NLA lights remain off

ALPENA – The power is going to be restored at Northern Lights Arena Monday but even when the lights go back on the arena will not resume normal activity for some time.

The Alpena County Board of Commissioners decided to have the electricity turned off while searching for a new management group to operate the rink, and more importantly to erase monthly demand charges that significantly elevate the utility bills at the arena. The inactivity at the arena could last several more months, as Ameresco is preparing to outfit the facility with energy-efficient upgrades that also will help lower the cost of running the arena.

Commissioner Lyle VanWormer said even though the arena will not be hosting events and be unused for some time, the commissioners have not considered leaving the power off until the time Ameresco begins its work. He said if the county were to leave it disconnected for too long there would be more cost to have the service restored.

“We are going to do this just like we planned and when the power gets turned back on it isn’t going to change,” VanWormer said. “There is a 60-day limit that the power can be off, before you need an inspection and we aren’t going to pay for that. That is why it was set for six weeks to begin with and we are going to hold to that.”

There is a loose timeline when Ameresco will begin work at the arena, but no date has been set. VanWormer said there is a conference call scheduled with Ameresco on June 20 and dates could be established then. There will be major renovations at the arena once the project begins. VanWomer said the work will include the installation of six new transformers as well as a new ceiling that will help control the temperature above the ice surface. He said the county is better off not having activity at the arena while the work is taking place.

“We don’t have a set date yet, but it looks like it could begin maybe during the third week of July through the first week of August. It should be somewhere in there,” VanWormer said. “We aren’t going to let too much happen at the arena while the work is being done. We won’t be able to have the walking track open because there will be work going on overhead and there are concerns about that safety-wise. That is just another one of the issues of why we did what we did.”

The county already has selected the Northern Lights Arena-Community to handle the day-to-day operations of the rink when it reopens. VanWomer said a contract has been proposed to the group, but there were some changes that needed to be made to it and an official agreement is not in place. He said when one is reached, it will be effective Sept. 1 and the arena will remain closed until then.

During a normal year there is ice in place on rink one at the end of June and in the beginning of July. By not having ice, several events have needed to be canceled. VanWormer said that is unfortunate but the improvements at NLA and the lower power bills will benefit NLA-C when it does assume operations.

“You have to realize the demand charge was based on the amount of electricity that was used and when you’re making the ice, that is a big thing,” VanWormer said. “When the new equipment is in place we will be starting at zero and there won’t be the high demand charge and it will provide us an absolute true picture of what it is going to cost to put the ice up and run the operation. That goes directly to the Northern Lights Arena-Community people. That will help them tremendously.”

In the agreement between the county and the NLA-C the county is asking for a lease. VanWormer said the group wasn’t thrilled with the idea with entering into a lease that would be a minimum of two years and top out at five. He said he is confident an agreement will be in place before Sept. 1.

“There is just a list of things that we are asking for that they will follow,” VanWormer said. “There is nothing out of the ordinary. They are going to run it. It is theirs. The bills will be theirs and all of that. It’s not going to be handled by the county.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at