Traverse City Record-Eagle

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January 12, 2014

TCL&P: Time to talk

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Light & Power leaders are set to embark on a key conversation that will point the city-owned utility either toward or away from building a local power-generating plant.

Utility board members haven’t seriously weighed the local generation issue since they abandoned a contentious attempt to build a wood-fueled biomass plant in 2010. A discussion planned for Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. in the Governmental Center is part of the utility’s long-term strategic planning process, and is partially in response to an expiring power-purchase agreement that supplies the city with half its electricity.

“We need to get the conversation going. It’s been the elephant in the room for a very long time, ever since biomass,” said Tim Arends, TCL&P executive director.

Arends doesn’t expect any immediate decisions, but board Chairman Pat McGuire voiced slightly higher hopes. McGuire predicts board members will at least indicate which way they lean, and allow utility staffers to focus on one direction.

“Do we spend our time looking at local generation, or do we spend our time looking at long-term power purchases,” McGuire said.

Board members have not discussed a fuel source for a local generating plant. But Arends said natural gas is an obvious option for a potential plant that could produce between 30-megawatts and 50-megawatts per-hour of power.

“Anything larger and we would be in the position of being sellers of power into the grid and I haven’t seen any indication from anyone that we have any interest in that,” Arends said.

The city draws an average of 50-megawatts of power for its customers and peaks at 70-megawatts.

McGuire said he tends to veer from local power generation. A small, 30-megawatt plant loses some of the economies of scale available in larger plants that average around 750-megawatts. He’s also worried about the risk involved.

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