Tuesday, September 25th, 2007
By Janie Southard
Electricity plant could close down
Officials debate fixing expensive turbine
  ST. MARYS - City officials are questioning whether to repair again a problem turbine at the city power plant or to simply shut down the plant.
This turbine unit is staffed and coal-fired, according to Electric System Superintendent Jerry Wolfe. Thus, operating this unit involves several city employees.
"That unit provides an average of 20 percent of the city's electric. It's not working now and hasn't for 300-plus days in the last couple years ... (What we do is) purchase electric from other sources," Wolfe said following Monday night's city council meeting.
Repairs could not be accomplished until at least March 2008 to the power source that continues to be the most expensive for the city.
Notes of the recent electric committee meeting presented to council Monday night indicate an estimated $250,000 for repairs with an insurance deductible of $100,000. The question then arises would the city be able to obtain more insurance on the unit, which was purchased new in 1967.
A recent talk with the city's insurance agent stressed there is no guarantee that company's insurance coverage would be available for the plant.
Off line 379 days in the past two years, the turbine has been on the long-term schedule to be shut down anyway in 2013.
With minimum maintenance until 2013 estimated at $500,000 and total cost to operate the plant for the next six years an estimated $970,000, Councilman Mike Kleinhenz stated that money would be better spent toward new equipment.
City Service Safety Director Tom Hitchcock compared buying new or used equipment, saying his observation is that the city hasn't had very good luck with used equipment.
"Everything he's seen that was purchased used seems to bring problems with it," according to the committee minutes.
However, the greatest concern, given the unit's recent history of breakdowns, is safety of the personnel in that location. And, should the plant be shut down, would those employees be out of a job?
No, they would be transferred to other city departments, according to Mayor Greg Freewalt.
In other business, the city will go out for bids today for construction of the new wastewater treatment plant, which could begin next year. Engineer's estimate for the construction is $12 million.
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