NILES — Good things come to those who wait. That was the consensus message from speakers at Wednesday morning’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new $1 billion Indeck Niles Energy Center natural gas power plant that has been nearly 20 years in the making.
The ceremony featured remarks from local, state and federal government officials as well as representatives from Indeck Energy Services and the two South Korean companies, KOSPO and Daelim Energy Company, that have invested in the venture and are now the majority investors in the project.
Construction has already started at the Indeck site on the north end of the Niles Industrial Park. The project will employ 500 people during the construction phase and 21 people once it is in operation in March 2022. It will be a 1,085 megawatt combined-cycle plant and generate enough energy to power 700,000 homes and businesses.
“This is a testament to what can be achieved with persistence and perseverance,” said Indeck Vice President David Hicks. “There’s been dramatic changes since we first came to Niles in 2000. We had the natural gas energy bubble and then the collapse of coal and the rise of renewable energy and shale.”
Hicks recalled the call he got from Niles Public Works Director Jeff Dunlap the day after Hicks started working at Indeck in November 2014. “He reminded me that Indeck had a nice piece of property here and I came out and saw the site,” he said. “From my perspective, it was a win-win. It took time but we’re now at the final chapter in this success story.”
U.S. Rep. Fred Upton was the first government official to speak. He’s been working closely with the city of Niles and Indeck over the years, most recently helping to get railroad easements from Amtrak. “This really is a big deal,” Upton said.
“This will probably double the tax base for this area,” he added. “This will create 500 construction jobs and dozens of permanent jobs along with economic growth and clean energy. What else can you ask for?”
Korean officials speaking were Young Sok Kim, the South Korean consul general in Chicago, and KOSPO (Korea Southern Power Co.) Executive Vice President Byungchul Kim. They noted that this is the first joint power plant project between South Korea and the United States and continues the long tradition of cooperation between the two countries.
“Today marks a significant milestone for our company,” the KOSPO executive said. “This is our biggest investment into the United States. We believe it will not only be mutually beneficial to our companies but contributes to the economics of both countries.”
Former Niles Mayor Mike McCauslin reminded people of the long road to getting to Wednesday’s groundbreaking, including the contentious public debate over the merits of the project early on. “This is a chance for me to offer a long overdue thanks to the city councils of 2000 and 2019,” he said. “It takes courage to support a project in the face of opposition.”
“This is the culmination of patience, persistence and partnership,” he said. “… Tenacity and support brought us here today. This shows that good things come to those who wait.”
Former State Sen. John Proos recalled the work he did over the years, first as an aide to Upton and then as a state senator, to promote the Indeck project. “Are we not seeing the transformation of the city and the ecosystem of the entire community changing forever?” he asked.
Current Niles Mayor Nick Shelton called Wednesday a “beautiful day” for the city of Niles. “I was in high school when this was first proposed,” he said. “Although natural gas prices have changed over the years, one thing that has stayed the same is the persistence of city leaders. Today is about moving forward.”
The morning program concluded with Shelton presenting a decorative mailbox made from materials found on site to Indeck and the ceremonial shovel ceremony.
City Administrator Ric Huff said after the ceremony that the Indeck project is going to bring economic growth to the area, not only with the 500 construction jobs and the 21 permanent jobs, but also with the $26 million the city will receive during the company’s first 27 years of operation. Indeck is also supporting the city’s brownfield fund.
That amount is on top of the $2.4 million the city got years ago from the sale of the property, which was used to build a new fire station and skate park, he said. He likened the initial economic impact of Indeck to be similar to what the area saw a few years ago when the Enbridge pipeline was being rebuilt and helped keep local small businesses going.
Adam Mensinger, a former aide to Proos, now works for State Rep. Brad Paquette. “This puts us on the map in a big way. It really does give the region a shot in the arm,” Mensinger said. “This is a great development with the hundreds of jobs short-term, and the long-term jobs, as well as creating safe and affordable power.”