TRAVERSE CITY -- Commissioners from Traverse City and Grand Traverse County will meet this week to mull hydroelectric options for the Boardman River dams, after local utility companies weighed in on the issue.
Five local utilities offered opinions about the potential for hydroelectricity generation at the Brown Bridge, Sabin and Boardman dams. Not all agreed with consultants who were part of a multi-year, $1 million-plus public study who said hydroelectricity is not feasible on the Boardman River.
City and county officials will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. on the second floor at the Governmental Center, 400 Boardman, in Traverse City.
Only Traverse City Light & Power, which formerly operated the dams, said hydroelectric generation is not economical. Four other utility companies collectively said it could cost far less than consultants' estimates to bring the dams back online. The others utilities also said hydro-power can be cost-effective, plus it's clean, renewable energy that likely will increase in value.
"Since the issues on the environment and fishery seem to be evenly divided, to get the hydros going again seems like the sensible thing to do," said William Stockhausen, president of Elk Rapids Hydroelectric Power LLC, a company that operates two hydroelectric dams in Michigan.
Stockhausen wrote to city and county leaders that in the likelihood renewable energy becomes more valuable, spending money now to demolish the dams -- even if done with grant dollars -- could be "doubly foolish."
Other companies that offered opinions include Cherryland Electric Cooperative, Wolverine Power Cooperative and Consumers Energy. The latter noted that consultants' output estimates are more than 4,000 megawatt hours shy of output from the three dams that was reported to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 1992.
"No one wants to say it's absolutely impossible. They don't want to close any doors," said Traverse City Mayor Michael Estes. "None of them are saying they want to open the doors themselves."
A resounding point for Estes is how none of the utility companies offered to bid on the dams' operations. So far, only Northport resident Charles Peterson wants that job.
Peterson, who owns Arizona-based Peterson Machinery Sales, could not be reached for comment. He has no experience operating a hydroelectric dam.
City and county leaders must decide whether to retain, modify or remove the Boardman River dams and if kept, whether to generate electricity again. The county owns Sabin and Boardman dams, while the city owns Brown Bridge and Union Street dams.
Union Street Dam was never used to generate power and will not be removed because it's an invasive sea lamprey barrier.