Electric (and electronic) infrastructure plans

Michigan State Roundup

Published November 1, 2003  | November 2003 issue

The White Pine power plant in Ontonagon was inactive at the time of last spring's torrential rains in the Upper Peninsula. But when flooding knocked out the Presque Isle power plant in Marquette, within days the plant fired up and, using natural gas, helped keep the lights on until the Marquette plant was again operational. Once the crisis ended, White Pine shut down quickly, as operating costs were too high for the White Pine Refinery, where the plant is located.

But the Ontonagon County Commissioners and the Ontonagon County Economic Development Corp. saw an opportunity to perhaps boost economic activity by having the plant run on a regular basis. Feasibility study results presented by the refinery, which would operate the power plant, claim that the plant could resume operations economically with some renovations. The company's proposal is for the plant to run on coal and deposit ash in an approved landfill. White Pine might also use byproducts from nearby Smurfit Stone Corp., a paper manufacturer.

While the county's goal is to stimulate the area's economy, a renovated plant would also offer cost savings to the White Pine Refinery, which typically spends $100,000 a month on power costs, according to refinery officials. Expected to be online in February, the plant could provide 20 to 30 new jobs and nearly as many spinoff jobs, reports say.

Switching to electronic communications: A consortium of nonprofit organizations and businesses is pushing for high-speed data access across the U.P. Upper Great Lakes Educational Technologies Inc. (UGLETI) is in the process of identifying telecommunications issues, working with experts to analyze the growing demand for high-speed broadband services, as well as educating businesses on the benefits of broadband access. While many school districts and medical facilities are already connected electronically, especially in higher-population areas, many parts of the U.P. remain underserved, according to an UGLETI spokesperson. With a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., UGLETI is part of a statewide project called LinkMichigan, whose goal is to improve and expand the state's telecommunications infrastructure.

Kathy Cobb