Evart votes not to sell electricity

EVART -- The city of Evart will not support selling electricity off the grid in the near future after the council unanimously approved a letter stating the city would uphold an agreement with Consumers Energy.

The 30-year franchise agreement, signed in 1989, grants Consumers Energy the authority to construct and use electrical lines, towers, transmitters and other equipment in the city of Evart, and charge the city residents a fee set annually by the Michigan Public Service Commission until 2019.

Michigan Solutions Group, an economic development firm in contract with the Local Development Finance Authority, brought the proposal to sell energy to the council earlier this year as a way to stimulate economic growth and attract businesses to the area. If the city sold its own energy, costs would have been lower than they were elsewhere.

A pre-feasibility study was completed to determine the possibilities of bringing the project to Evart. The study looked at the city’s current electric use and the estimated cost of creating and operating it’s own municipal utility system.

The results of the study, presented in late September, showed the city could either build a new distribution center for $4.6 million, or work with Consumers Energy to obtain the distribution center and infrastructure the company operates. Either option would have required the franchise agreement to be revoked.

At Monday's city council meeting, council members approved a letter by City Manager Zach Szakacs to hold off with agreements at least until the end of the franchise agreement, in 2019.

"Basically what I'm asking is that the city council understand that we do have the franchise agreement out there that doesn't expire until 2019," Szakacs told council.

The city could have stepped out of the franchise agreement with legal fees attached, but Szakacs advised council to honor the agreement and put the project aside.

"Consumers invested thousands of dollars to build this infrastructure and they said if they were going to put such a big investment (into Evart), we should let them be here for 30 years," he said.

The city will ask the LDFA and MSG to dismiss ideas surrounding the city becoming a municipal electric company and focus on other economic strategies until the franchise agreement is up in 2019.

The next meeting of the Evart City Council will be at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 at the Evart Depot.