WEST MICHIGAN – The rumors have blown in the wind for several years – that green power companies were eyeing farmland known as The Ridge along the border of Kent and Ottawa counties for major wind farms.
Two companies quietly have competed against each other to buy leases for wind turbines that would tower above the apple trees and pastures in Sparta and Chester townships. They could be tall enough to be seen from downtown Grand Rapids.
By casting their lot with the wind, some farmers in Kent and Ottawa counties hope to become part of a national phenomenon. A U.S. Energy Department report released Monday said wind can produce a fifth of the nation’s electricity needs within about two decades – about the same amount now produced by nuclear power.
The report talks of the possibility of 75,000 new wind turbines by 2030 and an expanded transmission system to move the power to other parts of the country.
The report, a collaboration between the Energy Department research labs and industry, concludes wind energy could generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, about the same share now produced by nuclear reactors.
A Spanish company soon will install a nearly 200-foot-high tower on an alfalfa farm in Ottawa County’s Chester Township to test whether the wind there is strong enough to produce a steady flow of electricity.
Such test towers have been placed along the Lake Michigan shoreline for several years from the Nugent Sand property in Norton Shores north into Oceana County but no wind farm proposals have surfaced. Testing at the Muskegon County Wastewater Management System property in Egelston Township showed there was not strong enough winds for turbine developers to pursue a project on the county site.
“It’s as far out there as we can get it so it won’t ruin our sunset,” said Janice Reister, pointing to the rolling field behind her family’s home on Eighth Avenue, where the test tower will be built in what could become the “Chester Heights Wind Project.”
Iberdrola Renewables of Spain refused to discuss details of its pursuit on The Ridge, citing competitive pressure.
“We’re looking in the area, trying to put up a couple of test towers for wind data,” said Dan Litchfield, who is working on the project for Iberdrola, the world’s leader in renewable energy development. “That’s all I can say about our project at this time.”
However, company officials told Chester Township leaders they hope to build 30 to 35 towers in the area, Township Clerk Jan Redding said.
The township, which approved a wind farm ordinance several years ago, gave the company permission in April to build its first test tower on the Reister farm at Eighth Avenue and Gooding Street.
A map displayed by Iberdrola showed it had leased “quite a few parcels” in the southeast corner of the township and was trying to obtain leases on more land, Redding said.
At the same time, Traverse City-based Heritage Sustainable Energy says it has signed leases with farmers covering 4,000 acres around The Ridge.
Heritage officials said it could take two to four years to start harvesting local wind. They envision 15 to 30 wind turbines in that area.
Heritage, which is building its first wind farm in Missaukee County near McBain, says the wind appears favorable on the highest points of The Ridge, although tests are needed to confirm that and to determine the best sites for turbines.
The Ridge also would work because of existing high-voltage transmission lines, which would carry the wind-produced electricity, he said.
The wind farm would “be a pretty prominent element on the landscape,” he said. “You’d probably be able to see it from downtown Grand Rapids.”
Michigan is the 14th windiest state in the continental U.S. and is second to Minnesota in wind potential among the Great Lakes states. But it’s near the bottom nationally in turning it into electricity.
Harland Reister, 80, who leases out his 140 acres for farming, said he is looking forward to the test tower, although Iberdrola officials haven’t told him when it’s going up.
Wind power makes sense, he said. “Wind is pretty free, you know. At least it doesn’t take any oil or gasoline to make it.”
13 May 2008