Spurred by idled windmills at Laker Elementary School near Pigeon, the Michigan Public Service Commission has launched a statewide investigation into the interconnection of independent power projects with electric utilities.
DTE Energy, or Detroit Edison, has to file a report by Nov. 14 on the interconnection process it applied to the school project.
The state’s 18 other utilities also will be required to file reports on their interconnection projects by Nov. 28. A public hearing on the matter is planned for Jan. 9.
”That was the one that got the commission’s attention,” PSC spokeswoman Judy Palnau said of the Laker project.
”We determined it would be worthwhile to take a look at the whole process and see if it’s working as intended and if not, why not.”
DTE has come under fire by windmill proponents recently due to the Laker school project.
The PSC awarded a $265,000 grant to the school to install three windmills and other equipment there to help offset the school’s power needs and teach kids about alternative energy.
But about a year after the grant was awarded and a month after the windmills were up and operating, DTE told a developer on Sept. 20 that the turbines had to be shut off due to safety and reliability concerns over how the generators were connected to the utility’s electrical grid.
State Sen. Jim Barcia, D-Bangor Township, later called on the PSC to take a more active role in the issue.
DTE also has been blamed for interconnection problems with a $75 million, 32-windmill project that was delayed near Ubly this year, after parts and a huge crane had already been delivered.
A DTE spokesman said Tuesday the utility is looking forward to working with the PSC during the investigation.
”Anything that makes the process more efficient going forward and still also addresses any of the safety and reliability issues that we have will be a positive,” said DTE spokesman Len Singer.
Palnau said her agency adopted rules governing electric interconnection standards in 2003 and approved interconnection procedures for utilities in 2004.
”The purpose of all those standards and procedures was to make sure that this happens in a smooth and timely fashion and it hasn’t happened,” Palnau said.
The investigation announced Tuesday is designed to identify any problems with existing interconnection procedures and implement remedies, if necessary, she said.
DTE’s report also will detail what changes it intends to make to assure that future interconnections are completed more smoothy, and how it intends to treat any generated power in excess of the school district’s needs, Palnau said.
Singer said he couldn’t say whether there are problems with existing state standards, and didn’t want to respond to criticisms of the utility’s handling of the Laker project.
Palnau said negotiations are still ongoing over turning the windmills back on at the school, and PSC staffers have been involved in the discussions.
On Oct. 13, DTE officials said the school could bring the turbines back online if the district paid $180,000 to upgrade equipment on the grid. School officials declined.
Members of the public also can comment on the investigation until 5 p.m. Dec. 19.
Palnau said PSC staffers will analyze the reports from utilities and comments from the public and meet on Jan. 9 to discuss the issues raised.
Public comments, referencing Case No. U-15113, may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mailed to Executive Secretary, Michigan Public Service Commission, P.O. Box 30221, Lansing, 48909.
By Jeff Kart
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