropping the plant to the city’s second-largest water customer.