'What are we going to do in the future?'

Alex Doty • Jun 28, 2018 at 8:00 AM

“Where do we go from here?”

That was the question Mayor Geri McCaleb said Grand Haven City Council is working through as it considers the Board of Light & Power’s recommendation to close the J.B. Sims Generating Station in June 2020.

“That’s a very short period of time to answer all of the questions we have before us,” McCaleb said during a joint meeting with City Council and BLP officials at the Grand Haven Community Center on Wednesday night.

Prior to making a decision, council members say they want to see some plans in place to address issues that would arise once the Sims plant is shut down. Concerns include future local power generation opportunities, impacts on taxation, addressing possible effects on harbor dredging due to the loss of coal shipments and how the city’s downtown snowmelt system would be powered.

“In the short term, the snowmelt issue is the most vital issue for the downtown,” McCaleb said. “It has to be something that works, and it has to be something that is effective.”

There are other issues, the mayor noted.

“To me, it’s not just snowmelt — it’s what are we going to do in the future,” she said. 

Also recommended was better communication between the boards — and with the public — about the decision.

“We need to get together a whole lot more than we have,” Councilman Mike Fritz said. “Not having any conversation is not good.”

Fritz and other members of the City Council say they were concerned that Wednesday night’s meeting was the first time they’ve met with the municipal utility’s Board of Directors regarding the Sims issue, with many wanting more involvement and input before the announcement this past February that the plant should be closed.

Fritz also said he wants to see better involvement and communication with the public regarding the future of power generation in Grand Haven.

“I want to make sure the people of Grand Haven have a voice,” he said. “They had a voice when they started out this whole thing 100 years ago.”

To try and bridge the gap between where City Council is currently and where it needs to be to make a decision, members of both boards agreed to form a subcommittee. It would be made up of several members of both boards, plus City Manager Pat McGinnis and BLP General Manager Dave Walters, and would meet over the next several weeks.

In its report to City Council regarding the Sims closure, the BLP noted that the plant is no longer the most reliable, economical source of power, and that the facility can’t operate beyond 2020 without incurring substantial additional expense.

“It’s very critical that we move forward, otherwise we’re going to have to put additional investments into the plant,” BLP Board Chairman Jack Smant said. “Our plan is to move on from coal and into a portfolio of resources.”

According to a report released to the public earlier this week by Black & Veatch, an estimated investment of $35 million would be required for continued safe and reliable operation of Sims III. BLP trustees are expected to hear a presentation from Black & Veatch representatives during their board meeting today at 4 p.m., which will take place at the utility’s main office at 1700 Eaton Drive.

BLP Trustee Gerry Witherell said it wouldn’t be cost effective to keep investing money in Sims for the long run, and it would have a negative impact on ratepayers.

“Our rates would suddenly go right off the charts,” he said. “What do you think those people buying power from us are going to say?”

Witherell also noted that the BLP would be able to have an answer for all of City Council’s concerns regarding the impacts of closing the plant by 2020. 

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