Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 14, 2013

Study criticizes local power path


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new report on Traverse City Light & Power’s structural efficiency challenges some utility members’ historical desire to build a power generation plant to call their own.

A comprehensive study of TCL&P crafted by consultant Hometown Connections debunks an assertion long-held by some city utility officials that building an electrical generation plant will improve reliability.

The consultants encouraged TCL&P to be partners with the Michigan Public Power Agency for both power purchases and any future generation endeavors. But the report stops short of directly advising the city not to build a plant that delivers a steady stream of power, known as a base load.

The lack of clarity on that topic left Hometown’s response open to interpretation until its representatives give a public presentation on April 1.

“They beat around the subject pretty well ... as if they didn’t want to offend anybody,” Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes said. “They surely implied that we don’t have to do local generation, and for me I think it’s come off the table.”

Tim Arends, TCL&P’s interim executive director, said the report leaves all of the utility’s options open.

“There shouldn’t be a need for local generation if you’re doing it simply for reliability concerns, but there’s also economic development, increased employment, and increased tax base,” Arends said.

A recent survey showed community support for local power generation. The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce’s economic development arm also expressed support, Arends said.

TCL&P’s board pushed for a wood-fueled power generation plant in 2009-10, but community outcry crushed the project. The study’s suggestion that local power generation is or should be a low-priority topic wasn’t lost on some board members.

“What I read is utilities of any size, particularly small utilities — which we are — need to partner as much as possible when it comes to big projects,” board member John Taylor said. “You have to exhaust all the options first before we come to the conclusion of constructing a power plant in Traverse City.”

A base-load generating plant in the Traverse City area would involve TCL&P partnering with other utilities through the Michigan Public Power Agency, said Pat McGuire, utility board chairman. He questions if it would do much for jobs or economic development. The city could own the majority of the plant, but it could be built just about anywhere in the Lower Peninsula.

“Are we going to get a lot of public support for a big power plant in Traverse City? Probably not,” McGuire said. “But this is really a long-term power supply question, and there’s a lot of other considerations.

“So I wouldn’t throw it out at the beginning,” he said.