Greater Gratiot Economic Development and MSU Extension are conduits between interested landowners and wind companies involved in researching the prospect of producing electricity to plug into the grid.
Companies have three or four test towers studying wind velocity. The first tower went up a month or so ago on Crapo Road near M-46 in Bethany Township.
“A tower is as tall as a wind turbine but skinny,” project manager Chelsey Foster at Greater Gratiot said. “It resembles a radio tower. Anemometers spin around and rate speed at different altitudes.”
Heritage Sustainable Energy, Clipper Windpower and Mackinaw Power are just some of the companies working in the area, Foster said.
Heritage is building the Stoney Corners Wind Farm in Missaukee County’s Richland Township. Clipper is an international firm.
Rich VanderVeen of Mackinaw Power spoke to a Michigan Township Association meeting recently to explain the Wind Resource LLC project for the county. This firm has the two wind turbines operating in Mackinaw City, south of the bridge.
A community wide informational meeting about wind energy will take place sometime in January, Foster said.
“Thus far there have been meetings only for landowners that will be affected,” he said. “We’re looking at with local farmers to do a community-based project.”
Community wind energy projects in Minnesota have been effective. Michigan is viewed to be lagging in wind power generation. A chart compiled at the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics shows Michigan ranks 14th in terms of wind energy potential, but the state only has three wind turbines currently operating.
Studies show the highest potential for wind energy is in the Thumb area, the west side of Lower Michigan and parts of the Upper Peninsula.
Wind is measured on a scale from Class 1 through 7, with Class 7 being the highest.
Class 3 wind and above is needed (above 11 mph) for utilty-scale turbines. These are units typically used by power companies to produce large amounts of electricity.
Computer models put out by the state indicate northeast and southern areas of Gratiot County may have Class 3 capacity.
“We won’t know until they actually get wind studies completed,” Foster said. “Mackinaw Power is trying to get property to put up test towers to see if wind is sustainable.”
Companies typically invest about $50,000 for every test tower.
Gratiot is also unique because a short distance away, both north and south, are transmission lines to connect to the grid, a main network of power lines to move energy.
“We know we have the transmission lines, open space and flat land that helps make wind consistent,” Foster said. “There is no coincidence that more than one wind energy company is looking here.”
Consumers Energy spokesman Jeff Holyfield cited feasibility, cost and reliability as elements needed for a successful energy source.
“We have teams looking for sites for putting up wind turbine farms, too,” he said.
Consumers Energy has filed a balance energy initiative with the Michigan Public Service Commission. This comprehensive two-year plan says how Consumers will meet the rising power needs for its 1.8 million customers in Michigan. It includes a plan to buy power from wind farms. Studies will be done at the federal and regional level, Holyfield said “to show how it will affect the transmission system. It’s not like you can put up a wind farm and say: ‘OK, we can plug into the grid now.’”
Consumers is promoting energy efficiency, demand management and expanding uses of renewable energy, primarily wind, to help customers, Holyfield said.
Consumers buys the power generated from the two turbines in Mackinaw City. Wind turbines, hydroelectric and biomass energy sources produce 5 percent of Consumers power.
According to Holyfield, wind turbines generators can produce electricity 10 to 20 percent of the time.
“You’ve got to have enough wind and a sustained wind,” he said. “The utility-scale units are 150 to 200 feet tall.”
The industry prefers to have wind come from one direction. Towers have blades that pivot 360 degrees. Blades are as long as a football field.
“The mechanics and physics of towers have to stabilize to get the rotation going,” Holyfield said. “All the generating units now operating in Michigan are synchronized together.”
Greater Gratiot is planning to bring an MSU expert on wind energy to the community meeting in January.
By Rosemary Horvath
16 December 2007
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