November 30, 2007

Community wind farm in spotlight again

HURON COUNTY – Port Austin area resident and New River Renewable Energy President Ron Belisle hasn’t given up the fight for a community-developed wind farm.

During the Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Belisle said there are five things that have to be accomplished before a community wind farm can be developed.

First, he has to develop an interconnection agreement to the ITC Transmission grid that distributes power. Belisle said he will need approval from the Midwest Independent System Transmission Operator (MISO) because that’s the organization that controls the grid.

Belisle said it will cost about $1,000 to set up a meeting that would result in an engineering plan of how to start at the wind farm’s original point and connect the power to the grid. The study itself could cost up to $10,000, he said.

“Then ITC would take on a contract to expand the grid (which has) to be funded by the requester – our company (New River Renewable Energy),” Belisle said. That expansion could cost anywhere between $2 and $2.5 million, he said.

“ITC would pay that (along with interest) once electricity becomes generated,” Belisle said. “And they would assume ownership of the grid extension then.”

The second thing that has to be accomplished before a community wind farm can be created deals with zoning processes the group will have to undertake.

Belisle said that work would involve applying for overlays in the Lincoln-Dwight township area where he’s interested in building the community wind farm. The third task that has to be completed before any wind farm can be constructed deals with creating a power purchase agreement from a city or industry that’s interested in buying the power that’s produced.

The fourth issue involves getting the actual turbines, Belisle said.

He said it’s relatively difficult because there’s such a large demand for turbines.

“The worldwide demand is twice that of the manufacturing capacities,” Belisle said. “It will be difficult.”

The fifth and final task that would have to be completed would involve locating a company that can do the actual installation of the turbines, he said.

“It’s a pretty serious undertaking,” Belisle said, adding that a lot of the work can be done by local companies, though an out-of-county company more than likely will be needed to assist local businesses with the installation.

He acknowledged it won’t be easy creating a community wind farm, but said he’s very optimistic it can be done.

“I’m still hopeful a farm can be made just like the area co-ops have been created,” Belisle said.

Regarding progress he’s made on the project, Belisle said he’s met with lawmakers in Lansing about five or six times, and also has learned that the Michigan State University school of agriculture is willing to help analyze the area’s wind patterns through the use of meteorological towers.

Belisle previously approached commissioners earlier this fall during a presentation about the opportunity in Huron County for a wind farm that’s developed, owned and operated on a community basis.

He said a similar project has been under way in Minnesota where a community has sought a financial backer to fund the community’s development of a wind farm. Once the return on investment is made, the community would then gain full ownership of the farm, and share the project’s profits.

Belisle said Huron County already is leading the state in wind development, and it would make more sense for the benefits that come from a wind project to stay in the area, rather than go to out-of-state developers and owners.

He said there are a variety of jobs that could result from a community-developed wind farm.

For example, a security service would be needed to protect the turbines and check for icing, Belisle said. Also, a company would need to be contracted to plow access roads and cut weeds.

An accounting team also would be needed to monitor the farm’s finances, and other personnel would be needed to monitor a 24-hour control room, he added. “I see a lot of investment opportunities and high-tech job creation,” Belisle said.

By Kate Hessling

Huron Daily Tribune

29 November 2007

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