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An image of Hillsdale's power plants. Kate Patrick/Collegian
An image of Hillsdale’s power plants.
Kate Patrick/Collegian

The city of Hillsdale’s backup gen­er­ators have been out of service for the past four years, but in two months they will be com­pletely upgraded with newly-installed cooling towers. Total repairs — which began in 2015 — cost more than $470,000, funded by the Board of Public Util­ities’ budget.

Assistant Director Chris McArthur said the BPU chose to restore the gen­er­ators because the Mid­con­tinent Inde­pendent System Operator will provide the BPU with income based on how often the gen­er­ators are used during the year.

“Once a year MISO pays us money back to have those gen­er­ators available in case there’s an issue with the power on the grid,” McArthur said. “But we are not required to have backup power. The gen­er­ators are for lia­bility pur­poses.”

Hillsdale is a member of the Michigan South Central Power Agency, which is located in Litch­field and also pro­vides elec­tricity to the vil­lages of Clinton and Union City, and the cities of Cold­water and Mar­shall.

The MSCPA pro­vides energy for Hillsdale on a daily basis and charges the city per megawatt based on the MISO Energy Market. The price of energy fluc­tuates hourly, so the price sky­rockets during extreme weather con­di­tions, including on the hottest and coldest days of the year. McArthur said when the price of energy rises above $70 per megawatt, the city of Hillsdale uses its backup gen­er­ators for power to save money. Hillsdale uses its gen­er­ators about 10 to 12 days out of the year.

“It’s all about economies of scale,” said Glen White, MSCPA general manager. “We make sure the city of Hillsdale has all the energy it needs.”

Hillsdale joined the MSCPA when it was founded in 1982 as part of a joint effort for the five com­mu­nities to save money on elec­tricity, White said.

“If the grid went down, Hillsdale would be able to provide for some of its needs with its gen­er­ators,” White said.

In the past the Hillsdale gen­er­ators were cooled with water drawn from Baw Beese Lake. After cooling, the water was dumped back into the lake according to Hillsdale’s Department of Envi­ron­mental Quality non­contact cooling water permit.

McArthur said the BPU will finish installing the towers in approx­i­mately two months.

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    —” McArthur said. “But we are not required to have backup power. The gen­er­ators are for lia­bility pur­poses.””

    5 W’s WHY for “lia­bility pur­poses”?

    My guess is so they don’t dump raw sewage into the St. Joe River as has hap­pened in the past when BPU goes down. They have been cited for it before.

    Can you expand on the “WHY” so this reader isn’t guessing? Thanks

    • Stephen French

      These gen­er­ators are dif­ferent than the gen­er­ators that have been pur­chased in case of power failure to the sewage treatment plant

      • Ellsworth_Toohey

        OK, thanks for ruling out my guess. But that didn’t answer my question. What is the lia­bility pur­poses these gen­er­ators are for?

        The full quote:

        —-”“But we are not required to have backup power. The gen­er­ators are for lia­bility pur­poses.”

        BTW, it was more of a clar­i­fi­cation question to the author, not the city. You never want to leave your reader guessing and the “5W’s” are basic ques­tions used in news gath­ering to get a com­plete picture. I’m a news junkie and in another life was a jour­nalist.

        Thanks for the comment.

        • Stephen French

          The gen­er­ators will be used to gen­erate power into the grid when nec­essary. I’m not sure why the term “lia­bility” was used, but in speaking to the BPU Director, the gen­er­ators will offset the need for the BPU to pur­chase power in certain cir­cum­stances.

        • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

          These are the really large gen­er­ators out in the brick building at the entrance to the parks at Baw Beese. The pic­tures aren’t of the gen­er­ators, that looks to be the cooling equipment.

          As to the lia­bility, BPU has a baseline power pur­chase in place, but in the summer, this con­dition almost always occurs in the summer, spot prices for power spike when there is a lot of demand, making the price we pay per kWh to BPU less than what they had to pay on the open market to make up the overage. The gen­er­ators BPU owns, and pre­vi­ously shut down when the stricter diesel emis­sions cam into play in 2006 – 8 are the ones that are being dis­cussed here. Even with the con­sid­erable expense to bring them into com­pliance, the cost is made up by not buying power on the spot market in short order.

          So you log­i­cally ask, why then not run them all the time? They aren’t effi­cient enough to be cheaper than buying what you can get with a long term pur­chase agreement. So it’s a balance, when you run them power has to be more than what it costs to gen­erate in house.

          The other side of the argument, ulti­mately these do back up the sewer plant, and the hos­pital, just not instantly. These have standby gen­er­ators, but if Con­sumers takes their time getting around to restoring BPUs feed from the main grid, the city can now gen­erate power to get the city out of the dark, think back a couple years, 4 – 8 hours without power to the entire city, Con­sumers messed up, but didn’t fix it with any urgency.

  • Joseph Hendee

    They should of done that year’s ago. They were fined I believe 10,000$ by the DNR for thermal pol­lution. The hot water was going back into the lake and killing fish. Now if you research that back­wards look how long it took them to do that.