Niles City Council votes yes on sustainable energy negotiations

NILES — The city council voted on Monday evening at its regular meeting to move forward with Indeck Niles Energy Center toward exploring a more sustainable energy future.

The council voted unanimously on allowing the city staff and Michigan Public Power Agency to begin negotiations with Indeck Energy Services, the company in charge of Indeck Niles Energy Center at 2200 Progressive Dr. The negotiations will begin work toward identifying benefits of adding sustainable energy, such as solar and solar plus battery energy storage, to the local power supply portfolio.

In a previous meeting of the committee of the whole hosted on June 8, city utilities manager Jeff Dunlap had presented the benefits of integrating solar energy and solar combined with battery energy storage systems, and how it would benefit both the city and the company contracted for the work.

In the outlined presentation, Dunlap identified several potential benefits for the city of Niles moving this direction with energy, including capacity cost savings, a network integration transmission service cost savings and co-development savings between the company and the city.

In his previous presentation, Dunlap cited that the project could benefit Niles by increasing the renewable generation profile, generating nearly 20 percent of the city’s energy needs through solar power. This is an important goal because of Michigan’s Public Acts 341 and 342, which would require the city to have a minimum of 15 percent renewable energy in 2021. If the city does not meet the minimum, it would be required to purchase renewable energy credits from the state to offset its energy generation. The System Impact Study that was approved by the council on Monday night capped expenditures at $24,200 for the study for Indeck Solar or Solar plus battery storage.

The vote from the council on Monday evening will allow negotiations as studies progress.

The meeting hosted multiple residents during public comment.

“I just wanted to say I attended the Juneteenth March on Friday,” said Niles resident Justin Flagel. “It was a beautiful event, and I was happy to see participants from the city, on the council, our police participation, and people that work for the city. It was great to see.”

Another participant, Libby Nimtz, cited parking issues she was having with the city’s code enforcement.

“I have made some efforts to communicate to the city council about parking issues that we have experienced with code enforcement,” Nimtz said, citing her neighborhood of Dickereel. “I’d like to address the issue.”

Mayor Nick Shelton asked the council to review city code enforcement regulations around parking, and especially on streets without provided parking areas, before the city council’s next meeting of the committee of the whole to discuss Nimtz’s challenges. The meeting of the whole is scheduled to follow the next scheduled Niles city council meeting on July 13.

Dakota Jackson, secretary of Greater Niles Baseball and president of Thomas Stadium Adult Baseball League, gave an update to the city council on the fundraising efforts for Thomas Stadium’s renovations.

“Currently, we are at $2,200 on GoFundMe in regards to renovation fundraising,” Jackson said. “We’ve also had Pastime [baseball tournaments] in this past weekend. They are using Thomas Stadium for about $150 per game. With the next weekend coming up, we’ll have a total of $5,000 just from Pastime Baseball.”

Jackson raise awareness of a hollowed utility pole needing replaced on the stadium property. Replacing the net at the backstop hinges on replacing the utility pole.

“We would have to lease or hire someone to do that, and we also don’t stock poles of that size,” said City Administrator Ric Huff. “We would have to purchase a pole of that size, and they are remarkably expensive.”

During city council reports, council member John DiCostanzo, representing the fourth ward, expressed disappointment that the Fourth of July Fireworks had not been able to be hosted in the end. While the nonprofit in charge of organizing fireworks was initially given permission from the city to go ahead with the event, several factors, including a shortened fundraising period and gathering guidelines under COVID-19 mandates cut the planning short.

Council members Jessica Nelson, Georgia Boggs, Gretchen Bertschy, Daniel VandenHeede, Travis Timm and Georgia McAfee all spoke positively of the Juneteenth Peace March in Niles on June 19. Each expressed support for the peaceful march.

Nelson highlighted June as not only containing the holiday of Juneteenth, the holiday marking the day in 1865 the word of the Emancipation Proclamation effectively ended slavery in the U.S., but also as Pride month. She wished a happy Pride to the city’s LGBTQ citizens.

“We have a lot of work to do in our community for some historically disenfranchised citizens,” Nelson said.

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