Traverse City News and Events

TC Light & Power Eyes Uses For Property

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 18, 2018

A 48-acre disposal site for coal ash from the former Bayside Power Plant could see new life as Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P) eyes potential uses for the property – including installing a solar array and selling off part of the land for development.

TCL&P board members this week gave the green light to Executive Director Tim Arends to explore options for the vacant site on Cedar Run Road just west of Barney Road (pictured). Until the Bayside Power Plant – which formerly operated in the Open Space in downtown Traverse City – was decommissioned in 2005, the Cedar Run Road property was used as dumping pit for coal ash from the plant. The ten acres of the property where the dumping was concentrated have an underground lining and have been sealed off at the surface to contain the contaminants. Because of the pollution, the ground on those 10 acres can’t be penetrated or disturbed – essentially barring any development and leaving TCL&P with an unusable chunk of property in perpetuity.

But at least one possible option has emerged for the site: installing a pad-mounted solar array on the land’s surface that wouldn’t penetrate underground. With the board’s support, Arends plan to research the feasibility of adding a one-megawatt array to the property – similar to the size of the Heritage Energy solar array on M-72 – that would interconnect to either Cherryland Electric’s or Consumer Energy’s distribution systems, both of which run along the property. TCL&P would have to get approval from those utilities to access their systems; it would also be responsible for upgrades that would allow the solar energy produced on the property to feed into the grid. TCL&P would then be able to claim the solar tax credits available for the array.

The proposal is still in its infancy: Arends has to research system integration and upgrade costs, compare options for TCL&P managing its own solar array or contracting with an outside developer to build the array, and talk with Garfield Township officials about solar zoning rules for the site. But if feasible, the project could allow an otherwise untouchable parcel of land to become productive for TCL&P, Arends says.

“I thought since we are going to own this forever that at least putting solar on the area we can never do anything with would make it useful,” he says. “Nothing can ever be constructed there and we can’t dispose of it…so we should at least analyze our options.”

Arends also plans to explore potential options for the remaining 38 acres of the site. One possible scenario is to do a land split and sell off the large section of the property that does not house coal ash and can be developed. “There are beautiful West Bay views there on the western portion of the property,” Arends says. “Maybe it could become apartments, or maybe a group in town would want to purchase it and turn it into a nature preserve. But it has better uses than just being owned by Light and Power. I don’t think government should keep valuable or useful properties off the tax rolls.”

Meanwhile, some improvements have already come to the property this summer. After neighbors expressed concerns about the spread of invasive species on the site – including honeysuckle, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, and spotted knapweed – TCL&P worked with the Grand Traverse Conservation District (GTCD) to form an eradication plan for the site.

GTCD Invasive Species Network staff treated the invasive species this summer and planted over 1,300 native trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs that will “support native pollinators, numerous migratory songbirds, and serve as a valuable food source for wildlife,” according to the GTCD.  The $18,000 project primarily concentrated plantings in periphery areas that will not be threated by a solar array installation or other future development, according to Arends.

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