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December 4, 2012

OUR VIEW: Utility plan could have huge impact

When it comes to a proposed $500 million project to supply Logansport’s electrical needs by burning pellets made from trash, Utility Service Board member Todd Miller asks a good question: Why not?

Logansport Municipal Utilities has no choice but to look for alternatives to its current coal-burning operation. The utility has lost nearly $4 million in the last three years, officials say, and it already knows that federal regulations will shut down the coal-fire plant within five years.

The utility can look for ways to become energy independent, or it can get comfortable with the fact that it will be buying all of its power from a supplier such as Duke Energy within a few years.

That latter option is one no one wants to choose. Consultants project that it would mean a substantial increase in the city’s residential utility rates, not to mention the loss of about 30 jobs at the local generating plant.

Supporters say pursuing the trash alternative, on the other hand, would mean an increase in jobs at the power plant, and Mayor Ted Franklin has projected that the total impact would more than quadruple that number.

Not to mention LMU Superintendent Paul Hartman’s projection that residential electric bills would drop 20 to 25 percent as a result of the project.

And then, of course, there’s the environmental impact. Rather than burning coal, this community would be generating electricity using stuff that would otherwise wind up in a landfill.

None of this will happen quickly. Proposals from companies willing to tackle the project are due in January, and the Logansport Utility Service Board hopes to make a selection by early February. After that will come a licensing process that could take two years, followed by a construction process that could take to the middle of 2017.

It’s entirely possible that even if LMU launches this process early next year, it will be forced to shut down the current power plant before it can get the new plant up and running.

So time is of the essence.

Still, it’s crucial that local utility customers stay tuned to this process. LMU has pledged that the discussion will be open and above board, and it’s important that the public take advantage of the opportunity.

This project could have a huge impact on Logansport and Cass County, not only in the immediate future but for years to come.

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