GI's Early Action Pays Off on Costly Power Plant Regulations


Early action pays off for Grand Island, where a federal court ruling means a $42 million pollution control project hasn't been done in vain.

The city owns its own power plant, to the benefit of residents. Power outages are rare, like the one that turned off the lights at the Conestoga Mall this week following a lightning strike.

But now the city's coal-fired plant is getting an upgrade, according to Utilities Director Tim Luchsinger.

He said, "The system we're installing will remove mercury and acid gases."

It has to be done to comply with something called MATS -- the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. It's an EPA rule that recently won a big court battle.

Luchsinger said, "They said the rule will continue and schedule will be as set by original regulations."

If power plant operators were waiting it out to see if the court would strike down the rule, they'd be in trouble now. But not Grand Island.

Luchsinger explained, "We elected to proceed with the construction even though the rule was being challenged and we're glad we did. If we sat there, waiting for relief, we wouldn't have got it, would have been scrambling trying to get things done in time."

Because the city acted when it did, construction is on schedule. The equipment will mostly be in place this fall and be operational by next spring.

Luchsinger said Grand Island Utilities has bonded the project and dipped into the bank to pay it off in 15 years instead of 20.

He said, "There should be no impact to the ratepayers on this. We did some refinancing earlier and been doing a good job at maintaining or increasing cash reserve so ratepayers shouldn't see anything at all in this."

So power outages should remain rare in Grand Island, with a plant that'll meet federal rules and still offer favorable prices for customers.

"This will allow us to remain in the market and competitive I believe," Luchsinger said.

The contractor is from Georgia and has a crew of 90 on site. Their only complaint is the wind, but even Wednesday night's storm didn't seem to slow them.