September 2, 2006

Expert discusses possibility of turbines in area

By Jim Kasuba, The News-Herald

WYANDOTTE – City officials now are seeking expert opinions on using wind power as an alternative energy source.

For Melanie McCoy, general manager of Wyandotte Municipal Services, few experts are more qualified to discuss wind power than Larry Flowers, team leader of the National Wind Technology Center in Golden, Colo.

Flowers was the featured speaker at an Aug. 23 town hall meeting that centered on the economics of wind power, as well as some of the environmental considerations.

“He reinforced and clarified some of the data that I already knew,” McCoy said.

Wind power is a big issue in Wyandotte these days, as the city prepares for a project that will measure wind velocity at two locations along the Detroit River.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released $1 million to measure how fast, on average, the wind blows coming off the river. The measurement is part of the Wyandotte Green Windpower on Brownfields Project, an initiative through which wind turbines could be installed on contaminated property.

If the turbines were to be built along the river, it would be the first project of its type on contaminated land in an urban area in the United States.

If tests indicate sufficient wind power, two turbines could be built on BASF property as an alternative source of energy.

Flowers discussed the pros and cons of wind turbines, emphasizing that in almost all cases wind is a supplementary, not a primary, source of power. However, it has become increasingly useful in recent years, especially out West, he said.

“People in the Great Plains love these things,” Flowers said.

He said the new turbines are not noisy, but there’s not much that can be done about the visual impact. Some people say they are unsightly and mar the natural landscape, but when Flowers hears these complaints, he asks, “What are the alternatives?

“Would you rather look at a nuclear power plant?” he asked rhetorically. “How about a coal plant? You got to pick something.”

One environmental issue that has arisen for an otherwise environmentally friendly source of energy is concerns about birds flying into the turbines’ blades.

Flowers told of an example of a large number of raptors killed at one site that turned out to be in the path of a major flyway.

He said if that had been known at the time, the turbines would have been built elsewhere. More recently, scientists have been studying why some bats are attracted to turbines.

McCoy said that in addition to measuring wind velocity, meteorological towers that will soon be going up along the river also will include some type of instrumentation for monitoring the variety of birds and bats that fly past.

Southeastern Michigan, including parts of the Downriver area, is known as a major north-south flyway for several species of migratory birds.

Even though statistics show that wind turbines kill only a tiny fraction of all birds killed in the United States, McCoy said it is a concern that could impact the project if the locations turn out to be in the path of migratory birds. However, she doesn’t believe the project would be scrapped altogether.

“We could relocate the towers or change the technology,” she said.

McCoy said that’s where someone like John Hartig comes into the picture. Hartig oversees the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge along the Detroit River and figures to be an invaluable resource, as will groups that conduct bird counts and keep maps of their migratory routes.

If velocity numbers come in positive and avian problems are averted, permanent wind towers could be erected in those locations as supplementary power sources.

Flowers said a reasonable goal is a 20 percent wind energy scenario. He said government subsidies, such as tax credits, have proved to be catalysts in getting companies to explore wind power, and that’s something the city would want to review.

John Sarver of the State Energy Office said Michigan has been too reliant on coal.

“We need to diversify,” he said. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

McCoy said Thursday afternoon that she planned to contact the successful bidder for the meteorological towers’ project. She hopes that once a contract is signed, they could be up within the next couple of months.

The towers must be in place for a full year to collect data spanning all four seasons. If the data proves positive, the final step would be to install the turbines and begin harvesting the power of the wind.

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