The future of alternative energy resources in Washtenaw County is now, according to planning and environmental officials.
A resolution adopted last year by the County Board of Commissioners allowed planners to study wind generated power in a project that could affect residents and businesses county wide, and pave the way for Washtenaw County energy resources to be weaned away from fossil fuels.
Project organizers first will test the county’s wind resources to determine if the area can sustain small or large wind turbines, according to a press release. Planers also are looking at economic feasibility and hope to provide future investment grade information to residents, businesses and statewide energy providers.
To test the wind, Project Planner Joshua Long said they will erect meteorological towers to gather data in a process expected to last more than year. Planners are waiting on a report for preferred sites throughout the county to build the towers, he said.
“That’s the stage we’re at right now,” Long said. “Hopefully, we’ll have that report back to us this summer then we’ll take 12 to 18 months of gathering the data from the towers to determine just how much wind we have.”
The information provided from the meteorological towers will determine if Washtenaw County can sustain large, utility-scale wind turbines, or if the county is suited to small residential turbines.
Long said the residential, on-site turbines could be installed to generate power for area homes, businesses and farms with one to 10 kilowatts of electricity, while the utility scale turbines would have to be installed throughout hundreds of acres of land in a rural area of the county.
When asked if the county had reservations about the possibility of setting aside farmland for wind turbines, Long said the project would have a positive effect on farming.
“We’re looking at it like this is one more crop for farmers to cultivate,” he said. “It could be very profitable for farmers.”
Farmland used for possible wind turbine fields could be acquired through the county’s Purchase of Development Rights’ program, he said. The program promotes rural preservation and maintains farmland property for a set number of years if qualified.
Along with county planners, the city of Ann Arbor and faculty from the University of Michigan have developed a working partnership to support the wind power project. Originally initiated by former board chairman, Wes Prater, county commissioners have demonstrated strong support for the project.
“I think that today it’s incumbent on the Board of Commissioners, and really on any political body, to take the issues of environmental change and economic impact very seriously,” said Board Chairman Jeff Irwin, D-11th District.
“…(it) will give us the necessary information to help us look forward with ideas and hope for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in the future,”
County Planning Director Tony VanDerworp agreed that the project is vastly important, saying that it represents a more global issue of developing a technology that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources. .
“The ability to have a sustainable future in terms of having a place for our kids to live and a good economy, falls upon energy independence and alternative energy sources,” he said. “It’s very real. It’s great that we’re moving forward and getting these environment grade studies done.
“It’s paramount to have these alternative resources in order to have a sustainable future.”
If wind turbines are coming to the county in the near future, Long said the service would be offered through a developer or utility company.
“(The county) is not looking to get into the utility business,” he said.
Project organizers will seek manufacturers for the turbines after the wind studies are completed, and they know more about the available wind resources, Long said.
“What we’re basically trying to do is prime the area for development,” he said. “Hopefully, we’d have all of the property owners lined up to participate in the project. The program has a lot of promise.”
What about the cost?
“I would estimate that (residents) would have to pay a premium up front, after that it would be about two to five cents per kilowatt of power,” Long said.
“It would be a little more expensive than (fossil fuels) but it would be cheaper in the long run.
“Plus, as the technology gets better it also becomes more cost effective and as the turbines get larger and larger the cost per watt gets lower in general. In the long term, however, were looking to help get ourselves off of oil dependency and polluting fuels and that will make a significant environmental impact.”
For more information on the county’s wind power project, visit the Web site www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/planning_environment/planning/wind_power.
By Austen Smith, Editor
5 April 2007
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