October 16, 2006

Spat keeping school district's windmills silent

DTE Energy has unveiled two solutions for turning windmills back on at Laker Elementary School, but neither option will work, school officials say.

Laker leaders say DTE officials don’t understand how windmills work and that the coal-burning utility continues to drag its feet on the project. A DTE engineer was supposed to return to the school today to study the turbines.

“I’m very frustrated,” interim Superintendent Bob Drury said after a heated two-hour meeting with DTE officials Friday.

Drury had visions of taking students and staff members outside, where the wind was howling, after the meeting and turning the school’s three windmills back on.

But the blades remain locked in place for now and are not generating power to offset school electricity costs and teach students about alternative energy.

“If they don’t spin, they will sit there as a monument” to a utility that doesn’t support green power, said Brion Dickens, a wind developer who installed the turbines.

Drury said he thinks DTE eventually will come up with a solution that works. “PR-wise, it’s too important a project for DTE to have festering,” he said.

Meanwhile, two wind developers plan to bypass DTE and its distribution lines and begin construction by next year of more than 60 turbines in nearby Bingham Township.

Noble Environmental Power of Connecticut and RMT Inc. of Grand Rapids plan to connect their turbines to transmission lines run by the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Noble and township officials said.

Noble postponed construction of its project this year after interconnection troubles with DTE.

Three mid-Michigan men are behind the development: former Saginaw Mayor Paul Wendler, a retired General Motors Corp. executive; Gerald L. Decker, a nuclear physicist and former corporate energy manager for Dow Chemical Co.; and Arthur J. “Bill” Fisher, chairman of Fisher Contracting Co. of Midland.

Friday, DTE representatives outlined two options to Laker leaders at a closed-door meeting at the school, officials said.

Under one, the school would disconnect three 65-kilowatt windmills from DTE’s electrical grid, and the turbines would operate only when the Elementary School and the Junior-Senior High School building next door need power.

But Dickens said turning the turbines on and off every day would ruin them in about a week.

Under the second option, the school would pay $180,000 to upgrade its equipment and DTE’s to operate the turbines on the utility’s electrical grid, and the company would repay the district for a percentage of the excess power the turbines generate.

Under either option, DTE would kick in $150,000 to defray costs.

Marvin Williams, DTE marketing supervisor, declined to answer questions after the meeting, such as whether the turbines pose a safety hazard.

DTE officials told Dickens on Sept. 20 that the windmills had to cease operating because of safety and reliability concerns. They had operated in California for years and had spun for a month at the school without problems.

Williams said the project is stalled because developer Dickens didn’t conduct a feasibility study before installing the turbines.

Dickens said the utility was supposed to conduct the study, and DTE is four months behind in doing so.

Drury said the school system doesn’t have $180,000 to spend on upgrading DTE’s infrastructure and that the proposed upgrades to the turbines aren’t needed.

Besides, Drury said, financing for the project came from a $265,000 grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission, and DTE supported the project when the district proposed it two years ago.

“It should have been settled a long time ago,” Drury said.

State Sen. James A. Barcia, a Bay City Democrat, sent an aide to Friday’s meeting. Barcia has asked the Public Service Commission to take a more active role in the controversy. Three officials from the commission attended Friday’s meeting, but they all left before speaking to the media.

Dickens said the school has lost more than $3,000 worth of free power since the blades stopped spinning last month. v

By Jeff Kart
The Bay City Times


URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2006/10/16/spat-keeping-school-districts-windmills-silent/