By Ed Rice
On April 7, Traverse City Light & Power will hold a final public forum
to help choose an appropriate new source of local renewable energy.
More than 300 people attended two forums in February where they
offered diverse ideas about efficiency, and power from solar, wind,
and other fuels that should be added to the L&P energy portfolio. They
also expressed concern about the utilitys proposal to build a wood
In the weeks since, TCL&P subjected these ideas to rigorous analysis
to determine their effect on electric rates, the environment, and
jobs. During the April 7 forum, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at the
Hagerty Center, well share those findings and ask again, What do you
At the end of this year, a coal-fired power contract that supplies
half of TCL&Ps energy requirements expires. For a number of years,
L&P has explored the best way to replace the power that will no longer
be available from that contract. We view this deadline as an
opportunity to acquire 30 percent of our power by 2020 from local
L&P has already purchased 10 megawatts of wind energy, two megawatts
of landfill gas, and anticipate installing new solar energy. However,
even with our aggressive efficiency program, forecasts show L&P needs
30 more megawatts of reliable baseload power beginning in 2011.
Because wind and solar are intermittent, they wont solve the
problem. Coal-fired power and natural gas are available, but they are
not renewable. Natural gas also is subject to volatile price swings.
After careful study, TCL&P is exploring the possibility of building a
state-of-the-art, clean burning, wood biomass gasification plant that
produces both electricity and heat. While there is disagreement on
this issue, both state and federal officials say that when proper
sustainable forestry practices are undertaken, woody biomass is
considered both renewable and CO2 neutral.
Ash from the wood biomass plant is not toxic, just as ash from the
wood stoves in thousands of northern Michigan homes is not toxic. A 10
mw gasification plant produces two truckloads of ash a week. This ash
can be disposed in a certified land fill or as regulations permit,
used in manufacturing processes or spread on fields for fertilizer.
Two commissioned studies and state forestry officials say there is
plenty of fuel for a wood biomass plant. If we move forward, TCL&P
will devote significant resources to sustainable forestry practices.
Our environment, economy, quality of life, and the price you pay for
electricity deserve pragmatic consideration and careful evaluation.
Weve done our due diligence and are convinced that the path to
renewable energy is one this region should take.
Ed Rice, a veteran utility industry executive, is executive director
of Traverse City Light & Power.