ERIE - It looms large over the shoreline of Lake Erie, a mostly-silent sentinel that provides a valuable landmark for mariners trying to navigate the western basin and provides enough power to keep all of Monroe County happy and warm.
Now after more than 52 years on the job, the J.H. Whiting power plant in Erie Township is finishing up a much-needed upgrade that should help revitalize the aging plant and keep it in service for decades to come.
Consumers Energy is in the final stages of a $2.3 million upgrade to the coal-fired plant that aimed at transforming its antiquated analog control room into a state-of-the-art electronic nerve center, company spokesman Dennis McKee said.
"We've basically brought [the plant's] control room technology into the current century," Mr. McKee explained.
"This sort of investment is appropriate and required and is beneficial to meeting our customer needs."
It also should serve as a signal that the Michigan-based utility has every intention of maintaining, and ultimately improving, its oldest coal-fired power plant.
Built in 1952, the J.H. Whiting generating plant employs about 125 people and has the capacity to produce up to 328 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for roughly 200,000 people.
It is one of four coal-fired plants in Michigan that are operated by Consumers Energy, and is the oldest active plant in the utility's inventory.
The control room upgrades at Whiting aren't included in an $800 million pollution control project that Consumers Energy has undertaken at its other power-generating facilities in Michigan.
The company recently finished installations of "Selective Catalytic Reduction" systems to significantly reduce ozone emissions at two of its largest coal-fired plants elsewhere in the state.
Mr. McKee said that after the initial wave of new emission control systems is installed at its larger plants, Consumers would "revisit those issues" at the Whiting plant.
Erie Township Supervisor Paul Mickels said the plant plays an important role in his community, both as an employer and as an important part of its industrial tax base.
The recent improvements at the plant are welcome signs, he said.
"I think that it's important that we not underestimate what that plant provides to our community," Mr. Mickels said.