TCL&P orders climate action plan

·4 min read

Aug. 13—TRAVERSE CITY — Fighting climate change requires an overall strategy for how Traverse City Light and Power moves ahead, both in rethinking its existing programs and practices and in adopting new ones.

Consulting company Five Lakes Energy will help create that overall strategy of how to meet existing goals, set new ones and figure out ways to meet them, utility Executive Director Brandie Ekren said. The utility already has a unique combination of offerings, like an on-bill finance program to help customers pay for energy efficiency and green energy projects. It also has a progressively minded workforce and board of directors.

"So why not leverage that and be able to have them moving together on this roadmap?" she asked.

The board unanimously agreed to pay Five Lakes Energy $139,500, more or less, to produce what board President John Taylor told them ought to be a plan heavy in analysis. He wants to see solid numbers behind its recommendations under three broad topics, namely energy waste reduction, electrification and demand response.

Jacob Hardy, the utility's energy technician for its waste reduction program, is looking forward to seeing the program get off to a fresh start. He has his own ideas, but wants the firm's outside opinion as well, he told the board.

"I've been before you guys before saying that it's a stale program that needs a reboot," he said at their recent meeting.

He's looking to the climate action plan for a rewritten strategy, one that that incorporates TCL&P's existing strategy to trim power use — and therefore, power buys from the grid — by cutting waste, but with today's technology in mind as well.

New technology will also play a huge role in any strategy that pushes customers toward electrification, Hardy said. Encouraging them to ditch, say, gas stoves and furnaces in favor of an induction stove and a heat pump heating and cooling system means they'll probably be using more electricity.

It's counter to the typical strategy of getting customers to use fewer and fewer kilowatt-hours, Hardy said. But by nudging customers toward more high-efficiency electric appliances, they can cut their carbon footprint as the utility seeks out more and more clean energy. Analyzing the utility's current power sources will be part of the plan as well.

Other possible incentives, like rebates for electric lawnmowers and other tools, wouldn't have much of an impact on the utility but would still help people cut down their carbon output, Hardy said.

"TCL&P has always known that climate change is real and we've accepted it, and we want to do as big of a role as we can to help fight it," Hardy said. "So we're trying to come up with programs that maybe other utilities could grasp onto as well."

Demand response is the third major focus, which Ekren described as influencing peoples' energy use based on both the utility's needs and the customers' needs versus what's available.

Taylor said he was impressed with the firm's proposal for how to go about trimming demand, noting it was much more nuanced than simply trying to push down overall use.

But Taylor had some concerns that other areas seemed lacking in detail, and wanted to be sure the final product served to analyze the utility's climate crisis-fighting options rather than advocate for them, he said.

He had high expectations and wanted the "hard truth" about the utility's potential choices.

"If we don't get something that educates this group, we've made that mistake before," he said, referring to the board.

Input from utility customers will be a major component, and they can expect an invitation in an upcoming bill, Ekren said.

She expects the utility will have two open houses in the fall and spring 2023 where people can learn about what the utility is trying to do and why.

Those should lead to smaller facilitated discussions, down to one-on-one interviews.

Add to that a survey and website where people can submit their own suggestions, both of which are in the works, Ekren said.

She wants to learn not only where more education could help the public understand the utility's options, but what clean energy and other programs customers are willing to invest in.

Hardy said the plan for now is to have a full report by May 2023, an aggressive schedule.

"There's a lot of work to be done between now and then," he said.