Lower energy payments could increase trash pick up costs


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new deal that would reduce how much Consumers Energy pays independent energy producers for electricity could mean you will be paying more to have your garbage hauled away.

Since 1990, when the Kent County Waste to Energy Facility was built, it has been selling the energy it produces to Consumers Energy for the same price Consumers charges its customers.

The giant facility tucked away along Market Avenue does not smell great up close and the floors are pretty slimy, but despite its appearance, it provides a vital service.

“Most people don’t see the business end of our Waste to Energy facility, but we’re really an energy plant, we’re an electrical generation plant, we just happen to use refuse or municipal solid waste as our fuel,” said Darwin Baas, Kent County Department of Public Works director.

If you live in most of Kent County, all the garbage hauled to the curb does not go to a landfill to rot away, it gets taken here where it is dumped. That includes Wyoming, Grand Rapids, Walker, Kentwood, Grandville and East Grand Rapids.

In the 27 years since the $105 million plant was built, it has kept 500 million tons of garbage out of the waste stream opening up 10 years-worth of space at the South Kent Landfill.

The trash is burned and that burning process steam and that steam drives turbines which creates electricity.

“We generate enough electricity to power almost every home in the city of Walker,” Baas said.

The income from that sale allows the facility to operate, but a new deal sought by Consumers Energy would reduce that income by $2 million.

“One of the true benefits of this facility is that we recycle the ferrous metal that comes out of the ash,” said Paul Smith, Waste-to-Energy operations manager.

They say enough metal has been recovered since 1990 to build the Mackinac Bridge.

The energy created is sold back to Consumers Energy, which means less coal or other sources have to be depleted, so Consumers was required to pay the same amount it charged to its customers.

But now, Consumers has asked the Michigan Public Service Commission to reduce what it pays to Kent County’s facility and other independent energy producers by about a quarter.

“They will have increased their rates by $930 million to residents and business in Michigan, so my question to everyone is why is our electricity worth so much less, when the Public Service Commission is giving them increases?” Baas said.

Citing the fact that the deal is still pending state approval, Consumers Energy would not go on camera but in a statement said: “The current prices are much higher than what we would pay for energy from other sources on the market, and Michigan customers have subsidized small renewable energy producers by approximately $300 million over the last 10 years.”

Consumers said continuing to pay the rate means they would have to pass those costs on to the customers.

“But when we’re told 24 percent of our value is going to be cut while their receiving increases, there’s something not fair about that,” Baas said.

In the short term, rates would have to increase by about 22 percent, according to Kent County.

“We’ll, of course, look at all options but with that comes expense,” Baas said.

But he says this could be the first of many decreases as the contract goes to year-to-year starting in 2022.

“If we’re gonna trend where we’re losing 24 percent of the value of our electrical generation, it could lead to facilities like this and other facilities like us going out of business,” he said

That would mean a $105 million taxpayer investment would be idled.

“If this facility would close, yes, there’s 50 jobs, probably $4 million in payroll,” he said.

Baas said the county has already spent $50,000 in legal fees fighting the increase expected to be approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission this month.

If the plan is approved by the state, the county plans to appeal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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