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June 2020 shutdown recommended for Sims plant

Alex Doty • Feb 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Could the days of generating electricity at the J.B. Sims power plant on Harbor Island be coming to an end?

During a Board of Light & Power trustee meeting Wednesday night, the municipal utility’s staff recommended that the coal-fired power plant be closed June 1, 2020. The staff also recommended to the board that the municipal utility transition to a more “economical, sustainable and diversified” selection of energy sources.

Fueling the recommendation are high costs associated with keeping the plant operational due to needed maintenance, and technological and mechanical upgrades. These costs are projected to range from $15 million to $30 million.

“The first question we’re asking the board is, ‘What is the future of this plant?’” BLP General Manager Dave Walters said. “If we want to run it, in 2019 we’re going to have to make some pretty major investments.”

Walters said that if the plant is to close, the BLP would optimize the remaining life of the facility by having longer shutdown periods and running the plant at reduced loads. These measures would stretch the facility’s lifespan to June 2020 without having to invest too much into the facility.

BLP officials would also begin to decide the best mix of power sources for the utility going forward and identify possible local power generation opportunities once Sims closes. Work would continue on a multi-year project to complete upgrades to the transmission system infrastructure by fall 2019 in order to adequately obtain enough power from outside the community.

BLP officials reiterated that the plant won’t shut down until the board makes a decision — one that will include input from the rest of the community.

“The board hasn’t even voted, and they have no intention of voting until they talk with the public,” Walters said. “I think (Grand Haven City) Council has a role in discussing with the board what they think should happen.”

Walters noted, however, that the decision will likely need to come sooner rather than later.

“This is not a six-month timeframe,” he said. “This is not something the board wants to drag out for two years.”

Local activists who’ve been urging the BLP to replace fossil fuel energy generation with renewable energy sources praised Wednesday night’s developments.

Andy Cawthon, a Grand Haven resident and Sierra Club member, called the recommendation by staff “a great first step toward realizing a Grand Haven boardwalk without coal piles and smoke stacks.”

“This shows great leadership by staff and the board to move Grand Haven forward,” he said. “We look forward to a public conversation that will lead to BLP’s board not only approving this retirement, but also moving Grand Haven to renewable energy. Our community deserves local investments in renewable energy, while shifting away from fossil fuels.”

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