Written by: Cherryland

Capitol building in Lansing

By Craig Borr, CEO Michigan Electric Cooperative Association

After nearly two years of discussion, dialogue, committee hearings and, at times, frustration, the Michigan Legislature passed an energy reform package as their last initiative prior to recess in late December. The two-bill package is 200-plus pages in length and is the first major piece of state energy legislation since 2008.

One of the principal goals of the legislative package was ensuring additional “marketplace certainty” so that additional generating capacity can be constructed in our state. Michigan’s generating capacity, particularly in the Lower Peninsula, has been declining significantly over the past few years due to the many plant retirements necessitated by new, more stringent federal environmental standards.

Thankfully, electric cooperatives in Michigan are in a much better position than many of their neighboring municipal and investor-owned utilities when it comes to generating capacity and the ability to meet member demands during peak load periods. The 430-megawatt Alpine Generating Plant built by Wolverine Power Cooperative near Gaylord last year is a prime example of how Michigan’s electric co-ops are preparing for their members’ future needs. The Alpine plant required an investment of nearly $200 million and is fueled by natural gas.

What are some of the specifics included in the energy legislation signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in December, and how will they impact you and your electric cooperative?

Renewable Energy – The new energy legislation increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from the current 10 percent level to 15 percent in 2021. The majority of Michigan’s electric cooperatives already exceed the 15 percent renewable energy threshold required in 2021 from their extensive use of solar, wind and hydroelectric generating resources located in Michigan. Electric co-ops are Michigan’s renewable energy leaders.

Net Metering – As member regulated utilities, Michigan’s electric cooperatives will continue to set the parameters of their own net metering programs so that member-consumers can access their electric co-op’s net metering programs without regulatory involvement.

Electric Choice – Like the state’s largest electric utilities, electric cooperatives will continue to offer “choice” to their large commercial and industrial members through Michigan’s electric customer choice program. However, electric choice suppliers will need to prove they have ample supplies of electric capacity to meet the energy requirements of “choice” customers. This is particularly important as much of Michigan’s electric generation fueled by coal continues to dwindle due to age and federal environmental requirements.

Energy Optimization – Electric co-ops will continue to provide their members with energy optimization programs designed to reduce electric usage through LED lighting, installation of energy-efficient appliances and more extensive efficiency programs for commercial, industrial and agricultural members.

Michigan’s electric cooperatives were supportive of the new energy legislation and believe strongly that it will be good for our member-consumers throughout rural Michigan. We are hopeful that this package will result in the construction of new and cleaner forms of electric generation in Michigan, including new natural gas, wind and solar facilities.

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Written by: Cherryland

Three men standing near line truck on lift

Keeping Cherryland’s iconic red trucks on the road is no easy job. Between the trucks, trailers, and other equipment, there are 60 units in the co-op’s fleet to repair and maintain. That’s why Cherryland has Adam Wagner, the co-op’s newest mechanic.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I have lived on co-op lines my whole life.  I grew up about five minutes south of Cherryland on my family’s centennial farm.  The farm was purchased in 1903 from the Monroe family and now I’m the 5th generation of my family to operate it. We raise corn, wheat, oats, hay, and beef cattle. My hope is that my children will be 6th generation to operate it.

 I graduated from Ferris State University in 2002 with a degree in Applied Sciences of Heavy Equipment Technology. After college, I worked for a few different repair shops in Traverse City before coming to Cherryland. 

I’m married to my wife Betsy and have three young children, Lilly, Morgan, and Hunter.

Q: What is your role at Cherryland?

A: I am one of Cherryland’s mechanics. I help maintain and repair the co-op fleet of vehicles and equipment.

Q: What does a day look like for a co-op mechanic?

A: Every day is different depending on the needs of the fleet. A typical day in the maintenance garage starts with a list of needed repairs for any given piece of equipment: bucket trucks, pickup trucks, backhoes, diggers, and more. If the crews aren’t using it, we will do what’s needed to be done to return it to the service fleet. If there is nothing to repair, we also do any preventative maintenance that’s needed to keep the fleet on the road where it belongs.

Q: What attracted you to Cherryland?

A: I really liked what I heard from people who worked at the co-op. Everybody I had spoken to had good things to say about the people and the working environment.  And now that I’m here, it’s great to see how much my coworkers care about their community and how willing they are to give back to others.

 Q: And now that you are here, what’s your favorite part of working for Cherryland?

A: My favorite thing about working at Cherryland is the atmosphere.  It’s a lot like working with family. As a family, everybody is willing to pitch in and make sure whatever needs to get done is done.

Q: What do you do when you are not in the garage or on the farm?

A: I like to watch my daughters play sports and participate in 4-H showing their junior beef projects at the fair.  I’m also very involved with Michigan Farm Bureau serving on the county board of directors for the last three years.   

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Written by: Tony Anderson

Map of River Road

Have you ever heard of two utilities in Michigan exchanging territory AND customers/members? I haven’t either. It is an idea that Traverse City Light and Power (TCLP) came to Cherryland with several months ago. As I write this, we are close to getting final signatures from both boards, and public input sessions have either occurred or are planned for the near future.

What is being exchanged? Traverse City Light and Power is trading rural municipal utility services along River Road in Grand Traverse County for cooperative services in the Barlow Street neighborhood near the city limits of Traverse City. The actual meter counts are slightly different, but the energy load based on history is almost identical.

There are a few very good reasons for this historic exchange. First, TCLP has a stand alone line that evolved in the days of hydropower at the Brown Bridge Dam serving the rural River Road area. With the dam long gone, it is the only rural area for which the city utility is responsible. The municipal is on one side of the road while the cooperative is on the other.

The poles and wires of both utilities in this area are old and in need of major repair and upgrades. It will simply be more efficient and practical for Cherryland to do one upgrade that involves a consolidation of the competing lines. Cooperative members and former municipal customers will see improved reliability and a utility corridor that is visually cleaner as well.

The Cherryland service territory in the Barlow area is adjacent to the city limits. It is very old and in need of major repair. Just as it makes sense for a city utility to give up rural territory, this small piece of the cooperative’s urban area was a logical candidate. The load in this area also matched the rural utility load.

While this is certainly a historical event, it is not a major transaction for either utility. The city utility will be transferring about 110 customers as Cherryland sends over just under 100 members. Thus, communication has been directed specifically to these individuals and businesses. Neither utility saw a need for a widespread public campaign.

Rate disparity is the biggest issue. Traverse City Light and Power has more than 30 meters per mile of line while Cherryland is slightly more than 11. Obviously, residential rates at the municipal entity are far lower than at the cooperative.

Cherryland is working on adding a credit to the new, incoming member bills that would slowly be lowered over a yet-to-be-determined period of years. The residential members leaving the cooperative for municipal service will see an immediate decrease. The rate impact to commercial members is specific to the individual business, and each utility will be working with them directly.

We are anticipating moving everyone to their new utility before June 1. The work will be done in phases over the April-May time period as weather and unforeseen construction issues allow.

Are we actively looking for other similar opportunities? I can’t speak for TCLP. While anything is possible, Cherryland has no present plans or ideas for any future exchanges. This was a unique opportunity that clearly made sense financially and operationally while greatly increasing reliability.

Cherryland will continue to serve on the edges of Traverse City. These dense urban areas are an important part of our overall service territory and sales growth.

We will also continue to be a good utility neighbor and applaud TCLP staff and leadership for their effort to get this exchange completed for the benefit of all co-op members and utility customers.

Tony Anderson