Generator undergoing $2.6 million ‘tune-up’

MARQUETTE – The Marquette Board of Light and Power is in the midst of a $2.6 million planned maintenance project that will increase the utility’s operating efficiency moving forward.

Unit 3, a 44-megawatt steam generator located in the BLP’s Shiras Steam Plant, was taken offline recently and will be sent out for a “tune-up,” according to BLP Production Superintendent John Reynolds.

“We’re sending that to Chicago and it’s about a four-week turnaround,” he said.

Unit 3 was initially put into service in 1983 and provides the majority of the utility’s generated power. BLP Executive Director Paul Kitti said the routine maintenance is done regularly.

“This is an eight-year cycle for our turbine,” he said. “We’ll take the hood off and really take a look.”

The BLP, a locally owned not-for-profit utility, serves about 16,500 customers in the city of Marquette and nine nearby townships.

While the BLP’s main generator is out of service, the utility is drawing power from Unit 2, a 20 MW unit used primarily as a backup or supplemental generator.

The BLP also operates three hydroelectric stations that have the potential to generate enough electricity to power 3,000 homes, according to Kitti.

Still, the brief drawdown in production means the BLP is buying more power – about two-thirds of the required electricity – on the open market.

That power comes from other parts of the grid, through the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, the regional transmission planning authority that monitors the high-voltage electrical system throughout the American Midwest and Manitoba, Canada.

Customers shouldn’t see much impact from the brief shift in production, but Reynolds said he always prefers to buy less power.

“We’re really all about local control,” he said. “We want to return efficiency back close to where it was. It wears over time, so we want to do some repair on that.”

The project, according to Kitti and Reynolds, reflects the BLP’s intentions – to produce power locally and keep consumer rates as low as possible. The price, they said, is much easier to control when electricity is generated in-house.

“We’re looking at a cost-of-service study now,” Kitti said. “It’ll be our second one in 30 years and we won’t know until mid-year what that looks like.”

Moving forward, the study will help to inform the BLP’s rates, as well as capital expenditures.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.