Electricity issue draws charged audience
Options for Baldwin City's electrical future were outlined and discussed at a town hall meeting last Wednesday. As a take-home message, council member Ken Wagner assured the audience that no decision has been made yet.
"We are open minded," Wagner said to the 60 residents who streamed into the Baldwin Junior High School auditorium for the first of what's hoped to be a series of such meetings. "We want to have more of these discussions. We want to know what you think.
"The only thing I've decided is we've got to do something," he said.
Utility director Terry McKinney presented a history of Baldwin electricity and then outlined the eight options he researched to supply the city's growing electrical needs. Based on his findings, option eight, partnering with Western Resources to build and maintain a new electrical generation plant somewhere around Baldwin, is considered the best.
"If you look at it purely on economics, it appears that is our best options," McKinney said of the plan, which would phase out Baldwin's antiquated generation plant with a new multi-million dollar facility.
The plant would cost between $8.5 million and $10 million, with Western Resources paying for both the debt service and operating costs on the new generation. However, Baldwin would own and operate it.
Western Resources would have the rights on the plant's capacity as well as energy, but each year the city's capacity needs would be reviewed and adjusted in 1,000 kw increments.
The need for power is illustrated by Baldwin's continued growth in usage. Under present agreements to obtain power and Baldwin's generation abilities, the city will surpass what is currently available in 2002. That's also with just 3.5 percent projected growth in population.
After McKinney's presentation, Mayor Ken Hayes moderated a discussion between the audience, city council members in attendance and McKinney. Before the discussion took place, Hayes outlined how the city will proceed for now.
"With all this in mind, option eight appears to be the best," Hayes said. "We'll dual track these options and move forward. But, we will keep the option doors open."
A complete list of the options are available at City Hall and are also listed on the Signal Web site at www.baldwincity.com.
Numerous members of the audience had questions about the options. There was a spirited debate between Hayes and local developer Michael C. Green, who ran against Hayes for mayor in the April election. The two have discussed the electrical situation in great length both publicly and privately and Wednesday's discussion was a continuation of that. Several audience members were bothered by the tone of their banter, but Hayes explained the situation and apologized.
Green said he wants out of the electrical generation business for good.
"I would rather pay 10 cents a kilowatt-hour (contained in one of the other options) than have a power plant," he said. "Let the people who are in that business do that."
Part of the problem with that option, Hayes and McKinney explained, is the current debt Baldwin has as a result of upgrading the electrical distribution system. Also, the revenue from power generation is important to Baldwin's fiscal health, they said.
"What we're suffering from is that these things (infrastructure) were neglected for years," Hayes said of the $3 million debt the city has incurred to upgrade distribution.
An audience member asked where the new plant would be, which Hayes said was unknown at this time, but it would not be housed at the present site.
"What we need to do is get the power plant out of downtown," he said.
Other concerns raised included the environmental impact of operation a power plant.
"It's a Catch 22 you want the power generation, but you don't want the environmental impact," Hayes said.
McKinney answered that the natural gas-powered generation units favored for the plan would be much better than the current situation.
"These are much more efficient units that don't have the same environmental impact," he said.
Discussions of the electrical topic will continue. Council members said they were pleased with the turnout for the first town hall meeting and hope attendance will grow for those in the future. They also said they encourage resident to let them know how they feel on all issues, not just electricity.