NILES — After 34 months of construction, the Indeck Niles Energy Center is now producing badly needed electricity for the grid.
The $1.1 billion plant has been producing at full capacity since July 1, said Kevin Beavers, plant manager. The first half of the year was spent running tests aimed at verifying the reliability and further boosting the efficiency of the plant.
At its peak, as many as 900 construction workers from Kiewit Corp. — the same company that built the St. Joseph Energy Center in New Carlisle — were on the site. But now those numbers are now down to just a few workers who are mostly removing equipment and construction trailers.
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Though the plant is now producing power at full capacity, the official dedication will probably be held in September when Chicago-based Indeck and its two Korean partners celebrate the completion of the project, said David Hicks, Indeck’s vice president of business development.
Niles Energy Center power production
The plant is capable of producing 1,085 megawatts of electricity — enough for 650,000 homes and businesses — on just 10 acres of a 373-acre site just north of Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport on the northeast side of the city.
Though Indeck has now shifted to solar power and battery storage as its primary focus, Hicks marveled at the efficiency and output of the plant. It would take about 5,000 to 10,000 acres to get a comparable amount of power from solar, he explained.
“This plant will serve as a bridge as we move to a more renewable future,” he said. “It’s highly efficient, extremely clean and very flexible with no dependence on weather or wind speed.”
As a point of comparison, the Indeck plant produces significantly more power than the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station, north of Covert, that was shut down in May after decades of service.
The Indeck plant uses natural-gas fired turbines to produce electricity, but it’s significantly more efficient than older gas plants because it captures waste heat to power a steam turbine.
“Our aim is to produce as much power while minimizing our environmental impact,” said Beavers, adding that the plant uses recycled water from the condensers to minimize its water and ultimately its sewer use.
At the same time, the plant produces power with 62% less carbon dioxide than a traditional coal-fired plant, Hicks said, adding that the plant was also built on a reclaimed brownfield site that Indeck and its partners spent $25 million remediating before construction got underway.
That money will be reimbursed to the owners via the property taxes that are owed to Niles and surrounding townships, school districts and other taxing authorities.
But still the plant is expected to generate well over that amount in new taxes, as well as create 21 permanent jobs on land that was unsuitable for most other purposes.
Though the plant is built to operate throughout the year, it can be dialed up or down depending on demand, giving it a lot more flexibility than other forms of electricity production, Beavers explained.
“It will be very important in summer when peak loads are high,” Hicks said.
Though there are warnings that some portions of the country could face brownouts this summer, the Indeck plant will provide energy security for northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan, which is part of its distribution grid.
“It will definitely help offset some of the plants that have been closed the past couple of years,” Hicks said.