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December 2, 2012

HAWES: Utility promises openness

Logansport’s utility superintendent has promised to keep residents in the loop concerning the proposed transformation of the city power plant.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep the public informed,” said Paul Hartman, superintendent of Logansport Municipal Utilities. “There are no secrets here. People have a right to know what’s going on.”

Hartman noted that he had already scheduled an appearance before the Logansport Rotary Club, and he voiced willingness to speak before other civic organizations.

“They just need to ask,” he said.

The next step in the process will be a cost of service study to be presented to the Logansport Utility Service Board at its December meeting. After that will come proposals from companies willing to invest in the project. Those are due by Jan. 11, and the consultants hope to have a recommendation to the Utility Service Board by Feb. 4.

Hartman said his team would likely narrow the list to few finalists during closed-door meetings. After that, he said, the process will be public.

“We’ll probably have a public meeting where we talk about the finalists,” he said.

The utility’s goal is to find a company willing to invest at least $500 million in converting the city’s power plant to burn pellets made from trash. Some would come from the city’s own trash and some would come from other sources.

This transformation won’t happen quickly. Once the city selects a partner, the project will face a process of 18 to 24 months to gain the needed permits. After that, Hartman said, the construction process will take up to 2 1/2 years.

So it could take as long as 4 1/2 years from the day the board makes its decision to the day the plant goes into operation.

And time is of the essence.

Hartman says the utility is looking at a deadline of no later than 2017 to stop burning coal. That means that even if the process starts next year, LMU might be looking at a period when it will have to buy all of its power from Duke Energy.

The utility’s contract with Duke, by the way, ends in 2018, and he good news is that if this project goes through, LMU will be in a position in several years where it will not only be generating all of the energy it needs, it will actually have about 150 megawatts of electricity available to sell to a supplier such as Duke Energy.

“That’s one of the things that make this work,” Hartman said.

Consultants say this plan will result in a drop in the amount of money the utility is spending to generate electricity. Hartman says that will translate into a savings for customers in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent.

Some have questioned why any company would invest at least $500 million in such a venture. Where is the return on investment?

Hartman is confident that there are a number of companies willing to do that, and he says their motivations vary.

“Some are doing it for tax write-offs,” he said. “Some are looking to meet a requirement that they invest in green technology.”

Advocates of the project say it would provide huge dividends for Logansport. Mayor Ted Franklin has suggested it would create as many as 160 jobs.

Hartman sees a demanding schedule ahead as he works to meet the timetable set out for the project.

“I don’t expect to have a lot of time to relax,” he said. “That’s OK, though. I’m looking forward to it.”

Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or kelly.hawes@pharostribune.com.

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