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Energy costs worry pool and arena management

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Northern Light Arena Manager Jeremy Winterstein sharpens an ice skate while at work on Tuesday. Winterstein said the arena has been busy, but he is concerned about the prospects of high utility bills this winter.

ALPENA — So far, inflation has impacted the Alpena Plaza Pool and Northern Lights Area’s annual budgets little, but managers worry high energy costs predicted by the federal government this winter could push utility bills higher and disrupt their finances.

Despite the threat of higher energy bills and other rising costs, managers for the two Alpena County owned facilities say raising rates to help offset the increased expenses are not in the cards — at this point.

The pool has seen a slight bump in costs overall for basic items, but, so far, the pool is holding its own and has seen little impact to the expense side of its budget, Norm Sommerfeld, co-owner of Synchronization Management, the private firm hired to run the county-owned pool, said.

Despite that, Sommerfeld said, he is anxious about heating and electrical bills in the coming months. At this point, he is unsure what the impact would be for the pool, the staff, and its users.

“I’m really nervous about the utility costs,” he said. “If the costs rise as much as the news says they could, it could be devastating.”

In October, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted a 14% increase in natural gas prices this winter, a 7.3% increase in electricity costs, and a 42% increase in propane costs in the northeast portion of the nation. Heating oil prices are expected to increase by 33% nationally this winter also, the administration said in its report.

For the pool and other facilities such as Northern Lights Arena, those predictions aren’t ideal either.

The arena utilizes large amounts of power to make and maintain ice, as well as heating the building in certain areas.

Jeremy Winterstein, manager of NLA, said the arena has stayed afloat financially because of strong support from sponsors during the pandemic when the rink was closed for months, and because of an increase in users after it reopened. He said more kids are playing hockey this year than in the last several years, and there are also more figure skaters renting the ice, which means more ice time is sold.

Winterstein said he hopes the fact that more people are using the arena and paying for its services, can offset some of the higher costs that may be looming, especially for utilities.

“We just received the largest natural gas bill we have ever had in the history of the building for a 30-day time period,” Winterstein said. “I’m going to keep an eye on it because there were other factors that could have led to the high cost too.”

Winterstein said in October the rink opened its second sheet of ice, and battled humidity which requires more power than normal. He added when the arena is busy, as has been for large hockey tournaments, utility costs tend to be higher.

Sommerfeld said the rising energy costs come during the pool’s peak season, when more people use the indoor pool than during warm weather months. He said added use will boost revenue, which he hopes will offset some of the increased expenses.

“We’re noticing new people at the pool and, on the weekend, we are seeing new faces coming in to swim laps,” he said. “Right now, things are going good, and we are keeping our head above water, financially.”

Winterstein agreed.

“If we stay busy the added revenue will help to offset the higher costs,” he said. “Either way I’ll be keeping a close eye on the utility bills and expenses to see what the impact will be.”

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