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La Porte eyes utility improvements

February 17, 2018 GMT

La PORTE — Planned improvements to municipal utilities, including solar panels to power the sewage treatment plant and an upgrade of water meters across the city, will be expensive but should provide a return on investment over time, officials say.

Members of the city Board of Public Works and Safety this week approved resolutions authorizing the projects and the issuance of bonds to pay for them. City Council action will also be required.

The board also entered into a contract with the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg for bond counsel services.

Mayor Mark Krentz said the bonds — up to $6 million for the water works and $18 million for the sewage works — represent an important investment in the city.

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“This is a necessary step to keep things going into the future,” Krentz said.

Bond counsel will provide additional information but Clerk-Treasurer Teresa Ludlow said she thought the city would be well within its bonding capacity.

About $2.9 million will go toward development of a 3-acre solar panel field south the sewage plant along Boyd Boulevard.

Construction is expected to begin as early as March.

Plant superintendent Jerry Jackson said electricity provided by the solar panels will more than power the treatment operation. Any excess electricity can be sold back to NIPSCO to provide an additional revenue stream.

“The idea is that these projects will pay for themselves over time,” he said.

The guaranteed energy savings program, backed by the city’s contract with Schneider Electric and involving a number of projects, ensures residents get a return on their investment.

No city utility bill increases are anticipated because of current projects, Jackson said, although that could change in 2019 as stormwater and other projects are initiated.

Jackson told the board he expected the solar field to pay for itself in 12 to 16 years.

The water and sewer utilities will split the cost of replacing or retrofitting water meters on more than 8,400 homes and businesses, allowing information about usage to be transmitted daily rather than requiring a meter reader to record the information once a month.

The nearly real-time collection of data will not only save the utility money but can alert customers to costly leaks, which might go undetected for a month or more under the existing system, according to Water Department Director Todd Taylor.

The Advanced Metering Infrastructure equipment could be installed before the end of the year, he said.

The water and sewage treatment utilities will split the $6.5 million cost of the metering project because both use water consumption to bill businesses and residents.

Revenue from the bonds will deposited in accounts and used as necessary to pay for these and other energy-saving projects.

Other aspects of the program include the use of more efficient street lighting and building weatherization.