Port project at former Muskegon coal plant aims to tap into region’s ag industry

From MiBiz.com

MUSKEGON — As a result of the challenging economics of maintaining decades-old coal plants, communities nationwide have wrestled with how to replace lost tax revenue and repurpose large industrial brownfield sites when those facilities close.

For the B.C. Cobb coal plant in Muskegon, whose towering smokestack is an unmistakable feature along the east end of Muskegon Lake, Consumers Energy has selected North Carolina-based Forsite Development Inc. to capitalize on the site’s deep-water dock location.

Forsite President Tom McKittrick told MiBiz he envisions two features for the 115-acre property going forward: maintaining and consolidating aggregate delivery on the east end of the lake and developing a shipping market between Muskegon and Milwaukee “that doesn’t exist currently.”

“We think there’s a lot of potential” for a cross-lake shipping route, one that could support more agricultural food processing in the area, McKittrick said. 

“A lot of agricultural products are grown in West Michigan, and a great percentage of those are being shipped out of the state to be processed,” he said. “If Michigan companies move into those markets, a route that allows them to bypass the congestion in the Chicago market could move it more efficiently to Milwaukee markets.”

When the Cobb plant shut down in April 2016, officials voiced concerns about jeopardizing federal funding for harbor dredging if shipments through the port fell below the annual 1 million ton threshold for commercial ports. 

However, local officials involved with the B.C. Cobb project say federal lawmakers have spent the past year making that requirement more discretionary and based on a formula, and aggregate shipments to the port have since increased to replace the loss of coal.

In addition to its unique shipping port, Muskegon also drew McKittrick in with its “massive” wastewater treatment plant east of U.S. 31, which he believes can help support agricultural processing facilities.

“Food processing needs wastewater treatment — that’s a huge piece of the puzzle for site selection for food processing projects,” McKittrick said. “With that wastewater treatment capacity and a potential new transportation route to get agricultural products into Midwest markets, I think the combination of those two things has potential to attract food processing companies to Muskegon and the region.”

McKittrick, who is originally from Indiana and has spent much of his career in commercial real estate, wants to transform the Cobb site into an industrial park that is tied to the wastewater treatment plant. Any kind of vertical development has been largely off the table due to the unstable soil at the site. 

“There are opportunities specifically in the food processing arena that could be created by linking those two assets,” he said. “In my opinion, that hasn’t been done effectively yet.”

SUBJECT TO APPROVAL

In late April, Consumers announced a plan to offer Forsite $1 million to take over the property, decommission and demolish the site and remove environmental contamination.

Because Consumers is divesting electricity-generating assets in Muskegon and at the J.R. Whiting coal plant in Monroe County, the plan is subject to approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 31 and a final decision will come within 180 days of the filing.

Consumers Energy spokesperson Roger Morgenstern is optimistic the plan will receive approval before the end of the summer. It will take roughly two years thereafter to demolish the site. Morgenstern said the roughly 60 employees at the plant have relocated to other Consumers facilities in West Olive and Ludington, or have retired.

According to MPSC filings, Consumers said it would be cheaper to leave the decommissioning and demolition to Forsite rather than perform that work itself.

The utility first announced plans to close the Cobb plant in 2011. Since then, the debate over coal plant economics has largely turned political. Republicans criticize the Obama administration for stringent air pollution regulations that are leading to widespread closures, and thus a downturn in the U.S. coal sector. However, the prevailing thinking among industry analysts and utilities holds that the decline in natural gas prices, in particular, has made coal less attractive.

“We felt that continued investment in these older coal plants is not in the best interest of our customers,” Morgenstern said. 

Along with DTE Energy, Consumers has shifted investments toward natural gas plants and infrastructure, as well as to wind and solar projects. Officials with Michigan’s two largest utilities have said publicly this transition was happening regardless of how the Trump administration aims to change U.S. energy policy.

“We are looking to cleaner, less carbon-emitting plants and not continuing to invest in some of our smaller (coal) plants,” Morgenstern said. “These plants have served us well for the past 60-70 years. It’s like an old car: You have to decide when to stop putting money into it.”

Erin Kuhn, executive director of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, said the B.C. Cobb redevelopment could be transformational for the city of Muskegon, as the port has been identified in numerous reports as a regionally significant economic driver. That it’s taking place at a former coal plant is all the more symbolic.

“We’re helping the community redefine the next phase of Muskegon Lake as an economic engine for that community and region,” Kuhn said.

‘ECO-INDUSTRIAL’ REDEVELOPMENT

Founded in 2004, Forsite specializes in acquiring industrial properties and returning them to use with an emphasis on environmental preservation and creating “ecological assets,” McKittrick said. Adding clean energy features to these sites is part of what the company describes as “eco-industrial” redevelopment. Forsite’s ReVenture Park project in Charlotte, N.C., for example, included extensive habitat restoration projects, a major aquaculture facility and a biomass plant.

Forsite broke into this particular type of redevelopment as “surplus real estate” in the Carolinas became available when textile furniture manufacturing moved overseas, McKittrick said. Now, the energy transition happening nationwide — a shift that relies less on coal and more on natural gas and renewable energy — is creating similar opportunities, he said.

“With all of these coal-fired plants shutting down at one time, we think there’s tremendous opportunity to go repurpose those sites and do the exact same thing,” he said. “With coal plants in general, if people look at them through a different sense, they can be turned back into assets and maybe help foster more renewable energy development because of interconnection (assets).”

McKittrick said Forsite has acquired three coal plants in North Carolina and sold two of them to a biomass developer.

Specific features for the Cobb property remain unknown at this point. Renderings provided by the company show the potential for solar energy generation, which McKittrick said would have to be owned by Consumers Energy. Wetland restoration could be another component.

While the company is not taking the coal ash storage impoundments at the site, Forsite will oversee the abatement of asbestos and other contaminants.

“There’s a multitude of environmentally sensitive projects that we can weave into one of these projects that aren’t necessarily adding a lot of cost, but are putting areas of sites to good use that are otherwise unusable,” he said. 

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Forsite Development to Acquire Two Consumers Energy Sites

JACKSON, Mich., April 25, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Consumers Energy has selected an experienced firm to demolish and redevelop two of its former coal-fired power plants.

Citing the successful track record of Forsite Development Inc. with repurposing industrial property, Consumers Energy tapped the North Carolina company to redevelop its 115-acre B.C. Cobb Generating Plant in Muskegon and 248-acre J.R. Whiting Generating Complex in Luna Pier, near Monroe.

Today, Consumers Energy filed a request with the Michigan Public Service Commission seeking approval to have Forsite acquire the two sites. The MPSC has up to 180 days to act on the request.  It is anticipated the sites will be demolished within two years of the transaction being finalized, pending a positive outcome with the MPSC review. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Consumers retired those two plants, comprised of five generating units and two other units, in April 2016.

Led by founder and President Tom McKittrick, Forsite was selected to acquire both sites on the strength of its plan to improve the properties and return them to productive use. Forsite’s initial vision for both sites includes plans to:

  • Convert the B.C. Cobb property into a deep-water marine terminal on the east end of Muskegon Lake for cross-lake shipping. Additionally, Forsite has begun working with Muskegon-area economic development officials to identify land for a sister industrial park designed to attract new industries that can take advantage of a cross-lake logistics route.
  • Develop the J.R. Whiting property into an inland intermodal terminal, offering rail-to-truck facilities utilizing the site’s extensive rail infrastructure. The site’s immediate access to I-75 and rail capabilities has potential to create spin off economic development opportunities, specifically heavy manufacturing and distribution.

“These properties powered homes and businesses for many decades, and we are pleased that they will generate new economic growth under the stewardship of Forsite,” said Dan Malone, senior vice president of energy resources for Consumers Energy. “We want to leave it better than we found it, and having Forsite, a successful redeveloper with a proven track record, acquire the sites will allow the communities of Muskegon and Luna Pier to see new life for these properties.”

Charlotte-based Forsite has already redeveloped more than 7 million square feet of facilities on 3,000+ acres over the past decade-and-a-half. Forsite’s projects have created or retained more than 1,000 jobs.

Forsite’s most prominent project was the adaptive re-use of a shuttered 667-acre dye manufacturing complex along the Catawba River in Charlotte, North Carolina, now known as ReVenture Park (www.reventurepark.com). ReVenture is now the thriving home of numerous sustainable and renewable energy companies.

For the B.C. Cobb site, McKittrick has selected Verplank Dock Co. to operate the port terminal and help develop the cross-lake deep-water shipping market.

For the J.R. Whiting site, McKittrick plans to begin marketing and pre-development activities for the intermodal terminal concurrent with demolishing the plant, which he expects will take two years.

“Both sites have the benefit of existing heavy infrastructure which we intend to repurpose in a manner to attract new industry,” said McKittrick, who founded Forsite in 2004. “We’re honored and humbled that Consumers Energy chose us to create a new use for these sites. We look forward to working with community leaders in Muskegon and Luna Pier.”

The board of directors of CMS Energy, the parent company of Consumers Energy, has approved the agreements with Forsite with the final transactions needing approval by the MPSC.

About Forsite Development
Tom McKittrick founded Charlotte-based Forsite Development, Inc. in 2004. The privately held firm has since redeveloped 7 million square feet of facilities on 3,000+ acres in North Carolina and South Carolina, and created or preserved more than 1,000 jobs. Its largest project is ReVenture Park in Charlotte, a 667-acre former brownfield Superfund site that is now home to a thriving collection of renewable energy companies and was named “Business Conservationist of the Year” for 2016 by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

About Consumers Energy
Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy (CMS), providing natural gas and electricity to 6.7 million of the state’s 10 million residents in all 68 Lower Peninsula counties.

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Plan in place for development firm to acquire Whiting plant

The energy company will file a plan with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to have Forsite Development Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., acquire both the Whiting site and the B.C. Cobb site in Muskegon.

LUNA PIER — Consumers Energy is expected to submit a filing with its regulator next month regarding the shuttered J.R. Whiting plant in Luna Pier.

The energy company will file a plan with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to have Forsite Development Inc. of Charlotte, N.C., acquire both the Whiting site and the B.C. Cobb site in Muskegon.

“The filing’s timing allows Consumers Energy and Forsite to have a signed acquisition agreement prior to submitting the request to the MPSC for its review,” the company said in a statement. “Consumers Energy’s board of directors has already conditionally approved the acquisition.”

The Michigan Public Service Commission has up to 180 days to review and act on the request to divest Consumers Energy of both former electric generating sites.

“It is anticipated the sites will be demolished within two years of the transaction being finalized pending a positive outcome with the MPSC review,” the statement said.

Forsite is a real estate development firm focused exclusively on acquiring corporate surplus industrial real estate.

“Our focus is to transition these properties back to productive use and maximize their economic development potential, attracting new jobs and investments to the communities where they are located,” the company’s Web site said.

The company currently has one former power plant for sale, a former 32-watt energy facility located in Kenansville, N.C. The majority of their available sites are located in North Carolina and two in South Carolina.

Prior to this week’s announcement, no formal plans had been announced for the plant, which closed its doors April 15.

The Whiting plant was among the oldest coal plants in operation. The 328-megawatt, $80 million plant initially began operating in 1952.

Consumers Energy’s initial timetable indicated abatement and demolition on the plant would begin in 2017, however, in January company officials said those plans changed.

“We have entered into negotiations with an acquisition company to divest the site,” Dennis Marvin, community engagement manager told The Monroe News in January. “We thought that would be completed in 2016, but the negotiation process went longer than expected.”

In 2015, Consumers Energy hired AMEC Foster Wheeler, a global consulting firm, to determine the best way to use the property. A soybean processing facility along with a wildlife preserve were considered the best ways to reuse the site, according to the consulting firm.

Yet, the future of the 875-acre site remains unknown.

When the plant closed, it employed about 70 at the three-boiler plant. At its peak, the facility had more than 160 workers. Employees were given the option to continue with Consumers Energy at other facilities.

Consumers officials said the plant closed for two reasons: aging structures and updated federal mandates to reduce emissions.

By Danielle Portteus
Monroe News staff reporter

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Consumers Energy’s B.C. Cobb has buyer, is slated for demolition

MUSKEGON, MICH. – Almost one year since Consumers Energy’s B.C. Cobb plant shut down, the site soon will have a new owner should state officials approve the deal.

North Carolina-based Forsite Development Inc. intends to acquire the Lakeshore staple, in addition to Consumers’ power station in Luna Pier, Mich., according to a statement by the utility.

Structures on both sites are slated for demolition within the next two years. It’s not yet known what new development will come out of the properties.

The sites’ purchase depends on approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission. Consumers Energy plans to submit a filing in April with the regulatory body, which then has 180 days to review and act upon the request.

Consumers Energy closed the Muskegon plant in April 2016. Earlier reports indicated 65 employees there all were offered other jobs within the utility prior to its closure.

A number of city officials in Muskegon have already communicated with Forsite Development.

“We know they have a credible background,” said Stephen Gawron, Muskegon Mayor.

Forsite representatives have already visited Muskegon city hall.

“We are looking forward to developing a relationship, communications, and collaborations with the prospective new owner,” said Gawron.

Muskegon city and Muskegon County economic leaders have high hopes for the Cobb site.

“We have somewhat of a template,” said Gawron.

That template includes shipping activities, building on Muskegon Lake’s deep water port.

“So that we can get the best economic development occurring, the best use out of the property,” said Gawron. “For the benefit of the city of Muskegon and the entire region as a whole.”

Forsite Development’s Tom McKittrick said Wednesday his company is seeking out a number of closed power plant sites around the country.

“Lot of times these sites have incredible infrastructure that can be repurposed to attract new jobs and industry,” said McKittrick.

The existing infrastructure at the Cobb site that interests McKittrick is the 1,000 foot dock. The dock will be key in building a shipping terminal Michigan manufactures will have access to.

“So companies looking to move product from Western Michigan and Central Michigan into Midwestern markets via the Port of Milwaukee,” said McKittrick.

“A cross-lake logistics route is something that has not been established or created and we think there is a great opportunity to create that with this facility.”

Republished from WZZM13
By: Andrew Krietz , WZZM

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B.C. Cobb buyer announced by Consumers Energy

MUSKEGON, MI — Consumers Energy has announced a North Carolina company intends to buy and demolish the B.C. Cobb Power Plant.

Forsite Development Inc. of North Carolina plans to acquire the power plant and the J.R. Whiting site in Luna Pier, according to a statement from Consumers Energy.

Both sites are expected to be demolished within two years of the finalized transaction. However, sale of the two sites is pending approval from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Consumers Energy plans to submit a filing with the regulator this April and the MPSC has up to 180 days to review and act on the request.

Consumers Energy said previously copies of its future-use studies were provided to the proposed re-developers as a potential guide for their own future plans.

The study suggested three activities for the property:
1. Expanded deep water port
2. An agri-business center
3. A sustainable manufacturing center.

The utility determined the expected sale was the best route for the future of the key site in Muskegon County.

After nearly 67 years of operation, Consumers Energy shut down the power plant in April 2016.

The plant was the last of Consumers’ “Classic Seven” coal power plants to be decommissioned because of tightening EPA emissions standards.

Republished from mlive.com
By Meagan Beck

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