Private company to set up wind farm in Missaukee
A local energy company is making a multimillion-dollar investment, hoping answers to Michigan’s future energy needs are blowing in the wind.
Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City is gearing up a $10 million wind energy pilot project in southern Missaukee County. The company also is looking at other potential sites around the state for wind farm development as it readies for potential changes in state law to significantly expand the use of renewable energy sources here.
“The U.S. is the global hotspot right now for wind turbine installation,” said Rick Wilson, project manager for Heritage’s “Stoney Corners” wind turbine project west of McBain. “But it’s expensive and it takes a lot of time.”
Almost four years of research and planning went in to the Stoney Corners project, company officials said. It started piecing together leases for agricultural property on some of the highest property in the state’s Lower Peninsula, and installed a meteorological tower to record 18 months of weather data to make sure there was sufficient wind at the site.
Construction started last year, when contractors poured foundations for two massive wind turbines that each will generate around 2,500 kilowatts of power. The turbines, to be among the largest in use in the U.S., will tower 450 feet at the tip of its rotors, and its rotor hub will be around 170 feet taller than Traverse City Light & Power’s wind turbine along M-72 west of Traverse City.
“They’re big machines,” Wilson said.
The company also spent $4 million with Wolverine Power Cooperative to build an “interconnect” substation next to the two turbines that will transfer wind power to the state’s electricity grid. The power will be sold to DTE Energy for a “green energy” program in which customers pay a surcharge to buy electricity from renewable energy sources.
Wilson said the company hopes to take the project online by mid-summer, with future plans to expand the wind farm to include five, and later 20 and possibly 60 wind turbines.
Martin Lagina, a principal owner of Heritage with longtime business partner Craig Tester, said there are three necessities in creating a viable wind energy project. The first is a sufficient wind source, the second is support from the surrounding community and the third is proximity to major transmission lines.
“All three of those things came together in Missaukee County at Stoney Corners,” Lagina said.
Michigan has sufficient winds to support numerous wind farms, but many of those sites are along the state’s Great Lakes coastline, where wind tower aesthetics create concerns for some.
“Along the coast is great, but along the coast is also controversial,” Lagina said.
Land-use and aesthetic issues weren’t a problem in Missaukee County, where residents welcomed the Stoney Corners project and marveled as the large rotors and related equipment were trucked in to the site.
“We’ve had no one come to the township board with a complaint about the project,” said Julie Dick, Richland Township clerk. “I think a lot of people are kind of excited about it … it was a real conversation piece when they were bringing some of the equipment in.”
Dick described the township as a “close community” where neighbors deferred to the landowners involved in the project. Heritage will pay landowners royalties for leasing their land.
“I think they feel if the property owners are OK with it, then it’s OK with them too,” she said.
State action is key
The company already is at work on other sites around Michigan for potential wind farm projects, including the Keweenaw Peninsula in the Upper Peninsula. But Lagina said it’s critical for the state Legislature to pass pending legislation mandating “Renewable Portfolio Standards” that would require utilities to provide a specific percentage of wind, solar or biomass power sources.
Lagina said the state’s renewable energy mandate is key to making alternative energy projects viable because such ventures can’t compete with traditional energy sources like coal-fired electric plants.
The state currently gets about 80 percent of its energy from power plants that are at least 40 years old, he said.
“We can’t make any sort of reasonable return without that,” Lagina said. “Just unleash the marketplace and we will be there.”
State officials said new rules may be coming sooner than later. State Rep. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, said a bill in the state House to require utilities to get 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources by the year 2015 could be on the House floor by spring. He supports such standards, as does Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and Walker said support for renewable mandates is growing on both sides of the aisle.
“I believe the opportunity for renewable energy in Michigan is huge,” Walker said. “But (providers) need some sort of certainty that the markets are going to be there for them.”
By Bill O’Brien
24 February 2008
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