State closer to naming a Wind Energy Resource Zone

October 30, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The Wind Energy Resource Zone Board has formally submitted its report to the Michigan Public Service Commission, with detailed information on the four regions in the state — including part of West Michigan — seen as having the best potential for commercial wind farms.

Now it is up to electrical transmission companies and electric utilities to identify for planning purposes the transmission facilities that would be needed to deliver the wind energy from each of those regions.

David Walters, chair of the WERZ board, said the cost of transmission can be a major factor in whether or not a proposed commercial wind farm is feasible.

He said that if there is existing right-of-way and the task is to upgrade the existing transmission line, "that might be at one cost." However, if there is no existing line or right-of-way, "then they would have to go out and get the right-of-way and develop that property as well, and who knows how much that could cost? I don't have a good estimate on that."

"Transmission will be a vital concern to those developers," he said, because of the cost.

Walters said the estimates of transmission cost must be submitted to the MPSC by the end of November.

The Michigan Public Service Commission is required by Public Act 295, the Michigan Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act of 2008, to designate at least one "wind energy zone." The three-bill package signed into law a year ago by Gov. Jennifer Granholm includes a renewable portfolio standard requiring that, by 2015, at least 10 percent of the state's energy must come from renewable sources such as wind or solar.

The MPSC is involved because it represents the state government in planning and approving sites and permits for electrical transmission lines, as well as generating plants proposed by the state's major commercial utilities such as Consumers Energy and DTE. In some cases, public utilities are granted the power of imminent domain when acquiring land for construction of power lines.

The MPSC is also required to submit a report to the Michigan legislature on the effect that setback requirements and noise limitations under local zoning or other ordinances may have on wind energy development in wind energy resource zones. The report will also include any recommendations the MPSC may have for legislation addressing those issues.

Walters previously noted that the identification of the four potential Wind Energy Resource Zones does not necessarily mean commercial wind farms will be built there. Local governments retain their zoning rights or ability to review and authorize sites for wind farms in their communities, he said.

One of the four regions, designated Region 1 in the WERZ report, 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.

Walters said the WERZ board is not recommending any one of the four potential Wind Energy Resource Zones over the others.

The WERZ report estimates that Region 4, which includes parts of five counties in Michigan's Thumb, could accommodate from 1,500 to 2,800 commercial grade wind turbines. At a minimum, Region 4 would represent 2,367 megawatts of capacity and an annual output of at least 6.7 million megawatt hours (MWh).

The second largest estimated potential is Region 3, covering parts of Benzi, Leelanau and Manistee counties, thought to have a generating potential from 1.9 million MWh up to 3.5 million. That region's peak capacity would range roughly from 650 megawatts to almost 1,200 megawatts.

Region 1, in West Michigan, comes in third, with wind generation potential estimated at a minimum of 747,938 annual MWh using 166 turbines; or 1.3 million MWh using 296 turbines. Its peak capacity would range from 249 megawatts to 445.

The WERZ board also collected comments from residents and from local governments in the four potential zones. The local governments in Casco Township and the city of Holland were both supportive. The WERZ report indicates that Fillmore and Ganges township governments "somewhat or strongly" agree with their inclusion in a "high wind energy potential region." The other township governments in Region 1 did not offer comment.

The most frequent public comment on the WERZ report was that the setback distance between commercial-size wind turbines and habitable structures should be increased from the 200-meter distance the board used in its original analysis. Some of the public comments went so far as to recommend a setback of at least one mile.

The final WERZ report includes a chart reflecting the number of theoretical turbines in the four zones based on different setback distances. At 200 meters, there would be room for about 12,000 turbines; at 300 meters the number drops to 8,142. At a setback of 400 meters, there would hypothetically be room for 5,079 turbines. In Region 1 alone, the presumed number of turbines would be 872 at 200 meters, 584 at 300 meters, and 361 at 400 meters.

According to the WERZ report, as of April there were five existing locations where commercial wind turbines are now operating in Michigan — most added in 2008 — with a total output of up to 130 megawatts. Those are:

**Michigan Wind, in the Thumb, with 46 turbines.

**Stoney Corners Wind Farm, in Missaukee County, 2 turbines.

**Harvest Wind Farm, in the Thumb, 32 turbines.

**Mackinaw City, two turbines.

-**raverse City Light and Power, one turbine.

The report notes that there are currently 24 commercial wind energy projects proposed in Michigan, representing a total of nearly 2,700 megawatts of capacity.

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