Traverse City became the first city in the state of Michigan Tuesday to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy community-wide by 2040.
Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) board members approved a commitment to obtain 100 percent of the utility’s power generation from renewable sources – such as solar, wind, and landfill gas – within the next two decades. Traverse City had previously committed to powering all city buildings with renewable energy by 2020; other Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, have made similar commitments to powering their municipal operations with clean energy.
But TCL&P broke new ground by expanding the city-owned utility’s commitment to include converting its entire customer base to renewable energy – not just government buildings. Traverse City is the first Michigan community to take that leap, joining approximately 75 other cities across the country – including Denver, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and St. Louis, among others – that have either already converted or pledged to convert to 100 percent renewable energy citywide.
As part of a new strategic plan adopted by board members Tuesday, TCL&P will pursue gradually transitioning from traditional energy sources – such as coal – to renewables in the coming years. The first milestone in that process will be meeting a state mandate to have 15 percent of TCL&P’s generation come from renewables by 2021; the utility is currently at 12 percent and on track to meet that goal. TCL&P will then aim to have 40 percent of its energy portfolio obtained from clean sources by 2025, followed by a 100 percent goal by 2040.
Though some TCL&P board members said they wished they could commit to a 100 percent renewable goal sooner than 2040, the utility has “end-of-life” contracts with multiple coal companies – meaning TCL&P is obligated to buy coal from those companies until the facilities close. Even with the rapid decline of coal, some of the plants may not close until 2030 or 2035, according to TCL&P Executive Director Tim Arends. Once the plants close, the utility can replace its coal contracts with renewable ones in order to reach its 100 percent commitment.
“I know people in the past have said, ‘Do it faster, do it faster,’ but we do have contracts…and that’s what factors into this,” explained City Commissioner and TCL&P board member Amy Shamroe. Board member Ross Hammersley expressed hoped the utility could still meet the 100 percent threshold ahead of its target date.
“It’s important, and I think it’s great to set an aspirational goal,” he said. “I think this is a reasonable way to move forward for the community…and get (our community) transitioning to cleaner, carbon-free energy faster that we would have done.”
TCL&P Chair Pat McGuire was the sole ‘no’ vote against adopting the strategic plan and renewable energy goal, expressing concerns the pledge was “going to be way too expensive” for ratepayers and that TCL&P was counting on sources and technologies that hadn’t been developed yet to materialize in future years to meet the goal. “We might be able to get there by 2040, but it’s just on a hope and a prayer,” he said. “It’s not within our control.”
Arends and other TCL&P board members, however, have expressed confidence in industry trends pointing to the continued proliferation of renewable energy sources and decreasing clean energy rates. Numerous audience members Tuesday echoed that optimism during public comment, including Mayor Jim Carruthers. “(This) is something I’ve been working for for my entire life in Traverse City,” Carruthers told TCL&P board members, encouraging their support of the resolution.
Kate Madigan of the Michigan Environmental Council and Michigan Climate Action Network agreed the commitment was “achievable and can bring many benefits.” She told TCL&P board members that her calculations estimated Traverse City would reduce its carbon emissions by 68,000 metric tons by reaching the 40 percent renewable threshold by 2025, and 200,000 metric tons by reaching the 100 percent goal by 2040. “We are proud to live in Traverse City and to have you as our utility, and we will support you in reaching to achieve (this goal),” she said.
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