By Mike Coco
On November 2, Traverse City voters will be asked to make a radical
change to the City Charter, our constitution, regarding Traverse City
Light & Power (TCL&P).
TCL&P has received the message that many people in our community are
passionate about having a thoughtful energy plan that reflects our
communitys values. This includes addressing energy use and
generation in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way.
As the current board chairman, I assure you that the TCL&P board
embraces and welcomes this community discussion. We have not performed
well recently in our public engagement; we are working to do better.
We welcome a process that involves all stakeholders and citizen groups
that are willing to work with us collaboratively.
Voting NO on Proposal 1 is critically important to the energy future
of Traverse City; here are six reasons why:
First, there has been no public process to specifically determine what
may need to be changed with the TCL&P board or how best to make those
changes. Contrast this with how TCL&Ps volunteer board was
established. Over 30 years ago, Traverse City citizens and the City
Commission studied TCL&Ps governance and operations. That community
process took place over a three year period and involved two public
votes establishing the TCL&P board. The studys leaders, the City
Commission and the public all concluded that the operations of TCL&P
were becoming more complex and time consuming requiring a specialized
board. The community decided then to separate TCL&P operations from
the City after a careful and well-conceived process.
Second, the City Charter currently provides substantial oversight of
TCL&P by the City Commission. Two city commissioners sit on the TCL&P
board. The other five volunteer board members are appointed by the
City Commission after a public recruiting process. If necessary, the
mayor has the authority to suspend board members and the City
Commission may remove board members. The City Commission annually
approves TCL&Ps budget and capital improvement plan. Should TCL&P
request to issue bonds for capital projects, the city commission must
give their approval. These are just a few of the checks and balances
already in place in our City Charter.
Third, we have four out of seven city commission seats up for election
every 24 months. As a $30 million business owned by the citizens,
TCL&P benefits from having lower turnover as volunteer board members
are appointed for five-year terms. Its one of the key reasons
citizens voted to separate the two entities three decades ago. Most
energy programs and projects are developed after years of study (with
significant cost) before a shovel ever hits the ground. Our community
will not benefit from subjecting such planning to shorter term
Fourth, TCL&P has been trusted to make the right decisions for
decades. You trusted TCL&P to remove the aging coal plant from the
bay and to transfer the land over to the city for parkland. Our
utility established energy efficiency programs years prior to being
required by state law. Such early efforts have helped TCL&P beat
state energy efficiency requirements by greater than 70% last year.
In 1996, TCL&P erected the first utility-grade windmill in Michigan
and established the Green Rate.
In 2008 TCL&P invested in landfill gas. That same year, TCL&P
listened to west-side residents regarding transmission line upgrades.
In 2009 TCL&P signed an agreement to deliver 10 megawatts of wind
energy to Traverse City from the exciting wind project in McBain.
TCL&P now receives more wind generation as a percentage of its total
energy (7%) than any other utility in Michigan.
Most recently, TCL&P announced Community Solar, to bring local solar
to Traverse City.
Fifth, our community is challenged with finding a replacement for 50%
of our baseload-generation needs for the first time in 25 years. This
community and the TCL&P board make many energy decisions, but
decisions of this magnitude are once-in-a-generation. We did not get
it right the first time. The TCL&P board has learned a lot over the
last year and we are committed to trying again to get it right. We
have to do better, as this challenge still remains for our community.
Sixth, when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of what TCL&P does, our
community owned utility excels. TCL&P is 100% debt free, operating in
the black and has saved for planned capital improvement projects. Our
communitys rates are 25% below those of surrounding providers.
TCL&Ps reliability is 72% to 83% better than that of surrounding
providers. Our utility has a perfect safety record for three years
running. When you call TCL&P in the middle of the night, a TCL&P
staff member located on Hastings Street directly answers the phone.
No messages or phone-trees.
Summarizing all this, I want you to know that TCL&P staff and board
members are listening. We agree that citizen input into our
citizen-owned utility is vital to successful energy planning and to
the future of the Grand Traverse region. The proper process to solving
any concerns about TCL&P and energy planning is a public process, not
a short-sighted ballot measure that incorporates politics into our
utility decision-making. As a longtime resident of this community, and
as someone who has made a conscious decision to stay and raise my
family here, as your neighbor and as a volunteer TCL&P board member, I
urge you to vote NO on November 2.
Mike Coco lives in Traverse City with his family and has served as a
volunteer on the board for Traverse City Light & Power since April
2008. He is currently serving one year as Chairman of the Board.
Mike works as Vice President of Contract Management for Choice
Property Resources, Inc., volunteers on several nonprofit boards, is
active in Bay Pointe Community Church and has a Bachelor of Arts in
Political Science from Miami (OH) University.