TRAVERSE CITY —
Traverse City Light & Power's board in a split decision Tuesday night voted to "pursue the development" of a local wood-burning power plant.
Light & Power officials now must complete engineering and design work, seek permits, acquire land for a plant, verify cost estimates and much more. It could be several years before a plant is operational.
"We understood early on that the devil's always in the details, and that's what we have to work on now, is the details," Light & Power Executive Director Ed Rice said.
The board voted 4-2 in favor of biomass after a lengthy board discussion and another round of often-heated public comment.
The dissenting votes came from Jim Carruthers and Ralph Soffredine, two Traverse City commissioners who serve on Light & Power's board. The pair wanted to delay the biomass decision at least a month but found no support from fellow board members.
Carruthers and Soffredine are the only publicly elected members of Light & Power's board. The rest are appointed by the city commission.
Carruthers said he's been "peppered" with e-mails and calls about biomass. He said it's his responsibility as an elected official to continue to listen to public concerns about the plant.
"We have not answered the public's questions," Carruthers said. "They're angry at us. They're angry at me."
Soffredine agreed that unanswered questions about the plant's safety and impact remain.
"I don't see the race ... I feel like after listening to the people, we need to give this more time," he said.
Board Vice Chairman Mike Coco countered that voting to pursue biomass is "a step toward additional information."
"A vote of yes for biomass tonight, for this resolution, is getting more information," he said. "At some point we need to put a stake in the ground ... we need to do engineering, we need to have an actual site, we have to know that zoning will allow for a plant at that site, we need to design the plant, we need to (secure) permits, we need to go out and actually get fuel contracts."
Coco further said that biomass opponents likely won't change their minds if the decision is delayed. He suggested some anti-biomass players never intended to examine biomass with an open mind, mirroring a charge that Light & Power was dead-set on biomass long before a series of public forums on the topic.
"You've been talking to these people for months," Coco told Carruthers. "Why are they still not satisfied? ... Is it because they're not going to be satisfied no matter what you tell them?"
Coco said there's no "silver bullet" energy option that everyone will agree on.
"I don't know that it's possible to get everybody on board ... we're not going to get 100 percent," he said.
Light & Power hosted two public forums in February in an effort to gather public input about the plant. Some citizens and environmental groups believe the forums were just for show, though Light & Power contends it took input gathered at those forums into account.
Light & Power officials said biomass is the most practical and cost-effective choice among several renewable-energy options. Almost all of Light & Power's energy comes from fossil fuels, and it wants to generate 30 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2020.
A biomass plant would consume mostly wood, but also could accept designated fuel crops or other organic materials. Light & Power looks to build a plant that would burn through about 100,000 tons of material a year.
The plant likely would be built on a seven-acre site off Parsons Road in Traverse City. Officials in the past said multiple plants were a possibility, but recent discussion seemed to center on one facility.
Greg Reisig is board chairman of the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council. He said the vote to pursue biomass "wasn't a surprise," though he was happy to hear discussion of delaying the decision.
"We were really encouraged by the comments of Jim Carruthers and Ralph Soffredine, who were standing up for extending the process," he said.
Reisig said NMEAC will continue to voice concerns about biomass.
Board votes to 'pursue the development' of a wood-burning power plant in TC
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