Traverse City News and Events

City Considers Options For Hitting Renewable Energy Goal

By Beth Milligan | April 24, 2019

Traverse City commissioners will consider taking significant steps to meet a 2020 goal of powering 100 percent of city operations with renewable energy, including opting into a voluntary green pricing program, cutting energy usage, and partnering in a downstate solar expansion project. City commissioners reviewed their options at their Monday meeting, and also received a staff update on new state legislation requiring the city to replace all of its lead and galvanized steel water services lines – a mandate that has impacted projects like the upcoming Eighth Street reconstruction.

Renewable Energy
City commissioners agree it will likely take “a mix” of solutions to reach the city’s goal of powering 100 percent of city operations with renewable energy by the end of 2020, in the words of Commissioner Tim Werner. Some of those options could also help city-owned utility Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P), which has separately pledged to obtain 40 percent of its entire energy portfolio from clean sources by 2025 and 100 percent by 2040. Those goals, approved by TCL&P’s board last August, made Traverse City the first city in the state of Michigan to commit to using 100 percent renewable energy on a community-wide basis – not just in municipal buildings.

But city-owned buildings are the immediate focus for commissioners, who learned Monday that the city is currently at 22 percent of its goal with only 20 months remaining until its self-imposed deadline at the end of 2020. “You set this goal two years ago, and two years go by really quickly,” said TCL&P Executive Director Tim Arends. “That’s a lot to bite off, to be 100 percent in that short timeframe that you set.”

A TCL&P ad hoc committee tasked with helping the city research energy options suggested not only investing in new green energy sources, but also reducing city energy inefficiencies. Cutting energy by 10 percent in city buildings would help move the city closer to its goal, Arends said. “It doesn’t have to happen in every single building,” he said. “You could do it all in one (building)” – such as high-energy facilities like the city’s wastewater or water treatment plants.

Another option for commissioners is partnering on a large-scale solar project in Shiawassee County through the Michigan Public Power Agency. The expansion would add on 5.3 megawatts of clean energy that TCL&P could purchase – enough to meet not only the city’s goal, but TCL&P’s as well. “It would be more than what you need…and quite frankly, I need more for Light and Power, too. So it’s really…a win-win,” Arends said. The city could also partner in another solar power project in Calhoun County, though that array is not anticipated to be in production until 2022, while Shiawassee could be in place by the end of 2020. “The price points of these projects, because they’re so large scale, are very very good,” Arends said.

The most immediate action the city could take is opting into TCL&P’s voluntary green pricing program. The state-mandated program allows customers to pay a premium – an additional charge of $.0085 cents per kilowatt hour – to have a certain portion of their energy come from renewable sources. Customers can choose to have 25, 50, 75, or 100 percent of their energy be renewable. Traverse City could meet its 2020 goal “tomorrow” if it opted into the program, Arends said, which would cost the city approximately $57,000 more annually. Arends proposed using proceeds from the voluntary green pricing program to make energy upgrades in city buildings, allowing the city to realize a back-end return on its upfront investment.

Several of the proposed options – such as the solar expansion projects and a proposal to use the green rate proceeds for building upgrades – will go to TCL&P board members for approval in May, since those projects flow through the utility. City Manager Marty Colburn told commissioners he would further review options with them as part of their budget planning process this spring, allowing the board to vote on designating funds for action items like paying the green rate.

Lead Pipes
A state mandate requiring Michigan cities to replace lead or galvanized steel service lines in their public water supply systems will add an estimated $50,000-$60,000 to the Eighth Street reconstruction project, which is set to start May 6.

Recently enacted legislation makes cities responsible for ensuring that no lead lines – or galvanized steel pipes that were once connected to lead components – are in use anywhere throughout the entire public water supply system. Though Traverse City has replaced its lead service lines in the city-controlled portion of its water system, the mandate also now makes the city responsible for replacing lead or galvanized steel lines running through homeowners’ yards or business properties up to their buildings. Art Krueger, director of municipal utilities, told commissioners Monday that out of 42 properties along Eighth Street, eight were found to have galvanized steel lines. The City of Traverse City must replace those lines at its own expense, unless property owners waive the replacement.

City staff expressed frustration over the “unfunded mandate" by Michigan legislators, which will force communities to inventory and then begin replacing lines starting in 2021 – a project that could cost Traverse City $1 million per year for 20 years. Staff are starting with Eighth Street now so they don’t have to tear up newly installed sidewalks and cycle tracks to get to the pipes in a few years’ time. Krueger said the city’s water supply tests “way down below” federal lead requirements, with Colburn adding that the state mandate wasn’t based on science and was lumping in cities like Traverse City with communities that have “real issues” to address with their infrastructure. He said the city was pushing back on legislators to reconsider how the new rules are implemented.

In the meantime, the Eighth Street project provides a sneak peak of how the program could affect property owners throughout the city if the rules remain as written. Owners who don’t want their yards dug up for pipe replacement will be able to refuse the service by signing a waiver; otherwise, the city is responsible for tackling a certain percentage of pipe replacements each year. When asked about the risks posed by galvanized steel pipes to homeowners, Krueger said such lines can “corrode from the inside” over time, slowly clogging and reducing water pressure to a building. It's also possible such pipes can release tiny particulates of lead that were trapped back in the 1950s, when lead pipes were still in use and connected to them. But Krueger said he believed “it’s pretty unlikely" that scenario would occur.

Commissioner Amy Shamroe said she wanted to make it clear to the public that lead pipes aren't being used in the city, with staff also emphasizing that the city’s water supply is safe. While galvanized steel lines could also pose little to no danger, they are “an unknown risk,” explained Werner. “And because the state already screwed up, they wanted to take no chance. Because they can’t quantify the risk, they say, ‘Just replace them all.’”

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