Marquette Board of Light and Power providing customers power without Shiras Power Plant

Published: Jun. 11, 2018 at 7:52 PM EDT
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The Shiras Power Plant was built with one unit in 1967, but added two more over the years. The third unit began providing power in 1983, but Friday the last bit of coal was processed through the plant, putting it out of commission.

"In March of this year, our board voted to go ahead and layup the Shiras plant for now. We're going to begin the process of phasing Shiras coal really out of the picture. Long term, bottom line going forward, continuing to burn coal is not in the best interest of the BLP or our rate payers. It's not just this area, it's not just the state of Michigan, you're seeing that nationwide," says Tom Tourville, Board Chair of Marquette Board of Light and Power.

The shutdown has been in the works for more than a year. In August of 2017, the Marquette Energy Center began delivering power to Marquette for reliability reasons, in case something happened to Shiras.

"Mechanically, Shiras could last longer if we wanted to make the investment in the environmental upgrades and then major repairs. It's a 35 year old facility now that is going to require some expensive repairs to keep it going. When the energy center was installed, we did that for reliability reasons. We wanted to make sure that we had power available if we had a problem with Shiras or the grid or both, so that was put in to solve a reliability issue," explains Tom Carpenter, Executive Director of Marquette Board of Light and Power.

But given results from a recent study, the BLP found that it was more economical to take the Shiras Plant offline.

"We had an analysis done about a year and a half ago that started to look at how we should dispatch our units, including the new Marquette Energy Center. And what it showed us, by shutting Shiras off and taking advantage of the flexible nature of the new energy center, we could save significant money for the community. It can be possibly north of $100 million in the next 20 years if we do it that way," Carpenter continues.

Marquette Board of Light and Power provides service to about 17,000 customers in Marquette and the surrounding areas. This switch to the Energy Center and its natural gas approach allows added flexibility for the BLP, in that they can switch over to buying power off the grid when it's most economical.

With the coal plant, it took 12 hours to turn operations on or off, so the grid was only used during planned maintenance; the Energy Center can be switched on and off in a matter of a few minutes.

"I look at it as kind of the beginning of the end for the Shiras structure. The near term decision is shut it off, stop burning coal right now. The long term decision will be the how - how do we decommission the plant, how do we look at laying it up to potentially use it in the future or not, that's going to be a long thoughtful process with community input and nothing's going to happen physically to that plant for some time to come," Tourville says.

The Marquette Board of Light and Power has a regularly scheduled meeting for Tuesday, June 12 at 4:30 p.m. The future of the Shiras Plant is on the agenda for discussion, and will be the first of many. Over the course of the summer, BLP will continue discussions, but there are no future plans for the plant as of now.