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Traverse City mandates electric energy for municipal buildings

Traverse City Light and Power buys power from Heritage Sustainable Energy's solar array on M-72 in Traverse City. Aug. 2, 2023.
Izzy Ross
Traverse City Light and Power buys power from Heritage Sustainable Energy's solar array on M-72 in Traverse City. (Photo: Izzy Ross/IPR News)

Supporters of the policy say it sends a clear signal that Traverse City is serious about developing a green economy in northern Michigan.

This coverage is made possible through a partnership with IPR and Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

Some Traverse City officials hope that a new zero-emissions building policy will help reinvigorate their clean energy agenda.

Starting next year, all new city buildings — and any renovations — must be powered solely by electric energy from renewable resources. It’s the first policy of its kind in the state, according to the environmental group Groundwork.

“I feel great. I’m enthusiastic again,” said City Commissioner Tim Werner, who spearheaded the new Building Electrification Policy.

Werner has worked on local renewable energy policy for years and said it’s finally making progress.

“We’re kind of treading water,” he said. “So to me, this is a great step as far as moving things forward.”

Werner worked with climate action groups to rally support for the policy, which the city commission passed unanimously last week. He sees it as an important step toward developing a so-called green economy in the region, “because it sends a clear signal to folks in the trades — and developers, as well — that we're serious.”

While the new policy applies to new city buildings and renovations, such as the new senior center, it does not apply to private property except in certain cases, like when developers request tax breaks for their projects.

Werner didn’t know exactly how much carbon this new policy will eliminate.

Last year, renewable sources made up a quarter of Traverse City Light and Power’s output.

That utility aims to be totally renewable by 2040.

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Izzy covers climate change for communities in northern Michigan and around the Great Lakes for IPR through a partnership with Grist.org.