Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 26, 2013

Traverse City utility has full plate for meeting


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Light & Power's board of directors face numerous decisions at today's meeting: when to hire a new director; where to site a new power substation, and how to help the poor who struggle to pay their electric bills.

Tim Arends, the city-owned utility's controller and interim executive director, could get the director's job permanently or have his interim tag extended for a year when the board meets today at 5:15 p.m. in the Governmental Center. The board's third option is to advertise the position with regional and national trade groups.

Some environmental groups, led by the Michigan Land Use Institute, have pressured board members in favor of advertising the position and hiring someone who leans towards conservation and the use of renewable energy. Pat McGuire, the utility board's chairman, said to ensure a full discussion he will ask each board member to express their preference before he allows anyone to make a motion. The public also will have an opportunity to comment.

"Everybody's more than welcome to participate in the public discussion," McGuire said. "Hopefully, the Michigan Land Use Institute understands the directors have an obligation to all rate payers.

"They have an agenda that is clear," McGuire said of the MLUI. "I would just hope and encourage all of the directors to understand that and be aware of that agenda."

Arends said whichever option the board chooses will help bring stability to Light & Power staffers.

But when it comes to building a new electrical substation, Arends recommends the board not eliminate either of two sites on LaFranier Road. Both sites require public hearings and zoning approval from Garfield Township. Arend's preferred site is 1.3 acres next to an existing Wolverine Power substation that serves Cherryland Electric Cooperative.

Cherryland pledged to obtain and pay for power line easements the utility need to use the site because the substation would improve the reliability of Cherryland's systems. But the site is close to residential homes, and neighbors could oppose significant expansion at the site.

Arends suggests the board simultaneously seek zoning approval for a 30-acre site further south on LaFranier as a hedge should the township deny a zoning permit.

The board also will discuss a proposal to help its low-income customers lower their utility bills. The utility historically has donated from half to all of the money it collects in $5 fees to hang shut-off notices on customer's doors.

The proposal, approved by a subcommittee, would pay the $100 fee for low-income homeowners to partake in the TC Saves home energy efficiency program and provide $1,000 toward energy efficiency improvements.

"Taking an approach that addresses the underlying issue of why we have (utility) turnoffs is the way to go," said John Taylor, board member.