Snyder gets sneak peak at UMERC power project

Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corp. Senior Project Manager Brad Smith, left, updates Gov. Rick Snyder, right, and Mark Pontti, center, director of the Governor’s Northern Michigan Office, about the construction of the F.D. Kuester Generating Station in Negaunee Township. (Lisa Bowers/Mining Journal photo)

NEGAUNEE — Gov. Rick Snyder got a first-hand look at how construction is progressing at the new F.D. Kuester Generating Station in Negaunee Township.

Snyder toured the site owned by the Upper Michigan Energy Resources Corporation — a subsidiary of the WEC Energy Group — with other government officials including state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, and Michigan Department of Economic Development CEO Jeff Mason.

UMERC Director Richard Rayborn said construction of the facility, which will consist of seven natural-gas-fired reciprocating engines with a total output of 126 megawatts, is about 35 percent complete and is expected to begin commercial operation in the spring.

“It is exciting to have the governor here today,” Rayborn said during Thursday’s tours. “It’s his first visit to the site and we are just really proud of the progress that we have made.”

Tour participants were able to see the engine hall built to house the seven 35-ton, 46-foot-long by 20-foot-tall reciprocating internal combustion engines, as well as the generators themselves, which are stored on timbers under blue tarps near the structure.

The facility will consist of seven reciprocating internal combustion engines capable of producing 126 megawatts of power when it comes online in 2019.

Construction of a second generation station in Baraga County is also nearly 35 percent complete, Rayborn said. That facility, named the A.J. Mihm Generating Station, will consist of three natural-gas-fired reciprocating engines capable of producing a total of 54 megawatts.

Snyder, who toured the site as part of his annual visit to the area, said the $275 million UMERC generation project will provide a comprehensive solution to several energy related issues in the Upper Peninsula.

“The U.P. was in dire straights with the old coal plant and the transmission issues that we had and the surcharges,” Snyder said. “We needed better answers. The ability to have reliable consistent thoughtful energy is an important thing for all U.P. citizens. (And) I think this was a top priority within all of Michigan, not just the U.P. They are on schedule for both this facility and the one in Baraga … and it’s going to be a great long-term answer.”

Rayborn credits Snyder’s “call to action for an energy solution for the U.P.” in 2015 with moving the project forward.

“We worked very closely with the governors office; the Michigan Public Service Commission; with Cleveland Cliffs and local Negaunee Township government officials — and what you see today is the culmination of all that work that we’ve done together,” Rayborn said.

Construction is about 35 percent complete.

UMERC, which currently serves 42,000 U.P. energy customers, is expected to retire the aging coal-fired Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette once the new generation stations are operational.