For the first time in their history, the boards of directors of two competing power companies – Traverse City Light & Power and Cherryland Electric Cooperative – met last night to discuss ways in which they might work together.
“We’re here to learn from one another,” TCLP board chair Pat McGuire said in opening the unprecedented session. While staff of the two utility competitors often communicate, the joint meeting was the first between the two boards.
“We’re here to get to know each other and hopefully find ways that we can work together,” noted Cherryland Electric board chair Tom Van Pelt.
Cherryland Electric’s General Manager Tony Anderson detailed several ways that the utilities have worked together in the past, including providing safety training, assisting each other in outage and storm responses, installing equipment on the other’s power poles and sharing hard-to-find equipment such as an underground radar gun or trench box.
“This session is intended to generate ideas,” said TCLP board member Mike Coco. “From the idea level we want to find areas were we might work together.”
He then offered four areas where the utilities could cooperate:
• Energy optimization - “The least expensive energy is the energy we don’t use.”
• Community education and engagement – “We need to be talking to our customers.”
• Overlapping infrastructure – Power poles and wires in common areas.
• Generation of power – Possible partners with Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative, which provides the energy for Cherryland Electric
While the two boards each have seven members, there are some key differences in their makeup. The TCLP board, which is appointed, is relatively inexperienced, with no member serving longer than 5 years. They rely on the expertise of Executive Director Ed Rice, who has been with TCLP about four-and-a-half years and is, ironically, a Cherryland Electric customer.
The Cherryland board, elected by its co-op members to three-year terms, has no one who has served less than five years. That can be a key factor in the energy business, which has a steep learning curve for most any newcomer.
Launched in 1938, Cherryland Electric serves almost 34,000 members in parts of the six counties. About 95 percent of the co-op’s members are residential customers. It provides power through about 2,900 miles of lines over an area of 1,400 square miles with a staff of 50.
TCLP traces its roots back a century with the purchase of Queen City Light & Power, the Keystone Dam and Brown Bridge Dam property in 1912. TCLP serves roughly 3,000 commercial and 8,000 residential customers in the city proper and parts of Blair, East Bay, Elmwood, Garfield, Peninsula and Paradise Townships.
When they began, the two utilities had distinctly different constituents. TCLP served the city, while Cherryland Electric provided energy to the surrounding rural area. But over the decades, their service areas crept up to each other so that there are literally some locations were Cherryland Electric serves one side of a street and TCLP serves the other.
The meeting ended with both sides agreeing to a follow-up session at Cherryland Electric’s Grawn location.