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Council weighs in on plans for Sims closure

Alex Doty • May 9, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Grand Haven City Council sounded off Monday night on the Board of Light & Power and its recommendation that the Sims power plant be shut down in roughly two years.

The discussion follows an April 24 recommendation by the BLP Board of Trustees that calls for the closure of the Sims plant by June 2020.

City Council is now tasked with making a decision on the fate of the coal-fired power plant, which could occur in the next several months, City Manager Pat McGinnis said.

Mayor Geri McCaleb said City Council still has a lot of unanswered questions regarding the closure of Sims.

The City of Grand Haven needs to know more about the implications of ceasing the production of power for the city and being totally dependent on the grid for its energy needs,” she said, reading from a prepared statement during the Monday council meeting. “(Residents) need to be presented with options and the costs involved, and they need be part of the decision-making process.

“We are told if we do not close Sims in 2020 and force the BLP to make repairs and keep Sims running, the BLP will have to increase electric rates 16 percent across the board,” McCaleb continued. “For a utility that recently paid off its debt, I would suggest there must be other ways to finance repairs than to threaten a huge rate increase.”

The mayor also noted that a second opinion by a neutral party should be in order to answer questions about the plant, including a priority list and timeline for repairs.

Other questions that have yet to be answered, McCaleb said, include whether residents are comfortable with being dependent on the grid, how the downtown snowmelt system will be powered, how the closure would affect the federal government giving priority to dredging of the Grand Haven harbor, and what financial implications arise with not having the Sims plant.

“In my life, I have learned it is never wise to make decisions in a hurry, and that is what we are being asked to do by being presented with this date and only this one option,” McCaleb said. “I suggest we gather more information, see what other options may be available to us, getting more community involvement and input, and coming to a conclusion that will benefit everyone.”

Councilman Mike Fritz was among several on council who were upset with the process that led to the BLP’s decision, and who thought a third-party review of the plant was needed in order to provide an impartial view of what needs to take place, and when.

“Do you need to do that $15 million right away? We don’t know,” Fritz said. “It could be more, it could be less.”

Fritz said he’d also like to find out what important safety fixes are needed at the plant that should be done right away, and also noted his concern with the utility being too reliant on the power grid in the future.

Fritz added that it was time to sit down and start talking, and get more residents involved to find out what they want for the community.

“Let the people start telling us what they’d like in this town,” he said. “I think we’ve got to start the conversation and get back to the table and start talking to each other.”

Councilman Bob Monetza said that he would be open-minded to additional information regarding the plant, but noted that he would be surprised if it changed the fact that the Sims plant is facing closure.

“Unless a new consultant comes through with something that really hasn’t been brought up … unless there’s something surprising out there, I don’t see how that will go forward,” he said.

Monetza noted that even if $15 million is invested in the plant to make needed improvements, there is probably little economic life left in the facility.

“If they can run anywhere near capacity, they can possibly make a little money, but most of the time that’s not the case,” he said.

Monetza noted that the question now should be: What does the community do going forward?

“I don’t think the answer is to be emotional, wave our arms, point our fingers and yell at each other,” he said. “I think the answer is to look objectively at what works, why it works, and go from here.”

McGinnis said that, per the direction of City Council, he will work to verify the Sims facility is safe for employees, and also work to get an independent, third-party review of the facility and the potential options that might present themselves based on the plant’s condition. The city would also facilitate public engagement sessions to inform the public, and to get feedback from residents about what they’d like to see happen, McGinnis said.

While the issue is on the front burner for the city, McGinnis noted that they were going to do their due diligence.

“There’s a sense of urgency, but we’re not going to rush through it,” he said. “We have to do a complete, thorough job.”

Read Mayor Geri McCaleb’s entire statement:

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