Power to the People: A Who’s Who of Utilities Serving The Region
Most of us don’t think about electricity – or who supplies it – until we wake up in pitch-blackness during an outage and can’t make coffee the next morning. Fortunately, the region’s utility companies work behind the scenes 24/7 to make sure we don’t have so much as a blip on our computer screens most days of the year.
But who are these companies and what areas do they serve? Which companies are member-owned and which are investor-owned? Can you name the largest utility serving the area? The TCBN breaks it down and also finds out what bright ideas these utilities have for 2015 and beyond.
Cherryland Electric Cooperative
Who they are: Cherryland is a not-for-profit cooperative, meaning its owned by its members and any profits are returned to members. (Last year, it was a record $4.3 million.) Cherryland is also a distribution cooperative, meaning its main job is to maintain the system that moves power from substations within its territory to meters that serve members.
Areas served: Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Kalkaska, Wexford and Manistee counties
History: In 1938, President Roosevelt promised to bring electricity to farmers and others living in rural areas, and Max Goin, Frank Burkhart and Eino Lehto were committed to making it happen in northern Michigan. They formed a co-op and submitted a loan application to build a substation and 300 miles of line.
Within a few months, the first Cherryland linemen were in the backwoods, using dangerous equipment and working in hazardous conditions to install the poles. The dynamite they used was so powerful it would sometimes blow the top of the pole off. The first lines were energized on May 25, 1939, allowing 60 people in rural Grand Traverse to refrigerate their food and do farm chores more efficiently.
By the numbers: 34,000 members, 3,000 miles of line (1,800 overhead, 1,200 underground), 52 employees
Philanthropy: In five years, Cherryland has given $250,000 to food banks and other deserving groups through Cherryland Cares. Money is put into the fund when members opt to round up their electric bill to the nearest dollar.
Each year, the Co-op provides college scholarships to motivated high school seniors, gives adult education scholarships to members going back to school, and sponsors students attending a youth leadership summit.
Cherryland employees volunteer hundreds of hours each year through area organizations, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan, Freedom Builders and Munson Manor.
Board of directors: Tony Anderson, GM; Terry Lautner, Director at Large/President; Jon Zickert, Benzie/Manistee/Wexford Senior VP; Rick Deneweth, Director at Large/Treasurer; Melinda Lautner, Director at Large/Secretary; Betty Maciejewski, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties; John Olson, Director at Large ;Tom VanPelt, Leelanau County
Plans for 2015 & beyond: While many utilities are facing electric capacity shortfalls, Cherryland’s power supplier, Wolverine (headquartered in Cadillac), will be bringing the Alpine Power Plant online in 2016. A natural gas-fired peaking plant located outside of Gaylord, Alpine will keep the lights on for Cherryland members for years to come, said company officials, adding the construction of the Alpine Power Plant will not affect Cherryland’s rates due to “prudent financial planning.” Cherryland has not raised rates in four years and anticipates continued stable rates over the coming decade.
Renewable energy: Cherryland will also be increasing the amount of renewable energy in its portfolio in the near future. Wolverine has entered into an agreement to purchase all of the renewable energy generated by a new wind farm to be located in the Thumb area. Once this project comes online in late 2016, Cherryland and the other cooperatives Wolverine supplies (including Great Lakes Energy) will receive approximately 23 percent of their power from renewable energy in Michigan.
Cherryland also started the first community solar project in the state. The Solar Up North (SUN) Alliance allows members to purchase panels (located at the community solar array) and receive credit on their bill.
Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P)
Who they are: TCL&P’s role as a municipal electric utility is to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy services to the City of Traverse City and surrounding townships. It’s governed by elected officials who represent city taxpayers.
Areas served: TCL&P provides services to Traverse City and part of the outlying areas in Blair, East Bay, Elmwood, Garfield, Paradise and Peninsula townships. Customers inside the city limits represent 77 percent of the utility’s customer base, while customers outside the city limits represent 23 percent.
History: In 1912, the City of TC purchased Queen City Light & Power for $150,000. The purchase included 60 acres at Keystone and the property and flowage rights seven miles upstream, including the Brown Bridge Dam area and pond. The new power company was known as the Traverse City Municipal Light and Power Department, known today as Traverse City Light & Power (TCL&P).
The construction of Brown Bridge Dam, completed in 1922, produced reliable energy for TCL&P for the next 80 years. Voters approved the creation of the TCL&P board in 1979.
By the numbers: 38 employees; 12,400 customers; investments include three transmission substations, approximately 35 miles of transmission lines, four (soon to be five) distribution substations, 200 miles of overhead distribution lines, 150 miles of underground distribution lines, 7,000 poles, and 2,000 transformers.
Philanthropy: Since the inception of its Earth Day seedling giveaway in 1988, TCL&P has given away more than 160,000 seedlings to customers, community members, school children and other local organizations.
TCL&P also has a sponsorship policy where organizations are able to apply for financial support if their project or event (related to the electrical utility industry) meets the board-approved policy. Most recently, TCL&P approved a request to support putting solar on a local elementary school to help educate young children on renewable energy and energy generation.
Board of directors: Jeff Palisin, City Resident; Robert Spence III, City Resident; Jan Geht, Vice-Chairman; John Taylor, Chairman; Patrick McGuire, City Resident; Barbara Budros, City Commissioner; Jim Carruthers, City Commissioner; Martin Colburn, City Manager
Biggest project in 2014: TCL&P was focused on major infrastructure upgrades to its electrical system, which resulted in increased reliability for customers.
Work was completed on a transmission substation east of town, which now provides another main transmission feed into the City. This was a joint project with another local electric utility, eliminating the need to build another pole line into town. The majority of construction was completed on a distribution substation on the south side of town, which is the first one built on the TCL&P electrical system in 25 years, and will, once operational later this year, assist in distributing the growing load and demand for electricity.
TCL&P also received board approval to proceed with a transmission line upgrade on the west side of town – a project that had been postponed for many years. This transmission line is the oldest line in the TCL&P system, with poles and conductors that are 55 years old.
Plans for 2015 & beyond: In 2015, TCL&P launched Wi-Fi in the downtown district. This year it will also: complete the west side transmission line upgrade, begin work on a switching station that will allow the utility to restore power to customers quicker in the event of an outage, continue to work on rehabilitating older distribution circuits within the city to ensure the highest level of reliability for TCL&P customers.
Into the future, TCL&P is excited about rejoining the Energy Services Committee through the Michigan Public Power Agency, which will result in lower energy generation costs and help secure TCL&P’s energy needs into the future.
Great Lakes Energy
Headquartered in Boyne City, Great Lakes Energy is the largest member-owned power company in Michigan.
While not a utility that serves the greater Grand Traverse area, it is the third-largest Michigan-based electric utility, providing energy solutions to more than 125,000 member-consumers in 26 counties in western and northern Michigan.
It has eight office locations and more than 230 employees.
Who they are: The largest utility in Michigan with 6.6 million customers. Investor-owned.
Areas served: Serves nearly 6.6 million customers in all 68 counties in Michigan’s lower peninsula.
History: Consumers Energy was founded in Jackson in 1886 by William Foote, a flourmill operator and entrepreneur who enjoyed tinkering with electricity. Foote’s innovative vision transformed his company from a small downtown lighting project to one of the nation’s largest utility companies. Consumers Energy is one of the nation’s longest-serving electric utilities and remains headquartered in Jackson.
By the numbers (in 5-county region): 124 employees; serves just over 49,000 customers; between 5,000 and 6,000 miles of above and underground lines.
Philanthropy: In the last five years, its foundation has granted $1.2 million across northwest Michigan ($125,000 to the State Theatre as part of Consumers’ 125th Anniversary celebration; and more than $150,000 to early childhood education through Great Start programs over the last five years). Other investments include downtown streetscapes, environmental stewardship programs and economic development organizations.
Board of directors: David W. Joos, Chairman; Jon Barfield; Deborah Butler; Kurt Darrow; Stephen E. Ewing; Richard M. Gabrys; William D. Harvey; Philip R. Lochner Jr.; John G. Russell; Myrna M. Soto; Laura H. Wright
Biggest ongoing project: An $800 million upgrade to the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, which Consumers Energy jointly owns with DTE Energy. The six-year project will be complete in 2019. When finished, the plant will be able to produce enough electricity to power a community of 1.65 million people.
Renewable energy: Community solar program will allow customers to subscribe to solar energy (starting in 2016); Lake Winds Energy Park, a 100-megawatt facility in Mason County, and Cross Winds, a 111-megawatt energy park in Tuscola County (Thumb area)
Plans for 2015 & beyond: Meeting the energy needs of Michigan households and businesses, even as seven coal plants close in 2016.
DTE Energy Company
Who they are: Detroit-based DTE Energy Co. is a diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. Investor-owned.
History of DTE (in GT region): DTE Energy, formerly known as Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., or MichCon, purchased an existing liquified petroleum gas distribution system in Traverse City in 1955. The company converted the system to natural gas in 1956 and connected the city to the rest of the North American natural gas network through its expansive distribution and transmission in Michigan.
Today, the company serves 1.2 million natural gas customers, including those in Grand Traverse County, and has customers and/or pipelines in most all other northern Michigan counties. The company also owns and operates DTE Electric, formerly Detroit Edison, which serves 2.1 million electric customers in Southeast Michigan.
Areas served (with natural gas ): Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Kalkaska, Antrim, Wexford, Charlevoix, Emmet counties
By the numbers: The company owns and operates 278 storage wells representing approximately 34 percent of the underground working capacity in Michigan.
Philanthropy : The DTE Energy Foundation has a long history of giving in the Grand Traverse region, most notably to the NMC Foundation, Inland Seas Education Center, Conservation Resource Alliance, Grand Traverse Community Foundation and the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, to name a few. It also provides grants and financial support to a number of local programs and initiatives such as the National Cherry Festival, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan, The Father Fred Foundation, Northern Michigan Community Action Agency, the City of Traverse City, The Kingsley Community Fund, Friends of the Traverse Area District Library, Goodwill Industries, After 26 Project and Grand Traverse Industries .
Board of directors: Gerard M. Anderson, Chairman; David Brandon; Frank Fountain; Charles “Chip” McClure; Gail J. McGovern; Mark A. Murray; James B. Nicholson, Presiding Director; Charles W. Pryor Jr.; Josue Robles Jr.; Ruth G. Shaw; David A. Thomas; James H. Vandenberghe
Renewable energy: By 2015, DTE Energy will have installed nearly 1,000 megawatts of renewable electric generating capacity, which will account for 10 percent of its customers’ electricity needs, or enough to power 400,000 homes. DTE Energy currently provides 9.6 percent of its electric generation from renewable sources.
DTE Energy is directly investing approximately $1 billion in renewable energy, most of which are investments in wind projects. An additional $1 billion is being invested in third-party owned Michigan-based renewable energy facilities. These investments contribute significantly to the Pure Michigan Business Connect Initiative.
Plans for 2015 & beyond: DTE Electrice has filed an amended renewable energy plan with the Michigan Public Service Commission to reduce to zero the monthly surcharge paid by residential customers. If the MPSC approves the plan, the 43-cent monthly surcharge would come off bills in January and reduce electric rates by $15 million per year.