DTE Energy is getting into the wind business.
The utility, which relies mostly on coal to supply electricity to 2.2 million people in the Thumb and Southeast Michigan, has been talking to farmers in Huron County about leasing their land for windmills and may even open a development office there, company officials said.
DTE also is soliciting proposals from renewable energy developers to power a proposed GreenCurrents program, which would allow customers to pay a premium to get all or some of their power from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
The bottom line is, Detroit-based DTE plans to invest millions of dollars in renewable energy in Michigan in coming years. The Thumb area, with its strong winds, stands to benefit, said Len Singer, a DTE spokesman.
”A key element of the program is to encourage development of renewable energy projects in Michigan,” Singer said. ”They must be located in Michigan and the facilities must be newly constructed or recently updated.”
But some people in the Thumb remain suspicious of DTE’s intentions, after squabbles last year between the utility and Laker Elementary School near Pigeon, said Russell Lundberg, Huron County planning, building and zoning director.
Laker erected three 65-kilowatt windmills last year with a state grant. DTE later ordered the turbines shut down due to safety and reliability concerns. The windmills were idled for about two months and weren’t turned back on until late November, after DTE made an estimated $330,000 in upgrades to the area electrical grid.
Interconnection troubles with DTE also were blamed for delays last year with a project by Noble Environmental Power of Connecticut to install 32, 1.5-megawatt windmills near Ubly. That project, which may increase to 46 windmills to meet a contract with Consumers Energy, is now set to be constructed this year.
A Noble official declined comment on DTE’s latest plans.
But Brion Dickens, a contractor who put up the Laker windmills and has windmills at his nearby home, said he finds it odd that DTE now wants to embrace wind power after trying to throw a wrench in plans by Laker and Noble.
”Personally, I think they’re just doing this as a PR stunt,” Dickens said.
”There’s been people bending over backward trying to create green power over here, only to meet snags with (DTE).”
Dickens fears that DTE will lease property for windmills, then sit on the land to keep Noble and other companies from putting up turbines. He said DTE already has several parcels leased next to Noble’s project and another project by Michigan Wind LLC of Grand Rapids, which plans to put up 30, 1.8-megawatt windmills in the Elkton area this year.
Singer said DTE has always been committed to renewable energy.
”We had a couple of bumps in the road up there with the folks in the Thumb area. Hopefully, that’s behind us and now we can move forward,” Singer said, adding that an agreement is being finalized to allow DTE to use some power from the Laker windmills for GreenCurrents.
Right now, only 1 percent of DTE’s power comes from renewable sources, mostly biomass energy from landfill gas, Singer said.
DTE plans to sign 15- to 20-year deals with renewable energy developers to power GreenCurrents, purchasing energy certificates associated with in-state renewable power generation.
During the program’s first year, to begin in the spring pending state approval, DTE plans to contract for up to 30,000 megawatt hours of renewable power.
That’s equivalent to the output of 10 large windmills, or enough to power up to 4,000 homes, Singer said.
Four hundred people are already on a program waiting list. As interest grows in coming years, DTE plans to contract for renewable energy equivalent to the output of 40 large windmills, Singer said, adding that the marketplace will determine how much of the program’s power actually comes from wind.
DTE also is exploring land in Huron County for potential wind development while waiting for the renewable energy proposals to come in before a March 16 deadline.
”Right now, we haven’t made any firm decisions on locations and whether or not we’d be looking to lease or purchase land,” Singer said. ”It’s really too early to know whether it’s a project we would be operating or partnering with someone.”
Lundberg said he plans to meet with DTE officials later this week about their plans for wind development in the Thumb.
”I think it will work out in time,” Lundberg said of DTE’s plans. ”I think it has to because with the cost of energy and the warming of the world, I think we have to do something.”
He said DTE doesn’t have much of a choice, with plans by state officials to begin requiring that utilities get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.
By Jeff Kart
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