“The generating plant is going to cease operations no later than January 31 of 2016,” LMU Superintendent Paul Hartman said after the Tuesday, Dec. 22 meeting of the Utility Service Board.
“It does not affect any kind of distribution and transmission. We still will be sending out electric bills , we still will be taking care of all outages and we’ll still have the excellent customer service as far as anything concerning your electricity in your house. The only difference is instead of generating 30 percent of our power and buying 70% from Duke, now we’ll be buying 100% from Duke until we arrange something different with them.”
Hartman says the closure is the result of an EPA regulation.
“It essentially closes all the facilities that are lower than 25 megawatts of production,” Hartman said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting. “Both of our units are lower than 25 megawatts so we have to comply with that. There’s no way that we could meet that regulation with just burning coal. It has to be in combination with something else like some kind of a pellet, wood or paper or something else, some other kind of biomass. We had that proposal with Pyrolyzer, we had it with a couple other people, S.G. Preston most recently, and since negotiations have broken down, we don’t have a project, we’re kind of stuck on now the January 31, 2016 date.”
The major impact will be on the generating plant’s employees, who received the news Friday, just one week before Christmas.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Hartman, the Utility Service Board’s five members and incoming mayor Dave Kitchell expressed concern for the plant’s 31 employees.
Kitchell told the Utility Service Board he wants to do everything he can to keep the people there employed.
“We’re going to probably offer a lot of options to employees that include, maybe, buyouts for some of the senior-level folks and Duke Energy has already agreed to help with retraining for jobs at other power plants,” Kitchell said. “They’ve done that in other cities, so they’ve been willing to do it. We’ll continue to look at generating options and natural gas seems to be the prevailing option right now, but there are other jobs within the city itself that these people can do, that we need to have done. The Memorial Home, the Memorial Center, is one of those places where we’re going to have to have work done. It needs to reopen, it needs to be ready, and we’ve had it closed up now for more than a year, and there are several places in the city where we need to do that. Similar to last year when employees from all city departments worked on the city pool, but they had jobs to go back to, now we have people that won’t have jobs, but we’ve got plenty to do in the city. So, I think we just have to repurpose them for now, until we can get to generating capacity again and train that next generation of employees for that. It won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach for every employee but we’re going to try to make sure that they stay employed, they stay insured and they stay as members and contributors of the Public Employees Retirement Fund, which is PERF.”
In other business, the Utility Service approved hiring the legal firm of Hatchett and Hauck to handle “litigation that the CARE group has initiated.” Attorney Jim Brugh, who has been appointed by Kitchell to serve as LMU’s attorney effective January 1, filed a motion earlier this month on behalf of the Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy group to intervene in the one year extension LMU had requested to test burn pellets and keep the plant open.
The Utility Service Board also approved the hiring of another Indianapolis law firm, Lewis and Kappes, to help in evaluating wholesale power negotiations.
Board members expressed interest in working with Kitchell to move forward, and several LMU employees in attendance spoke with him after the meeting.
“We’re working to attain a lot of the things you’re talking about,” board member Dan Slusser told Kitchell during the meeting. “These discussions cannot occur too soon.”
Councilman Joe Buck, who represents the 2nd ward, was the only member of the current administration in attendance, and also addressed the board during public comments.
“The rock throwers cost the city over $2 million and I’m wondering where that’s going to be made up,” he said. “I”m absolutely baffled that now it’s all peaches and cream.”
Board member Jay King asked Buck to give the next administration the same chance that the current elected officials had been given during their four-year term.
“I hope the city is not as divided the next four years as we’ve been the past four years,” King said.