A Bloomfield Hills investor hopes to erect electricity-generating wind turbines on a tract of Monroe Township farmland, but is worried he might have trouble finding a buyer for the power.
Farrukh Moghul said the $250,000 project could involve construction of 10 wind turbines mounted on 80-foot-high staffs between E. Albain and Mortar Creek Rds. The development would use 10-kilowatt turbines that might produce about 264 megawatthours of power each year.
Mr. Moghul, whose company also owns the Norman Towers retirement community in Monroe, applied for a $50,000 federal grant to pay for part of the wind farm and had hoped to start construction this summer. But the lack of state mandates requiring utilities to buy the project’s power has taken some of the wind out of his sails.
“That’s put a big damper on the whole thing,” he said. He said he had talked to DTE representatives about what they might pay for such power and was quoted some prices, but then learned that other small power projects have been having some problems ensuring that the state’s utilities actually would pay rates that would make their investments worthwhile.
“There’s no law to force Edison to pay you,” he said. “Whether it’s Consumers Energy or Edison, they’re not under any obligation to do anything for you.”
Various laws have been proposed to spur the use of renewable energy by Michigan utilities, but none are yet on the books.
Mr. Moghul is hoping House Bill 5218 would pass. Introduced by Rep. Kathleen Law, D-Gibraltar, it would mandate that the state’s major utility companies buy power from small producers at guaranteed rates to spur development of alternative energy in the state. The bill has been in the Committee on Energy and Technology since late last year.
Under the proposal, wind farms such as the one Mr. Moghul is planning would receive from 8 to 10 cents a kilowatthour for up to 20 years.
“When and if that ever happens, then it looks more feasible,” he said. He noted that Texas and California are two states most proactive in requiring utilities to buy alternative energy at guaranteed rates. “You can almost get all of your money back rather quickly” in those states, he said.
DTE officials said they would be receptive to working with those proposing wind farms. “We’re very enthusiastic about the development of renewables in Michigan and feel it could be an economic growth tool,” said Scott Simons, a DTE spokesman.
Meanwhile, Mr. Moghul said he might put up a couple of turbines on the site to test the efficiency of different models. “Realistically, I think it will be a good place to try a couple different wind turbines and maybe in five years when they have regulations to reimburse me, I’d be able to put up more turbines,” he said.
He noted that his application for the federal grant specifies that the power from the wind farm would be sold and not used on site. He’ll find out within a few months whether he’ll get the grant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made about $221 million available for loans and grants to rural renewable energy projects.
“As demand for energy rises, these renewable energy loans and grants help farms and rural small businesses increase their investment in renewable energy initiatives,” said Ed Schafer, USDA secretary. “Energy efficiency wisely applies our resources and energizes wealth-creation opportunities with more jobs throughout rural America.”
Mr. Moghul owns the strip of farmland where the wind farm is planned. He said Monroe Township officials told him the project could be developed without rezoning. The Monroe County Planning Commission endorsed his grant application, but noted that the township might want to adopt a wind tower ordinance and consider the project’s potential impact on flight patterns to Monroe Custer Airport.
“They’ll probably need an ordinance to manage both wind farms and small energy projects – urban generators, as I call them,” said Royce R. Maniko, Monroe County’s planning director.
But the county staff analysis also noted that “the flat terrain of the county and its proximity to Lake Erie means that wind levels in the county are high enough that wind turbines are a clean, viable energy option that should be explored and encouraged.”
DTE’s Mr. Simons said the utility negotiates contracts with independent alternate energy producers to determine the price and length of contracts. “This is a large project, so it would definitely go through our power procurement area, and that would be negotiated,” he said.
He also said the utility could share what it has learned so far about the best technology for wind farms and could assist with wind studies to make sure the wind is sufficient to produce power at that location. The company already buys some wind power for use in its GreenCurrents alternate energy program.
He noted that Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 21 Century Energy Plan would mandate that 10 percent of utility generation capacity come from renewable energy sources by 2015.
A new study by a consortium of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University recently concluded that the state has the potential to significantly increase the role of alternative energy in electricity production. In 2005, about 3.3 percent of the state’s energy came from renewable resources compared to a national average of 8.8 percent, the study said.
by Charles Slat
31 May 2008