MARQUETTE - The Marquette Board of Light and Power will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2014, but in the meantime, it's planning upgrades and trying to keep rates low.
Its customers also can do their part to maintain low rates as well.
BLP Executive Director Paul Kitti said because the utility is a locally controlled and locally owned nonprofit energy provider, it's funded by consumer rates.
This is a coal-crushing mill at the Shiras Steam Plant in Marquette. (Photo by Christie Bleck)
Those rates, he pointed out, are one of the lowest in the state.
"You get your dividend every month because of your low bills," Kitti said.
However, the BLP recently asked for rate increases, and on Oct. 28, the Marquette City Commission voted to approve rate hikes of 8.5 percent annually for the next three years.
Kitti said the rate hikes were necessary to recoup the costs for providing service. Kitti said for every $1 to produce energy, the BLP was getting back only 83 cents.
So where will the money go?
Kitti said that next spring, Specker Circle, for example, will see a reconductoring, or the stringing of wires, to get power to residents in the area.
He said the BLP also will be proactive with brushing, which is done to prevent lines from growing through trees. Rights-of-way, he explained, will be cleaned to keep service interruptions to a minimum should foliage and lines mix.
John Reynolds, BLP director of generation engineering, also noted substation equipment is old, some dating to the 1960s, and that will require replacing one or two circuit breakers annually.
"Every year, we're incrementally updating that equipment," Reynolds said. "We try to be proactive in the business. Otherwise, it'll eat you alive."
One item the BLP will not spend money on, Kitti said, is the possible bypass truck route the Lundin Mining Corp. said it needs to connect County Road 550 and U.S. 41 to haul nickel and copper ore from the Eagle Mine to the Humboldt Mill.
However, improvements already have been made in several areas. Recent investments include a $2.8 million overhaul on Unit No. 3 at the Shiras Steam Plant on Lake Street, $4.8 million for the Tourist Park Dam Restoration Project to produce renewable energy and $500,000 on a combustion turbine substation controls upgrade.
At the Shiras plant, security and monitoring takes place 24/7. According to the BLP's 2012 reliability report, the average response time per outage in the city is 16 minutes, and the average response in rural areas is 22 minutes.
Reynolds said of BLP staff, "These guys go through a lot of training to do these jobs."
To commemorate BLP's 125 years in 2014, Kitti said it will hold open houses at the Shiras plant and its main office on Wright Street, probably during the warmer months.
Kitti thanked the public for its support, setting the stage, he said, for the next 125 years.
Meanwhile, the public can be proactive on its own by taking part in the Energy Optimization program designed to reduce customers' energy use.
The BLP is listed as a service provider on the Energy Optimization website at www.michigan-energy.org/Marquette. Listed for home consumers are programs such as appliance recycling, energy-saving products, low-income services, an online home audit, farm services, a load management program and efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning. There also are programs for industrial and commercial services.
Yvonne Whitman, BLP administrator of energy optimization and community relations, said the program's purpose is to help people use energy wisely and to reduce the need for new power plants.
Whitman said the BLP is a proponent of energy efficiency, and called the Energy Optimization website a "one-stop shop" to obtain information about rebates and incentives.
"Really, everything is under the Energy Optimization umbrella," she said.
Whitman said people also can visit the BLP website at mblp.org for more information.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.