Company to Burn Biomass in Escanaba, Michigan Coal-Fired Plant

- by Jenny Lancour, April 3, 2015, Escanaba Daily Press

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"447","attributes":{"alt":"Escanaba, Michigan coal plant","class":"media-image","style":"width: 333px; height: 228px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: Escanaba Daily Press"}}]]Anyone wanting to express comments on a company's recent proposal to buy Escanaba's power plant can attend a public hearing next week at city hall, according to city officials.

A public hearing on a purchase proposal submitted by Sterling Energy Group, Inc. will be held during the joint meeting of council and the Electrical Advisory Committee beginning at 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday in council chambers.

Sterling Energy has offered to buy the coal-fueled power plant and equipment for $250,000 and plans to invest additional funds into the property to convert the facility to burn biomass.

The plant has been for sale for several years because it is less costly for the city to buy power compared to generating energy by burning coal. Escanaba has been buying power from a supplier for more than three years.

Council announced SEG's proposal last month but took no action pending next week's public hearing allowing citizen input on the matter.

SEG - headquartered in Gary, Ind. - buys coal-fired plants which no longer have a useful life and retrofits them into biomass-fueled facilities.

For example, the company owns a biomass plant in Niagara Falls, N.Y., which was converted to burn the renewable fuel of slash - the leftover waste products from forest harvests.

SEG is looking to retrofit the Escanaba plant to burn an estimated 200,000 tons of biomass a year consisting of more than 80 percent forest slash and "C&D" wood - a mulch made from construction and demolition debris - and less than 20 percent of railroad ties.

In addition to the $250,000 purchase of the property, SEG also offered to post a $200,000 non-refundable deposit to pay the city's past legal bills and additional legal fees to complete the sales transaction.

Employees currently working at the plant would be hired on with the new company.

According to a demolition estimate completed a few years ago, it would cost the city more than $600,000 to demolish the power plant building which also contains asbestos, noted Electric Superintendent Mike Furmanski.

Furmanski discussed the public hearing following Wednesday's council meeting when he presented an update on the city's recently-constructed substation.

A new unit was built following an explosion at the power plant's substation on Feb. 2. The load from a rental mobile substation has been transferred to the new unit, explained Furmanski.

Extra load which was put on the city's west-side substation after the explosion, will be transferred to the new unit during the next week, he added.