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After more than two years of construction, the $500 million natural gas power plant in this area is set to start operating by the end of March — several months ahead of schedule.
But while the St. Joseph Energy Center, located east of New Carlisle in Olive Township, will create 21 full-time jobs and has been praised by St. Joseph County officials for generating property taxes, a proposed second phase for the project remains in limbo.
That phase would double the size of the plant on the 165-acre site near the intersection of Edison and Walnut roads and calls for an additional $500 million investment in the plant, which is owned by the Toyota Group and Ares Private Equity Group. The plan would also double the plant’s electricity output to reach 1,400 megawatts, adding two natural gas-fired turbines to the existing pair. It would also add 20 more jobs.
Efforts to plan phase two, however, are taking much longer than project officials had hoped because energy regulators require electricity generated for that phase to be routed to a substation in eastern LaPorte County, rather than allowing it to flow to the substation used for phase one at the plant’s site. The substation in LaPorte County serves a different Midwest power market.
Phase two calls for building a 10-mile-long power line that would run west from New Carlisle, cross into LaPorte County and then go south to reach the substation in Stillwell, which is run by the Northern Indiana Public Service Co.
For more than two years, project officials have tried to acquire land rights from farmers and other landowners to build the line, which would mainly follow the path of existing utility lines. But that task still isn’t done and has proven to be a challenge.
Some farmers have vehemently opposed the plan, forcing officials to work around their property. Others have signed agreements to sell easement rights for the line. By signing option-to-buy agreements, they could get lump-sum payments of tens of thousands of dollars if the line is built.
Lou Pierce, spokesman for the St. Joseph Energy Center, declined to say if the plan for the power line has hit any snags or has been delayed because of farmers who might be trying to negotiate better deals.
“There are multiple ways to get from point A to point B, and some are more expensive than others,” he said. “I’ll just leave it at that.” Bill Schalliol, St. Joseph County’s economic development director, said project officials are “down to just a handful” of properties that they still need to acquire land rights from to build the line. Once secured, he said, officials would seek to have the site plan for the second phase approved by the county. He thinks the county will be approached about the project later this year.
The County Council approved a 15-year, $60 million tax abatement for the first phase, and project officials are expected to ask for a similar tax break for phase two.
The county has estimated the current project will generate $43 million in property taxes over its 30-year life span. Those taxes will benefit the New Carlisle area tax increment financing district, supporting other projects in the immediate industrial area that is being developed by the county.
“Having that additional revenue coming in will certainly be a huge boost to move forward many other projects we’re looking to do in that area,” Schalliol said.
This news story appeared in the South Bend Tribune on February 1, 2018. Ted Booker (email@example.com) with the South Bend Tribune authored the story.