State pegs wind energ possibilities

June 7, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The Wind Energy Resource Zone Board established by Michigan law last fall has issued a report proposing four specific regions in Michigan with the highest potential level of commercial wind energy development.

One of the regions, designated Region 1, is made up of parts of seven townships in inland Allegan County: Casco, Clyde, Fillmore, Ganges, Laketown, Lee and Manlius. The other three regions include the Thumb — where there already are commercial wind farms — plus parts of Antrim and Charlevoix counties, and parts of Benzie, Leelanau and Manistee counties.

Ultimately, after months of public review and public hearings, the Michigan Public Service Commission is required by PA 295 — the Michigan Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act — to designate at least one "wind energy zone," according to the proposal report from the Wind Energy Resource Zone board.

The MPSC is involved because it represents the state government in planning and approving sites and permits for electrical transmission lines. As noted in the news release issued by the MPSC June 2, one "factor that may affect the scope and pace of wind energy development will be the ability of the electric transmission system to support the delivery" of commercial wind generated-power to customers.

"It is important to note that the identification of these four regions does not mean that wind development will necessarily occur in these regions or other areas of the state,” said Dave Walters, the chair of the 11-member Wind Energy Resource Zone board appointed by the MPSC in December. Walters is the general manager of the Zeeland Board of Public Works.

Walters added that "local governments retain their zoning rights or ability to review and authorize the siting of wind farms in their communities."

Local units of government in the affected areas have until Aug. 4 to submit comments on the proposed report. After that, the board will hold two public hearings in late August.

Following the public hearings, the board will issue its final report, and transmission companies and electric utilities will specify the transmission facilities needed to deliver the estimated minimum and maximum wind energy potential from each of these regions. The MPSC will then evaluate all information compiled by the board before designating one or more areas as a “wind energy resource zone.”

Walters said the Wind Energy Resource Zone board "looked carefully at various regions of Michigan and determined that four areas hold the most potential for wind energy projects. The regions were selected based on the board’s findings related to the wind resources, land availability, and energy production potential compared to other areas of the state. We look forward to hearing from the affected communities and others before submitting the final report.”

People who live in areas not among the four proposed wind energy zones also are invited to provide comments if they feel they should be in one of the designated wind energy areas, according to the report.

The three-bill package signed into law Oct. 6 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm includes a renewable portfolio standard requiring that, by 2015, at least 10 percent of the state's energy comes from renewable sources such as wind or solar.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, Michigan ranks 14th in estimated potential for commercial generation of electricity by wind, but is among the states with the lowest amount of existing commercial wind generation.

Kevin Ricco, the interim director of economic development within the Allegan County government, said there are no commercial wind turbines in the county yet, although he said there has been discussion about future installation of one or two commercial turbines, "and I'm assuming this report is perhaps going to drive that endeavor further."

He said agriculture and tourism are Allegan County's two largest industries, noting that the county was just designated last year by the Michigan Department of Agriculture as the No. 1 county in Michigan in terms of the economic value of its agriculture.

In many areas of North America and Europe over the last decade, large commercial wind turbines have been opposed by some people for alleged negative impacts regarding aesthetic appearance, noise, annoying shadow flicker from the huge spinning blades, and harm to birds, although the wind energy industry generally rebuts those allegations.

Ricco said that "tourism being such a large industry for us here, it's something we're going to need to protect and preserve." But he added there are “probably” ways to accommodate both commercial wind generation and the tourism industry.

A map included in the Wind Energy Resource Zone board report (www.michigan.gov/windboard) uses shaded areas to indicate appropriate locations for commercial wind generation, but none of those include the county's cities or any area within a few miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Most of the shaded area in the township maps is agricultural land.

The commercial wind energy industry targets farm land as ideal for wind farms. In Laketown Township, the zoning ordinance already regulates the location of wind turbines, restricting them mainly to agricultural zones and not residential areas or along the valuable shoreline property or fragile dune areas.

Agriculture zones are "where we try to steer them," said Al Meshkin, Laketown township manager. "It seems like they would work well with cornfields. The corn doesn't care," he joked, and the land around a turbine can still be used for agriculture.

Richard F. Vander Veen said the report "is a good one, and it sets Michigan in motion to follow the example of Texas, which established certain zones" as ideal areas for commercial wind farms.

Vander Veen, a commercial wind farm developer, is president of Mackinaw Power LLC in Lowell, which built a two-turbine wind farm in Mackinaw City several years ago, now owned by Crystal Flash Energy. Mackinaw Power is currently developing a 140-megawatt wind farm in Oceana County that may be on-line by spring 2011, according to Vander Veen. His company is also involved with a proposed wind farm in Gratiot County.

"From what we know, those are good, windy sites. It would require community support that would have to be earned, not given, by a developer," said Vander Veen, who met with the Wind Energy Resource Zone board this past winter while it was working on the report.

Transmission is a critical issue in determining where to build commercial wind farms.

Vander Veen said wind moving at six meters per second is about 25 percent of the generating capacity of a commercial wind turbine. At seven meters of wind, it is about 30 percent. But a site with the lower wind speed might be more economical "than if you have to go and put a hundred million dollars worth of transmission in at a seven-meter site," said Vander Veen.

Vander Veen also noted that a farmer leasing about two acres of land for a commercial wind turbine installation might receive $5,000 to $10,000 per year for one turbine, and that many farm families see commercial wind turbine leases as a way to supplement their farm income enough to keep the farm in the family for years to come.

According to the board, there are five existing locations where commercial wind turbines are now operating in Michigan:

  • Michigan Wind, in the Thumb, owned by John Deere Wind Energy; 46 turbines with a capacity of 69 megawatts (MW).

  • Stoney Corners Wind Farm, in Missaukee County, owned by Heritage Sustainable Energy; two turbines producing 5 MW.

  • Harvest Wind Farm, in the Thumb, owned by John Deere Wind Energy; 32 turbines producing almost 53 MW.

  • Mackinaw City, owned by Crystal Flash Energy; two turbines producing 1.8 MW.

  • Traverse City Light and Power; one turbine producing .6 MW.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, in 2008 more than 8,500 megawatts of new generating capacity were installed in the United States, enough for more than 2 million homes. The installations in 2008 increased the existing U.S. wind generation capacity by 50 percent.

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