TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Light & Power’s iconic wind turbine, a towering structure that for 17 years spun its blades and accented the M-72 skyline, is set to be a thing of the past.
Board members for the city-owned utility this week agreed to dismantle the windmill in Elmwood Township after staffers waged a long but unsuccessful struggle to return the turbine to peak efficiency. The turbine needs an additional $10,500 in parts and staff estimates it would cost up to $10,000 to hire experts to determine what causes one part to continually fail.
“Staff has indicated it’s obsolete and it seems to be kind of endless in the repairs that are needed,” said Pat McGuire, utility board chairman. “I think we should close it down. It’s served its purpose and nobody makes parts for it anymore.”
The turbine stands 160 feet high and is less than half as tall as today’s modern turbines that are designed to catch Michigan’s best winds. Its generator is considered inefficient by today’s standards, but at its inception was the largest operating wind turbine in the United States. It’s capable of producing enough electricity to power about 110 homes for a year.
Utility officials said they may attempt to sell the turbine, or will have it dismantled if a buyer can’t be found. No date was set for its removal.
Jim Carruthers, city commissioner and utility board member, said he reluctantly supported the motion to tear it down.
“It was the first of its kind, the largest of its kind for a municipality, and the first to use a green rate (customer surcharge) to help pay for it,” Carruthers said. “But it boils down to dollars and cents.”
Hans Voss, executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute, an agency that promotes renewable energy and conservation, said he doesn’t object to dismantling the turbine. But utility officials must continue their commitment and promotion of renewable energy and develop a plan to tap other renewable sources.