Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

July 11, 2014

Editorial: Firm's offer to save turbine could be a winner for L&P

The price of anything, from a car to a carton of eggs, is only what someone is willing to pay for it. You can ask $50,000 for your used car until you turn blue, but you won’t get a dime unless you’re willing to face reality.

Traverse City Light & Power is in a similar situation. It wants to sell the utility’s iconic wind turbine on M-72 west of town and was hoping to get something close to its estimated value of $375,000. At the least, they wanted to get $160,000, the estimated price tag to dismantle the turbine and sell it for parts.

But when reality came calling, the best — and only — offer was for a humbling $1,100 from Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City. To make the $1,100 even less appealing, the sale would be contingent on Light & Power purchasing whatever energy the windmill generates for Heritage.

The downside here seemed to make the whole deal a no-brainer: No.

The wind turbine has always operated at a loss, and it kept breaking down. It hasn’t run in months and in December the L&P board voted to decommission and remove it. L&P had long worked to return the turbine to peak operating efficiency — and even then it lost money — but a part continually failed and caused other parts to break.

L&P staff, who are not wind turbine mechanics, estimated last year it would cost up to $10,000 in parts and another $10,000 to bring in experts to resolve the continuing problem and secure more parts, which were increasingly difficult to find.

A local expert who helped build the turbine estimated it could cost up to $250,000 to retrofit the 18-year-old machine.

So Heritage’s $1,100 offer for the windmill, which was the nation’s first utility-grade wind turbine when it was built in 1996, began to look better for the city-owned utility.

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