On the tall ship Manitou, Grand Traverse Bay, the evening after Traverse City Light & Power committed to a 100 percent clean-energy goal. Wind-filled sails are a beautiful expression of the power and legitimacy of renewable energy.
Traverse City Light & Power sailed into history on Tuesday evening, August 13, 2018, when the board approved a strategic plan goal to have 100 percent of the utility’s power generated by clean energy by 2040. The strategic plan also set an interim goal of having 40 percent clean energy by 2025.
In approving the goal, Traverse City became the first town in Michigan to stake out that ambitious but essential 100 percent goal. Only 75 communities in the United States have done so. One state—Hawaii—has also taken on that 100 percent clean-energy mission.
The 100 percent grid-wide goal comes on the heels of the Traverse City commission’s decision in December 2016 to use 100 percent clean energy for all city-owned buildings.
The grid-wide 100 percent clean-energy goal did not come without debate. As with any decision this ambitious, age-old questions and views played out. Were proponents being visionary or just naïvely optimistic? Were opponents being pragmatic or unable to see legitimate possibilities? The lone dissenter in the 5-to-1 vote was board chairman Patrick McGuire. “I don’t like the 40 percent goal or the 100 percent goal,” he said. “It will be way too expensive. Incredibly expensive. This is a hope and a prayer, not a plan.”
Board member Ross Hammersley expressed the majority opinion when he said, “I love this goal. It’s important. If it were me personally, it might be more ambitious, but this is a reasonable way to move forward and this will get our community to 100 percent carbon-free energy sooner.”
"At Groundwork we believe that the long term costs and benefits of installing solar today versus burning coal and other fossil fuels for 30 years justify the upfront investment that will benefit our community for decades," said Dan Worth, Groundwork Clean Energy Policy Specialist.
When the board chair asked how many people in the audience hoped to speak during the comment period, many raised their hands. McGuire set a three-minute limit on individual comments and invited people to the microphone.
Kate Madigan, of the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Climate Action Network said, “I’m impressed by the careful research and decisions by the board and staff and the courage it took to set a really strong goal.” When TCLP meets the 100 percent goal, the utility will be avoiding the production of 200,000 metric tons of CO2 every single year, Madigan pointed out.
Mayor Jim Carruthers approached the microphone as well, but as he spoke, the passion in his voice made it clear he was speaking as much in his official capacity as he was speaking as an everyday citizen. “I’m a resident and a rate-payer,” he began. Carruthers referenced his work in the 1990s that resulted in Traverse City constructing one of the first municipally owned wind turbines in the nation. Traverse City showed energy innovation and optimism back then and it was good to see that spirit reasserted in this vote, he reflected. “Thank you for supporting this. I have been working for this my entire life in Traverse City.”
For its part in the initiative, Groundwork engaged in countless meetings with board members pointing out the value and the legitimate ways forward to meet the 100 percent goal. We also ran the renewable energy subcommittee of the City of Traverse City’s official Green Team. “Our work on 100 percent dates back nearly a decade if you count our direct work on the goal and the energy efficiency work before that,” Worth said.
Looking forward, Groundwork continues advocating to expand the use of clean energy in northern Michigan as our energy team meets with municipally owned utilities in Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs to discuss next steps in their own clean-energy missions.