Natural gas, coal, biomass: What should Traverse City choose?

Traverse City Light and Power is considering plans to build a local electrical generation facility amid concerns it will lose its current energy source.

In 2015 the downstate coal plants where TCLP gets 50% of its energy are shutting down because the facilities are too old and meeting new EPA regulations would cost millions.

The changes are forcing the company to take a look at the alternatives. Tuesday surveys were sent out to all 11,500 TCLP customers asking if they would support local electrical generation. That would mean building a coal, natural gas, or biomass plant depending on what the results show.

Rice says he already has a pretty good idea how the community feels about biomass, but wanted to include it as an option anyways.

"We are going to have to get generation from somewhere and there are other utilities that buy out of state. We prefer not to do that, but there are no other plants being built in Michigan. Thatâ??s the dilemma. We either do it ourselves or go out of state." says Rice

Buying electricity out of state could increase bills for customers. Right now TCLP customers pay some of the lowest rates in the state.

Rice says one of the benefits of creating energy locally is that it is reliable. Only two power lines connected to the Eastern System supply 90% of the power to northern Michigan.

"If we had a catastrophic failure of our wire system we would be out of electricity until that system was reconstructed. Weâ??d be out, I mean totally out, and that would be devastating to this area." says Rice

If a large number of customers approve, TCLP would begin plans to build a facility at the beginning of next year, but that is only if it is clear what the people want.

"If there is not support for it then we won't do anything. We donâ??t want to spend money and time investigating and analyzing a possible outcome for reliable energy if the community will not support it." says Rice

Rice says any plant would be much smaller than the former coal plant near Grand Traverse Bay that was taken down several years ago.