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LAPORTE — The city has laid groundwork for a near $10 million investment in its utilities projected to generate $33 million in savings.

If savings don’t exceed costs, the city would receive cash back on the difference from the firm hired to complete the project, said Councilman Miles Fettinger.

The City Council voted recently to move forward on a $9.7 million expenditure for such items as new water meters and solar panels at the sewage treatment plant.

Nick Minich, the city engineer, said the new meters are capable of detecting leaks and relaying the data so leaks can be easily located and fixed to reduce the 25 percent of water currently lost from leaks that go undetected.

Energy from the sun to operate the wastewater treatment plant would provide another huge savings, along with revenue from any unused solar power being sold to NIPSCO, he said.

"We’re actually going to have basically free power, which is really exciting," Minich said.

Lower operating and maintenance costs from the upgrades also are calculated in the savings estimate.

Minich said an agreement has been entered into with Crown Point-based Schneider Electric to carry out the project.

The City Council still has to approve financing, which could happen early in 2018, for the work to begin.

One option is to borrow the funds and use the $33 million in savings projected over a 20-year period to pay back the loan, Minich said.

Savings also would be achieved from efficiencies built into downtown street lights and city-owned buildings to lower electric and natural gas costs, he said.

Customers also would benefit from a leak or toilet staying on at home being detected before it can really drive up their next monthly bill.

"It’ll help every person in LaPorte," Fettinger said.

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