U.P. resident buying Esky power plant

ESCANABA – Charles Detiege never thought he would be buying a power plant but when his co-workers were being laid off, he felt compelled to do something to keep the facility going.

“The whole reason I did this was for the jobs,” Charles Detiege, 37, of Ford River said.

Detiege, the Escanaba power plant’s environmental health and safety coordinator, has been employed at the power plant since 2010.

When he started working there, the facility and 17 acres of land were up for sale. After a couple of failed purchases, some of the workers were let go when the plant was idled in January 2012. Detiege decided to do something to keep the jobs here.

“What really kicked it off was the guys getting laid off,” said Detiege, recalling how he started looking into buying the plant, asking the workers questions, and reviewing the business numbers.

He also got in contact with some potential partners including an operating engineer, a business manager, and potential yard and plant superintendents.

In early 2012, Detiege formed the company Escanaba Green Energy to purchase the coal-fueled plant from the city and convert it to burn biomass at a total cost of $36.5 million.

“I got serious,” he said. “What was in my mind was: ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?’ It’s a great opportunity for a smaller company.”

Besides keeping the local jobs here, Detiege said the plant purchase would be an investment for him and his family. He also views the biomass business as an investment in the community.

“I believe it’s important to the community,” he said. The plant is expected to generate about $5 million a year into the region’s economy including 75 to 100 spin-off jobs.

The multi-million dollar decision to buy the plant wasn’t made lightly, Detiege recalled, explaining that he and his wife are using their home to help secure the loan.