Voters give authority to dispose of power plant

ESCANABA – A small percentage of Escanaba’s voters cast ballots Tuesday, granting council the authority to dispose of the power plant if necessary.

Eight percent – 744 citizens – of the city’s 9,214 registered voters participated in Tuesday’s special election, according to the county clerk’s unofficial tally. A total of 509 voted in favor of the proposal while 229 opposed the issue.

This authorization allows the city to move faster on retiring the facility should the pending sale of the plant to Escanaba Green Energy (EGE) not occur and current operational funding stops.

“It just gives us options to react quicker if the sale doesn’t happen,” explained Electric Superintendent Mike Furmanski this morning.

The second factor in the equation would be if the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. (MISO), a regional interconnection agency, decides to stop reimbursing the city for operational costs to keep the facility on the power market, he added.

Without voter approval to retire the plant, the city would have to wait for MISO to approve a shut down, costing the city time and money, said Furmanski.

“The vote just lets us move quicker. Waiting would cost us $125,000 a month to keep the plant operating. We can save if we retire the plant sooner than later,” he explained.

These scenarios won’t be an issue for the city once the sale of the power plant is finalized. The deal is nearing closure as EGE completes the final stages of securing a $36.5 million loan needed to buy the plant and pay for the biomass conversion.

EGE is purchasing the facility and 17 acres of land for $4.4 million which includes $2 million the city will retain if the company decides to back out of the deal after the sale.

Escanaba officials have stressed all along that the sale of the plant is the city’s number one priority; if the sale falls through, retirement of the plant is the second option. Idling the plant or full operation would mean a 12 percent or 35 percent customer rate increase, respectively.

Escanaba has always had the authority to continue plant operations, but prior to Tuesday’s voter approval, the city did not have the authority to tear down the facility.

Escanaba is selling the plant because it is less costly to buy power from a wholesaler rather than generate energy by burning coal. Once the plant is sold, the city will continue to buy 100 percent of its energy from a supplier.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net