A new year in the pre-computer days meant among other things a new calendar book. There was a certain satisfaction with carefully filing my old nerdy pocket calendar away and putting my name and address on the first page of a new calendar filled with crisp, clean pages. It seemed anything was possible for a new year!

Of course, the illusion of a fresh start is by and large that - an illusion - for we bring into the new year all the challenges that loomed on Dec. 31 of the last year.

I'm sure the Crawfordsville Utility Service Board members are hoping that when Jan. 1, 2014, comes around the challenge of what to do with the old power plant is no longer their concern.

The power plant that sets on the banks of Sugar Creek is actually the second power plant to serve the City of Crawfordsville, as Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power Manager Phil Goode told us on "Frankly Speaking," a web video talk show that is still available to watch if you do a little sleuthing at www.thepaper24-7.com.

In that show, Phil talked about the history of CEL&P.

No one believed the future of the power plant would drag on into 2013.

The power plant has not been used for several years because the Indiana Municipal Power Agency has made relatively inexpensive and reliable energy available over the power grid.

For some years, IMPA actually paid CEL&P $40,000 A MONTH to maintain the power plant in case the coal-powered plant needed to be fired up and add its generating capacity to the power grid.

Eventually, it became apparent that the power plant could not generate enough electricity to satisfy CEL&P customers (residential, business and industrial.) Even with fewer industries in town, the plant does not have the capacity to generate enough power.

IMPA quit paying CEL&P to generate power in 2011.

Tearing down the plant is economically challenging due to Environmental Protection Agency rules. It might be possible to sell the plant for a song to some company that would pay for demolition and then sell off the materials not unlike junking an old car and selling the parts.

In 1993, it was estimated the materials in the plant would be worth $3 million to $4 million. Over time, the price of scrap has increased.

A far better alternative would be to take the path chosen by the Utility Service Board: Find a buyer who will adapt the plant to 21st century standards and use it to generate electricity.

Why could not CEL&P make the investment? The cost would be an estimated $10 million to $15 million, which would have to be passed on to consumers, according to statements made in the Feb. 24, 2011, Utility Service Board meeting.

Enter Bill Harrington.

Harrington, a native Hoosier, was representing Fuel Streamers, a Houston, Texas, based company when he met with the Utility Service Board in late May of 2011.

The company bid $975,000 for the power plant, then valued at $1,065,500, including the building, equipment and 16 acres of land.

Then the deal hit a snag.

Fuel Streamers decided not to go through with the deal and Harrington left the company. He decided to find his own investors for the Crawfordsville power plant and perhaps other generating facilities.

In a disturbing turn of events, it is now January 2013 and not only is the sale still to be completed, but the City has not yet received any earnest money.

The Utility Service Board and the City cannot be blamed for the lack of progress on the sale of the power plant.

While hindsight is always 20-20, no one could foresee how things would play out when that special meeting of the Utility Service Board was convened in May, 2011.

What about the future of the plant that sets dark on the hill above Sugar Creek?

CEL&P is moving the people who work at the plant into other jobs.

The plant certainly is not like buildings which set empty in other parts of town. You can't move a J.C. Penneys into it. It can't become a shoe store. It is uniquely qualified to do one thing: to generate electricity.

Security is not a big issue. To my knowledge there have been no police blotter reports of people breaking into the power plant like they have done at the old hospital.

In the best case scenario, Harrington will be able to close the deal and we will have electricity generated by a private company, although the CEL&P sign will have to come down.

In the worst case scenario, the plant will one day be torn down and sold for scrap. Hopefully, the scrap would generate enough revenue to cover the cost of demolition.



Frank Phillips has reported on news in West Central Indiana for the past 19 years. Recently he joined The Paper's retail advertising sales team. He can be contacted at fphillips@thepaper24-7.com.