Traverse City Record-Eagle


January 16, 2013

Editorial: Time to take windmill down

As an energy source, the windmill built by Traverse City Light & Power in 1996 on the hills west of town produced more light than heat. It was more symbolic than practical and never produced enough energy to pay for itself.

The wind turbine was as much an investment in the future than a viable source of electricity. By building it — and by being willing to pay for it — Traverse City residents were embracing the fledgling alternative energy movement and looking ahead to a time that included clean, renewable power without coal and nuclear power plants.

Now, just as the wind and solar industries are gaining traction in Michigan and nationally, the Light & Power windmill has become an aging dinosaur. It's limping along at about half its capacity; when it broke down in August it took four months to find a replacement part — at a cost of almost $38,000; and just two days after workers installed the new part on Jan. 4, it broke down again.

Workers got it going again, but it seems to be time, as L&P Chairman Pat McGuire put it, to "give up the ghost."

When it was built the turbine, which sits atop a 160-foot tower and has a blade diameter of 144 feet, was the largest operating wind turbine in the country. It cost $785,000 and was able to produce about 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough power for about 110 homes.

But even in its prime the turbine couldn't pay for itself; today, it's less than half as tall as modern turbines and its generator is considered inefficient.

Clearly, it is time to pull the plug. Tim Arends, Light & Power's interim executive director, said it would take two years to generate enough income to cover the cost of just the latest part replacement — if the turbine operated at full output with low maintenance, neither of which is likely to happen.

Even though Arends has assigned Light & Power staff to consider alternatives, such as retrofitting the existing structure with a high-efficiency generator, the utility must be prepared to retire the turbine and take it down.

Ratepayers who helped support the windmill in the past can't be expected to keep paying for short-term repairs at a site that never generated the kind of sustained winds the turbine needed to be practical in the first place. Rebuilding at the wrong site doesn't make any more sense now than it did in 1996.

Salvage what can be salvaged, but take the turbine down and look for new ways to invest in a clean energy future.

Text Only

Opinion Poll
AP Video
13 Struck by Lightning on Calif. Beach Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted Israel, Hamas Trade Fire Despite Truce in Gaza Italy's Nibali Set to Win First Tour De France Raw: Shipwrecked Concordia Completes Last Voyage Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge From Nest Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp