TRAVERSE CITY — An outside consultant won’t defuse the long-running debate over whether Traverse City Light & Power should build it’s own electrical generation plant.
A comprehensive written report by Hometown Connections, a consultant for public power utilities, left city and utility officials divided over how to interpret a question that has charged the community since the utility pushed for a wood-fueled power plant in 2009-10. Officials hoped representatives of Hometown Connection would clarify the answer once and for all during a presentation to city commissioners and TCL&P board members on Monday.
An up-or-down recommendation was not forthcoming.
“Local generation may be very appropriate,” said Tim Blodgett, president and CEO of Hometown Connections. “If the price is right and the location is right, there is nothing wrong with local generation.”
The problem for the city-owned utility is it lacks the expertise to know when the price is right, said Robert Dyer, another of the consultants.
The main point of the study, whether the city buys power or generates it, is to rely more on the Michigan Public Power Agency, an association of municipal utilities that combine to purchase power and build generating facilities. Better use of the MPPA would give Traverse City, a founding member of the association, access to both the expertise to comparison shop and the opportunity to sell excess generation to other members, Dyer said.
“An organization the size of Traverse City does not generally have that kind of expertise on its staff ... because you are not making those decisions day in and day out,” Dyer said. “We believe it is in your long-term best interest to use the expertise you have already bought and paid for.”
The report noted the utility had moved away from its partnerships with the MPPA in recent years to strike out on its own.
Blodgett also recommended the utility hold off on any long-term, detailed strategic planning until after it has a permanent executive director on staff. But he also encouraged the city commission and utility board to begin work immediately on where the utility wants to be in 10 years, then let the utility board do its work.
Mayor Michael Estes said the city commission and utility board have a better understanding today of their roles.
“I don’t want the city commission involved in their regular business, but if you are going to build a power plant ... or a big rate increase, the city commission needs to be involved,” he said.
Pat McGuire, board chairman for the utility, said TCL&P will schedule a study session in the future to further discuss the study and all of its recommendations.