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Power grid plan should serve as local wake up call

April 14, 2012
The Daily News

The huge new electrical power grid plan announced earlier this week should be a wakeup call to local officials concerned about the future of the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette.

The Bay Lake power line and substation project will construct a major transmission line from Green Bay, Wis., to Ishpeming. To be built by American Transmission Co., a multi-state utility that owns, operates and maintains the high-voltage lines serving parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, it's expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and is designed to improve electrical system reliability in the Upper Peninsula.

It may well do that - but the cost to the city of Marquette could be enormous.

Representatives of We Energies, which owns the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, said in October that in order to contend with federal environmental pollution regulations, they would likely retire the plant by 2017. One reason not to mothball the plant sooner than that, they said, was because it would stress an already overtaxed regional power grid.

The Bay Lake Project seems practically tailored to render the Presque Isle plant less attractive. That's unfortunate, because it seemed the plant's future was looking brighter.

This winter, We Energies announced a plan to work with downstate Wolverine Power Cooperative. The two companies signed a letter of intent to cooperate on gauging the practicality of retrofitting the plant to meet impending environmental regulations.

A joint venture between the two companies sounds like the best - perhaps the only - bet for continued operation of the plant, but we think this new project doesn't bode well for the plant's future.

Closing the plant would hit the city's tax base hard.

The Presque Isle Power Plant is the city's largest taxpayer. Marquette receives just under $1.5 million in tax revenue each year from the plant - 17 percent of the overall tax revenue.

We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey argued that the state of the electrical transmission grid must still be addressed, with or without the power plant operating. We won't argue that.

Manthey also said he was not very familiar with the Bay Lake Project and was unsure how the move would affect the viability or long-term value of the Presque Isle Power Plant. Our guess? It won't be a positive effect.

So we urge city, county and state officials to ratchet up their support and encouragement for a joint venture - or some other arrangement - to keep the Presque Isle Power Plant viable. Upgraded grid or no, we think the plant's capacity to generate jobs and economic growth - along with electricity -make its salvation a top priority.

We're all for a stable electrical grid in the U.P., but that goal shouldn't come at a steep cost to our area.

The Mining Journal




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