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    Two decades after it was first planned, Indeck Niles Energy Center is near the finish line


    September 20, 2021 - Ed Semmler, South Bend Tribune, Ind.

     

      Sep. 20—NILES — After more than two years of construction and about 1.5 million man hours of labor, the new Indeck Niles Energy Center is nearing the finish line.

      Fine tuning and testing of the massive $1.1 billion power plant at 2200 Progressive Drive is expected to get underway at the end of October and should wrap up by March 15. At that time, Kiewit Corp. — the same construction company that built the St. Joseph Energy Center in New Carlisle — will officially turn over the plant to Indeck.

      Indeck, which is a privately held developer and operator of energy plants, will operate the natural-gas fired plant on a small portion of a 373-acre site just north of Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport on the northeast side of the city.

      Because of environmental contamination, the land has largely sat vacant since it was last used by the railroads decades ago. But Indeck and its partners — Korea Southern Power Co. and Daelim Energy Co. — paid $59 million to clean up and contain pollutants on the site, the costs of which will be reimbursed by Niles through the property taxes it collects on the project.

      "The deal was a win-win for Niles because it transformed an unproductive brownfield site into a plant that has employed hundreds of construction workers and will boost the tax base and provide reliable energy for decades to come," said Jeff Rea, president and CEO of both the Greater Niles and South Bend Regional chambers of commerce.

      The new power plant also will create permanent jobs for 21 people, who are already undergoing training on how to operate and maintain the facility, said David Hicks, vice president of development for Illinois-based Indeck.

      Similar to the natural gas plant in New Carlisle, Indeck first proposed building a gas-fired power plant about 20 years ago because of the close proximity of natural gas lines needed to power the plant and the electrical lines needed to move the power they produce.

      Both projects were ultimately shelved back then because of rising natural gas prices and the accounting scandal that ultimately led to the downfall of Enron Corp. But with Enron decades in the rearview mirror and natural gas now abundant, both projects now make more sense, experts say.

      Hicks pointed out that the Indeck plant, which has a projected lifespan of at least 40 years without significant amendments, will also make up for the generating capacity that is being lost because of the closure of coal-fired plants around the country, as well as the 711 megawatt Palisades Nuclear Plant in Covert that is scheduled for closure next year.

      "The demand for electricity will only continue to go up," Hicks said.

      The electricity produced by the Indeck plant will leave the site via the AEP distribution network on the north side of the property, but will feed a grid stretching from portions of Illinois and moving eastward into Indiana, Michigan and about 10 other states.

      Jamie Pike, Indeck's construction manager, said the plant will be one of the most efficient gas-fired plants in the United States when it officially starts up in mid-March. It will use natural gas to power two massive turbines and the waste heat will be used to produce steam to power a third turbine.

      Once it is operational, no one will likely know it is there as the plant will make less noise than a lawnmower and emit almost no steam since the vast majority is captured in the two-phase process, Pike explained.

      Many consider modern natural-gas fired plants as a bridge to the future since they can produce power continuously and with about 60% less carbon dioxide than a comparable coal-fired plant. Renewable energy such as from wind turbines and solar farms can require a lot of land and require battery storage to offer power continuously.

      With the project now about 90% completed, construction employment has now dropped to about 400 from its peak of about 600 earlier this year and will continue to subside moving toward the plant commissioning, Pike said.

      Because of the large number of skilled workers that were needed to build the plant, the region got an economic shot in the arm with the construction of both the Niles and New Carlisle plants since many of those workers stayed in hotels, rented apartments or even purchased homes during their stay in the region, Rea said.

      With Japanese investors involved in the New Carlisle plant and South Korean investors connected to the Niles plant, the two projects also provide exposure for the region when it comes to the possibility of attracting future projects.

      "The jobs and spending gave a nice boost to the local economy," Rea said, adding that local suppliers, subcontractors and even restaurants benefitted by the construction of the two plants over a five-year period.

      "Both those projects don't require a lot of attention," he said, "but they'll generate tax revenue on both sides of the state line for many years to come."

      ___

      (c)2021 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

      Visit the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) at www.southbendtribune.com

      Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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