TRAVERSE CITY — The nation's first utility-grade wind turbine stands dormant, a 160-foot statue that overlooks Grand Traverse Bay, but its blades could spin again under new ownership if a deal can be struck with a local wind farm operator.
Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City offered the lone bid to buy the windmill off M-72 in Elmwood Township at a price that initially astounded its owners, Traverse City Light & Power. Heritage's $1,100 offer for the 18-year-old windmill came in less than 1 percent of its estimated value of $375,000.
The utility's staff members wants their governing board to accept the offer because that would be cheaper than the estimated $160,000 price tag to dismantle the windmill and sell it for parts.
"When you look at the offer it does, on its face, seem to be an insufficient amount, but when looking at the whole picture it does seem like the most economical way of getting out from ... future costs," said Tim Arends, TCL&P's executive director.
The offer also comes with a sort of bonus: it could keep the windmill in operation.
"It was the first utility-grade wind turbine in the nation in 1996 and it really opened the door to wind power use by electrical utilities in this country," Arends said.
The offer is contingent upon TCL&P and Heritage negotiating an acceptable agreement for the utility to purchase whatever energy the windmill generates for Heritage.
The last time TCL&P staff negotiated a contract with Heritage officials they ended up purchasing wind energy from the Heritage Stony Corners Wind Farm for 11 cents a kilowatt, a good price four years ago that today is double the going rate. Arends said he wants a price no higher than the utility's average cost to purchase power, or about 7 cents a kilowatt.