Michigan wind energy capacity up 130 percent in 2011

April 15, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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The peak capacity of electrical generation by commercial wind turbines in Michigan increased by 213 megawatts last year, bringing the current total capacity from 164MW at the end of 2010 to 377 at the end of 2011, according to the American Wind Energy Association in Washington.

Compared to neighboring states, however, Michigan still ranks last in its percentage of electricity generated by wind turbines, according to AWEA. In 2010, that was 0.3 percent of the total generated commercially in the state. AWEA announced last week that the figure for 2011 is 0.4 percent.

In other Midwestern states for 2011 it was: South Dakota 22.3 percent; Minnesota 12.7 percent; Illinois 3.2 percent; Indiana 2.7 percent; and Wisconsin 1.9 percent.

Liz Salerno, chief economist for AWEA, told the Business Journal that those 213 additional megawatts in Michigan, over 2010, represent an investment of about $400 million.

The new total capacity of 377MW is the equivalent of powering about 100,000 homes, said Salerno.

According to AWEA, a lobbying organization for wind power development and related equipment manufacturers in the United States, 348MW of wind generation are currently under construction in Michigan, which includes 100MW at Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County.

The “under construction” figure apparently does not, however, include a larger project Consumers Energy is planning called Cross Winds Energy Park in Michigan’s thumb area. Straddling Tuscola and Huron counties, Cross Winds will generate about 350MW using from 140 to 230 wind turbines and will begin commercial electricity generation from 2015 to 2017.

Both Lake Winds and Cross Winds are part of CE’s strategy for meeting the 2008 Michigan law requiring Michigan utilities to obtain at least 10 percent of their electricity supply from renewable sources by 2015.

According to AWEA, Michigan’s estimated wind generation capacity is 59,042MW using turbines on towers 80 meters tall, and the state’s wind power resource is ranked 17th among all the states. The National Renewable Energy Lab, a government facility in Colorado, estimates that Michigan’s wind resource could provide 160 percent of the state’s current electricity needs.

According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, coal generates 42 percent of U.S. electricity; natural gas 25 percent; nuclear 19 percent; hydroelectric 8 percent; other renewables about 5 percent; and petroleum “and other” about 1 percent.

Since the late 1990s, natural gas has been the fuel of choice for the majority of new generating units. U.S. electricity sales to end users totaled almost 3.726 billion kilowatt hours in 2011, about 1 percent less than in 2010. In 2011, about 38 percent of electricity was used by residential customers, 35 percent by commercial and 26 percent by industrial facilities.

AWEA is actively lobbying for renewal of the federal Production Tax Credit, which is due to expire at the end of this year.

According to the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists (ucsusa.org), which bills itself as “Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions,” the Production Tax Credit, which was extended in 2005, “has been a major driver of wind power development over the past seven years. It provides a 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour tax credit for the first 10 years of electricity production from utility-scale turbines. But Congress has repeatedly gone back and forth between extending and retiring the PTC.”

Salerno said the wind farm projects have “spurred an entirely new manufacturing sector, in which Michigan has been one of the hubs.” In West Michigan, one of the best known examples is Energetx, launched in the spring of 2009 as a division of S2 Yachts in Holland. Energetx manufactures composite blades for commercial wind turbines.

Other Michigan companies in wind-power-related manufacturing, according to AWEA, include Cascade Engineering in Cascade Township, which assembles, sells and installs small, pole or roof-mountable wind turbines under license by Swift, a European firm. Cascade Engineering, a plastics injection molding firm, makes the rotors for the Swift turbine.

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