TRAVERSE CITY — Cherryland Electric Cooperative is shrinking its carbon footprint with a deal that will make more than half of its power portfolio carbon-free.
The electric utility has secured a purchase deal for 100 megawatts of energy from nuclear plants in Illinois, co-op General Manager Tony Anderson said.
Anderson said that the purchase itself would not increase their 33,000 customers' rates, but the board is formally considering a hike this month due to rising operation costs. Cherryland will convene public input meetings in September about the increase that could potentially take effect in February.
Nuclear power will fuel the majority of Cherryland's power once the deal takes effect, according to numbers Anderson provided. Nuclear will make up 37 percent of the cooperative's power; coal will equate to 26 percent; renewables like wind, solar and hydroelectric will provide 20 percent; and natural gas will equal 17 percent.
Executing the contract will push the co-op's power mix from 31 percent carbon-free currently to 56 by January 2018.
Wolverine Power Cooperative put together the deal, Anderson said — Wolverine supplies Cherryland its power, and Cherryland is part-owner of Wolverine. The deal had three solid reasons to recommend it, he said.
"One, the price was good," he said. "Two, it's carbon-free, and three, it's a 10-year, fixed contract, so all the right things came together in one deal."
Carbon-free is a smart move because of uncertainty over how carbon emissions will be regulated in the future, Anderson said, citing uncertainty around Pres. Donald Trump's plans for the Clean Power Plan or a potential federal carbon tax in an effort to rein in emissions.
"We feel like when we have an opportunity to have less carbon in our portfolio at an affordable price, we feel like it's an opportunity we should take advantage of," he said.
Wolverine Power Cooperative also recently added more than 150 megawatts of renewable energy for its members, by buying power from the Deerfield wind project, and building SpartanSolar, a large solar array, according to a release from Cherryland.
The purchase deal fit nicely with Wolverine's mission of providing affordable and reliable electricity to its owners, Wolverine Vice President Joe Baumann said. He added that Cherryland has been hearing from its membership that carbon-free energy is important to them.
Both Baumann and Anderson said they see carbon-free electricity as a current and future trend. Solar and wind power has gotten cheaper, especially in windier and sunnier parts of the country, Baumann said. That has actually freed up previously unavailable sources of nuclear power.
Coal power is dwindling as well, either due to the high cost compared to coal or because of environmental regulations, Baumann said.
"When you have less coal, it hasn't been replaced in a lot of places, except perhaps with renewables," he said.
Energy sans-carbon may be harder to find as the nation's roster of aging nuclear reactors are shut down, Anderson said — Palisades Power Plant operator Entergy has announced it plans to close the nuclear plant near South Haven in 2018, according to a release from the company.
"I think it's every utility's goal to be cleaner, greener, more renewable and carbon-free," Anderson said. "The question remains to be seen if it's going to be possible to do that."