U.S. Rep. Fred Upton visits Niles to tour Indeck project site

NILES — While there was not much more than snow and dirt to look at Monday afternoon at 2100 Progressive Drive, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) joined city leaders in envisioning the Niles Indeck Energy plant during a visit to the site.

The natural gas to energy plant — a nearly $1 billion capital investment — is expected to break ground this summer.

Upton joined Niles Mayor Nick Shelton, Indeck Vice President of Business Development  David Hicks and Police Chief Jim Millin, to name just a few in the visit Monday to discuss the project’s future and impact on the city of Niles.

“On this property, there will be a state-of-the art natural gas fire combine cycle plant,” Hicks said. “We will have two gas turbines, two heat recovery steam generators and a steam turbine.”

Hicks explained that the electricity will be created when gas is combusted in the gas turbines. The waste heat from gas turbines will be used to boil water and create steam to make additional electricity.

“What’s great about a plant like this is you produce electricity twice,” Hicks said.

Hicks said Indeck project managers have already begun clearing the site for construction. The commercial facility is expected to be ready for operation by 2021.

The natural gas to energy plant is not the first project that Indeck has proposed building in Niles. Two earlier projects fell through less than 20 years ago due to a spike in the prices of the natural gas market and the 2001 bankruptcy on Enron. When Indeck officials came to the city for approval on tax abatements, some city leaders questioned whether they could trust the project to be completed.

Hicks said this time around the market is right for the project and he does not anticipate the project to fall through.

“Enron is no longer a viable company … and the PJM market that will be selling into is a very viable market,” Hicks said. “It is probably the most competitive electricity market in the United States.”

Another concern discussed Monday was whether or not residents in nearby neighborhoods might disapprove of the project.

“The majority of people in our community are excited to get this going and excited about the huge impact it will have to our community,” Shelton said. “I’m sure there were some with concerns, which were expressed at our meeting, but the majority were excited.”

Overall, Shelton said he was eager to see the plant come to fruition.

“We are looking forward to the economic boost that Indeck will bring into the community,” Shelton said.

He cited the 300 to 600 jobs that are expected to be created throughout the nearly three-year long construction phase, as well as tax revenue that the project is anticipated to accrue. Once in operation, the plant is expected to provide 21 full-time jobs, with average salaries of more than $80,000 a year.

Shelton said the city is expected to gain about $25 million from the project over the course of 27 years. That money, he said, will be poured back into the Niles community. 

In the weeks to come, Hicks said Indeck project officials will be working with Amtrak, which owns property to the west of the Indeck site.

“One of the issues that we have uncovered is that there are some old legacy easements on the property for infrastructure that could have been there prior to 1978,” Hicks said.

Hicks said they met with Amtrak and were working to get the easements released within the next couple of weeks, allowing them to complete financing of the project. Hicks said they have state financing for the project, but are waiting for investor financing.

“A number of investors are already on board and they will be coming out to look at the site tomorrow,” Hicks said.

Hicks said he could not divulge how many investors were interested at this time, but that the interest was foreign as well as national.

Upton said he had planned to be in Niles Monday anyway and was happy for the opportunity to visit the site.

“It seems like things are on track. It is a good thing,” Upton said. “We are all on the same page. I am encouraged by the good meeting we had here today.”

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