TCLP Updates: Fiber Expansion Delays, Climate Action Plan, Community Grants
By Beth Milligan | Oct. 13, 2022
Federal funding, supply chain, and labor issues could delay the rollout of Traverse City Light & Power’s fiber network citywide – though staff told board members this week that they’re “geared up” and ready to move forward as soon as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releases funds for a $14.69 million loan it approved for the expansion. In other TCLP news, the city owned-utility approved $43,365 in grants for three local nonprofit environmental and energy projects this week and is in the process of developing a Climate Action Plan, with a series of public open houses coming soon to gather input on the project.
Fiber Expansion Delays
A Phase 2 rollout of TCLP fiber services – which would expand fiber service to the entire city, reaching nearly 8,000 more customers – is now waiting on the release of funds from the federal government. TCLP board members and city commissioners approved issuing up to $18.2 million in bonds earlier this year for TCLP to expand its citywide fiber network and create a city smart grid, which will allow for real-time monitoring of power usage and outages and give customers the option to track and adjust their energy consumption. The bonding approval followed news that the USDA had approved a $14.69 million loan for the projects, with the city committing additional funds to cover drop costs for connecting customers to the fiber network.
The first USDA payment was set to be released in August or September, but TCLP still hasn’t received the funding. “All of it hinges on the USDA timing,” TCLP Chief Information Technology Officer Scott Menhart told board members Tuesday. “We're just waiting for them to actually write that check out…they're taking their time crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s.” Menhart tells The Ticker that the latest estimations “put the USDA funding at a couple of weeks to a couple of months at max. We wouldn’t expect it to take longer than that.” Because detailed engineering has already been completed, that would mean a spring construction start date if the USDA funding is released within that timeframe, Menhart says. Work will start closest to the current deployment neighborhoods in the downtown area and move outward from there, leveraging existing infrastructure through the expansion. “This would allow the fastest path to getting customers hooked up and online,” Menhart says.
Menhart told board members the utility is ready to roll out a major citywide marketing campaign as soon as the USDA funding is released – something the utility hasn’t attempted until now because it didn’t want to advertise services in neighborhoods where they couldn’t yet be installed. Phases 1 and 1.1 saw the utility make fiber available to over 3,200 customers downtown. To date, 730 customers have signed up for service, with another 59 pending.
“Overall you can see that this project is still trending in the right direction,” said Menhart, adding that TCLP is actively hooking up more customers – including tenants in the new Commongrounds development, a likely significant source of new accounts – and working with local developers to install conduits in buildings while they’re still under construction. Menhart also said that while TCLP is seeing increased activity from competitors – including more aggressive promotional offers – the utility is “not having any churn,” or people leaving TCLP fiber once they’ve signed up. “That's very good news, because we don't have any agreements in place...so people can cancel at any time,” he said. “And we're not seeing that, which is great.”
Once Phase 2 construction work begins, TCLP hopes to complete the citywide fiber rollout in under two years. However, Menhart said that supply chain issues and labor shortages realistically means TCLP could encounter delays that extend the project beyond that timeframe. In the meantime, staff have already “started having talks on Phase 3,” Menhart said – expanding fiber to the rest of the TCLP service territory outside of city limits and potentially even beyond that. Under federal rules, TCLP can have a wider coverage range for its telecom services than electric services, Menhart said. He said utility staff are exploring federal grant opportunities for that expansion now – particularly since the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law in August, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars in energy and climate investments and incentives.
Climate Action Plan
TCLP is working to develop a Climate Action Plan to “identify innovative utility solutions designed to reduce our carbon impact while protecting grid resiliency,” according to the utility. A new website created for the project – TCLPCAP.org – states that “while TCLP is aware of the ongoing debate as to the reality or severity of ‘climate change,’ its actions and goals demonstrate its value for climate health. TCLP desires to determine and strategize its role as an active participant in climate health in a manner that allows it to sustain utility business and services while being mindful of its impact to all people, its financial viability, and the planet it shares. To that end, TCLP intends to develop and implement a strategic framework for measuring, planning and positively impacting the climate…this strategic framework will be utilized for future corporate strategic planning as well as further collaboration with the Traverse City community and government.”
To help develop the plan, TCLP will host four public houses between now and April focused on creating a “strategy for a clean energy future.” Each of the four free events will highlight a different energy solution. Attendees can register in advance online and will be entered to win a Giant/Momentum LAFREE E+ E-bike (valued at $2,400) that will be given away at the end of the open house series. The open house schedule is as follows (all events are from 4pm to 6pm at the Traverse Area District Library on Woodmere Avenue):
Open House 1: October 25, 2022 - Energy Waste Reduction, Demand Response, Electrification
Open House 2: November 16, 2022 - Distributed Energy Resources, Energy Storage, Carbon Neutrality
Open House 3: March 15, 2023 - Integrated Resource Plan Development
Open House 4: April 5, 2023 - Review of the Developed Integrated Resource Plan
“We are excited to start this journey and look forward to these open houses and the opportunities and insights they will bring,” says TCP Executive Director Brandie Ekren. “The community has an opportunity to play a role in developing a clean energy future, and we strongly encourage everyone to attend.” The Climate Action Plan will go to the TCLP board for approval in spring 2023, which will be followed by a public unveiling, according to the project website.
TCLP board members approved distributing $43,365 in grants this week for three community nonprofit projects out of the utility’s Community Investment Fund.
Habitat For Humanity will receive $20,000 for its Priority Home Repair (PHR) program, which assists low-income homeowners with roof, HVAC, electrical, foundation, accessibility modification, septic system, and potable water repairs. Traverse City Central High School’s Students for Environmental Advocacy (SEA) Club will receive an $8,635 grant to establish a wildflower pollinator garden on an acre of property beneath the solar array on M-72. Finally, SEEDS will receive a $14,730 grant for an Eco-Learning and Compost Demonstration at the Historic Barns Park, specifically to support installation of an Earth Flow Cube (an in-vessel composting system) and staff training. The Barns Park is owned by the City of Traverse City and Garfield Township Recreational Authority, with the project providing composting and compost education in Traverse City.Comment