TRAVERSE CITY — There’s more work to do before a solar energy developer can build a 10-megawatt array on land owned by Cherry Capital Airport’s governing body — and in turn Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.
Traverse City Light & Power board members recently gave staff the go-ahead to negotiate a power purchase agreement with Next Era Energy, said Tim Arends, executive director of the city-owned utility.
The company offered to have the array online in 2021 and cranking out 16,330 megawatt-hours that year, according to a summary of their bid. Power from the array would cost $53.58 per megawatt-hour, and they’re offering a 35-year agreement. The company was one of seven to bid.
Details of the agreement are up for negotiations, and that’s what Arends said he and the Michigan Public Power Agency will hammer out next.
“I feel like if ever there was a project that the community desired, as far as renewable energy within the city limits, this is the only place that it can happen,” he said.
The array would help TCL&P meet its goal of switching to 100 percent clean power by 2040, pushing renewables up to 31 percent of the power it buys, documents show.
Cherry Capital Airport Executive Director Kevin Klein said the array would go on land north and east of Costco — the retailer also leases land from the airport commission.
The array’s potential location and size has shifted as discussions progressed, and plans dating back to 2016 envisioned one on a smaller plot north of the store, Klein said.
Other contractors bid on different footprints and output capacities in a past round that both the airport commission and utility rejected around the start of 2020, as previously reported.
Airport commission members will vote at their April 28 meeting on whether to keep negotiating with TCL&P, Klein said.
The airport commission would lease land to the utility or the array’s builder, Klein said. The Federal Aviation Administration requires any airport-owned land be leased for fair-market value, which Klein said can be determined based on other leases, including one with TCL&P — Arends said the utility pays $1,300 annually to store snow on a small plot.
TCL&P’s net metering program is aimed at residential customers, Arends said.
Plus, the array planned for airport property is too large. Those agreements let people sell excess power from their solar panels to the utility.
Klein said the overall idea for now is to use lease revenues from the solar array to offset the airport’s power bill. He agreed it’s similar to how the airport uses Costco lease revenues — $167,400 annually — to offset operational expenses.
That lease would need approval from Grand Traverse and Leelanau county commissioners, Klein said. The airport’s joint operation agreement expires in 2049 — Klein and the airport commission back a move to an airport authority that would have more autonomy to enter into such leases, but others aren’t sold on the move, as previously reported.
Airport commission members’ April 28 vote would be the next move in an ongoing push to build a solar installation on land the Northwestern Regional Airport Commission had cleared in a controversial move.
A wildlife hazard assessment and mitigation strategy recommended cutting or thinning trees near Costco, part of the 110 acres the airport commission had cut in early 2019. Klein and other airport administrators cited FAA mandates to address any hazards or airspace intrusions. But numerous skeptics claimed the cuttings appeared to be aimed at clearing the way for future development.
Klein said the trees posed a hazard and had to go, and he thinks a solar array is the best use for the land.
“When we have to do things sometimes that are for the safety of the public that people may not like, there are other benefits that can come out of it, and I think this solar project is one of these benefits that can really come back and provide that community support to be able to provide power to the community,” he said.