Power plant's proposed shutdown discussed

Becky Vargo • Aug 17, 2018 at 7:00 AM

More than 115 residents and Grand Haven Board of Light & Power customers provided input, but still came away with a lot of questions following town hall meetings Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon about the proposed closing of the J.B. Sims power plant on Harbor Island.

The meetings were held at the Grand Haven Community Center. They were moderated by Steve Hamstra, a Grand Haven native and a former member of the Zeeland Board of Light & Power board, Zeeland City Council and Zeeland school board.

Participants were given the opportunity to respond via their smartphone or a paper ballot to questions such as: Is local energy production important for Grand Haven? How important is it that the city preserve the (downtown) snowmelt system? And what is your vision for the future of the Sims plant?

Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis said the data from the informal survey will be compiled and discussed at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Responses from those using smartphones was immediately available online with the use of the Poll Everywhere software.

On Thursday, about 20 of the 49 people present were using paper questionnaires, but the results were still similar to what they saw Wednesday night, according to Ashley Latsch, management intern in the city manager’s office.

“We heard some diverse opinions,” Latsch said. But she noted the Wednesday night crowd was a little more low key.

Some people attending the conversation Thursday objected to the questions, saying that they were not detailed enough, leading to a lot of confusion and changed answers. McGinnis responded that the survey was non-scientific and was designed to generate more discussion.

BLP officials hosted several informational meetings over the past year, attempting to educate residents and customers on the status of the coal-fired power plant and to share why they have proposed closing it down in. More information is in the minutes of the BLP Board meetings that can be found at ghblp.org.

Officials say it will cost more than $15 million in repairs and upgrades to keep the plant running at its current level, which means that it would continue running only half the year. The BLP purchases power off the grid the rest of the year.

The BLP staff has recommended closing the plant in June 2020, and the municipal utility’s Board of Trustees has approved that recommendation. A final decision must come from Grand Haven City Council.

Mayor Geri McCaleb thanked residents for attending the meeting and said it is important to get their input on how they would like the city to proceed with determining the local source of power. Both she and McGinnis encouraged residents to continue to seek out city officials with their concerns.


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