Evart thinking about public utility venture

EVART — “Why should Evart consider forming a public utility for the purpose of purchasing and distributing electricity?”

That is the question — a critical one — economic planners and industrial developers in the City of Evart hope to have answered with a pre-feasibility study to be funded by the city and the Local Development Finance Authority.

In action taken at the last session of Evart’s municipal Council, board members approved funding a pre-feasibility study to look into the possibility of creating a self-sustaining energy generating operation to most likely be located in the industrial park area.

The council approved $5,000 toward the study while the LDFA also will be picking up an additional $5,000.

The entire study, when completed, will cost the city and its component units $18,600, but the investment could ultimately result in huge savings — not only for the city but for consumers of electricity (both residential and businesses) throughout the area.

The remainder of the expense will be raised later on.

What actually is being funded is a study to investigate all of the issues, benefits, and potential problems well before spending any serious money on a more exacting engineering study or specific review.

Funding the pre-feasibility study is the safest way to protect the city and LDFA from expending too much money on a project that may, or may not take place without having a clear picture of what the future holds with regard to this potential development.

“Michigan Solutions Group, LLC will be taking a very careful look at something we’ve had under consideration and discussion for about three months,” LDFA executive director Melora Theunick said.

“We’ve had a number of meetings regarding the possibilities of having the city create a public utility, and now have decided its time to take things one step forward.”

City officials and members of the LDFA have visited other communities with existing power plant operations around the state to get a better idea of what exactly is involved in such a project.

“We’ve visited in Coldwater, a community that not only produces electricity for itself but also for five other communities in its area,” continued Theunick. “That’s a great idea — partnering with neighbors to bring the cost of energy down for everyone involved.

“Still, that’s only one of the factors a pre-feasibility study investigates — the potential for cooperative efforts.”

Theunick said there were many reasons for considering a municipal utility.

“First, the production of energy could well be an additional income stream for the city,” she said.

“Second, and the reason the LDFA is interested, is that this will be very attractive for businesses considering locating or relocating to this community. It will also help us retain businesses that already exist in our area.”

“Finally, having a municipal utility will lower the cost of energy for area residents.”

There are a number of options available to the city:

  • The city could become a wholesaler, buying and distributing energy without actually developing an electricity production facility.
  • Evart could build a power production plant both generating electricity and distributing it as well.

“We need to investigate all the options open to us,” continued Theunick. “We don’t know for sure what would be the best for us. That is why we’ve taken on this pre-feasibility study — to determine what way, shape, or form this project could take.”

“If everything works out, this type of project could be very beneficial to our community.”

At Evart City Hall, city manager Zack Scazkas is enthusiastic about the possibilities a municipal utility holds for the city — as is the council.

“This really is part of the LDFA’s continuing effort to create more economic development projects in our city,” he pointed out.

“At this stage, we are simply exploring a number of ideas.

“It would be great, however, to be able to sell electric energy to our residents and businesses in the area at a cheaper rate than they are now paying.

“Sure, there is an investment, but in the long run it would really work out well for us.

“We will move into this carefully — very carefully.”

If the pre-feasibility study shows there is value in continuing on with investigative steps, the city and LDFA will revisit the issue and determine whether a full fledged feasibility study is in order.