The windmill was considered unique when Traverse City Light & Power erected it in 1996 along M-72 in Leelanau County's Elmwood Township. But the utility still hasn't recovered the $785,000 cost, and the turbine recently was down for four months while officials hunted for a $38,000 part.
"It's nearing the end of its useful life, or it may already be there," Tim Arends, the utility's interim executive director.
The tower is 160 feet high, well below the height of younger windmills catching the best Michigan wind. When it was built, the windmill was considered one-of-a-kind in Michigan.
It can produce about 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough power for about 110 homes, but now is running at only 50 percent capacity while other problems are investigated.
It would take two years to generate enough income to cover the cost of the latest new part if the turbine operated at full power with low maintenance, Arends said.
The utility, which serves Traverse City and surrounding townships, is talking to experts about the windmill's future and hopes to have some recommendations by spring.
"This particular wind turbine is obsolete and at some point you have to give up the ghost and let it go," said board Chairman Pat McGuire said. "It's like an old car. At some point you have to make the decision you can no longer afford to make repairs because when you do something else goes wrong."