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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.