With legislative and regulatory action this year in Lansing supporting alternative energy, Michigan’s leading wind energy proponent is ready to start building in 2008 the first of 90 wind turbines planned for Oceana County.
Mackinaw Power President Rich Vanderveen said his company has secured 35 leases from farmers in four Oceana townships: Weare, Elbridge, Hart and Crystal. That makes 5,000 acres of farm land available for the General Electric wind turbines Mackinaw Power plans for the north central part of the county.
Mackinaw Power also has secured a connection agreement with the Michigan Electric Transmission Co. and has the zoning issues resolved in two of the four townships, Vanderveen said. His company already operates two wind turbines in Mackinaw City.
On a local level, a big challenge is zoning issues with Weare Township the most opposed to wind turbines and Crystal the most supportive, Oceana County officials said. But the biggest hurdle facing Mackinaw Power’s Oceana County wind energy plans is in Lansing.
Vanderveen said the Michigan Legislature needs to establish “renewable energy standards” requiring that a certain percentage of state electrical power comes from sources such as wind. Lawmakers also need to allow the Michigan Public Service Commission to direct public utilities to sign long-term power purchase agreements so developers can secure financing, he said.
The legislative and regulatory actions are expected by mid 2007 and early 2008, Vanderveen said. In anticipation of those approvals, Mackinaw Power has quietly set the table in Oceana County, he said.
“We would hope to begin building in 2008,” Vanderveen said, adding that Mackinaw Power and a 180-turbine farm proposed by Nobel Environmental Power in Michigan’s Thumb area are the two wind projects ready to move forward.
Vanderveen joined forces Wednesday in the Grand Rapids office of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council with environmental, consumer and social justice advocates to push legislative action on MPSC Chairman Peter Lark’s 21st Century Energy Plan.
The group released an energy and Michigan economic future report from the Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center. The report shows renewable energy and conservation programs in the state can create 6,800 new jobs, save electricity consumers $2.2 billion and reduce power plant pollution by 30 percent.
Wind power thrills some environmentalists because it produces no air emissions. For investors it provides the economic advantage of producing power without the ongoing costs of coal or natural gas.
However, wind turbines only produce power when the wind blows. Mackinaw Power estimates that based on the regularity and strength of the winds in Oceana County, a typical turbine there would produce 30 percent of the unit’s rated capacity.
Environment Michigan’s Kim Pargoff said bi-partisan political support seems to be lining up in favor of state renewable energy standards with support from Gov. Jennifer Granholm and a recently introduced bill from Senate Republicans.
A renewable energy standard was introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, requiring at least 10 percent renewable energy in the state by 2015. Environment Michigan would like to up that standard to 20 percent by 2020.
Pargoff said a consensus is forming in Lansing to set a standard, with the debate being on the percentage amount.
Environmentalists, consumer and social justice advocates also call for aggressive energy conservation programs, funded by small charges on electrical bills. Lark’s energy plan also calls for statewide conservation programs.
Vanderveen, a Grand Rapids regulatory attorney, said he anticipates legislative action on the energy plan by July and MPSC regulatory actions paving the way for Mackinaw Power’s Oceana County plans by early 2008.
Mackinaw Power’s planned 90 General Electric 1.5 megawatt wind turbines that rise about 230 feet in the air would connect to the Upper Midwest’s regional power grid at the Donaldson Creek substation four miles east of Hart on Polk Road, Vanderveen said.
Farmers who have agreed to lease their land to Mackinaw Power are signing 20-year contracts, Vanderveen said. Typically, farmers will receive between $5,000 and $10,000 a year in lease payments, depending on the installation and operation of the turbines.
Asparagus and cherry farming will continue while the turbines operate, as each unit takes about 3 acres for its foundation, access roads and power line corridors.
By Dave Alexander
22 February 2007