MASON COUNTY – Consumers Energy is quietly getting into the wind farm business.
Unlike the loud and contentious public argument over a proposal for wind turbines in Lake Michigan, hardly an objection has been raised to Consumers Energy’s development of its $250 million Lake Winds Energy Park in southern Mason County.
The Jackson-based public utility announced recently it signed a contract with Vestas American Wind Technology Inc. to supply 56 wind turbines for mainly Riverton and Summit townships, just south of Ludington. Consumers Energy hopes to have construction under way in 2011 and electricity being generated by the end of 2012.
“Securing this agreement is a major milestone in the development of our first wind energy park and continues our commitment to environmental stewardship,” Consumers President and CEO John Russell said of the 100-megawatt wind farm.
Lake Winds Energy Park would be the second wind farm in western Michigan. A Traverse City energy company is developing the Stoney Corners Wind Park near McBain, south of Cadillac.
Consumers Energy is moving headlong into large-scale electrical generation from wind turbines to satisfy Michigan’s 2008 energy reform law that calls for utilities to create 10 percent of its electrical production through renewable sources, company officials said.
“Today, 4 percent of the power we supply to consumers comes from renewable sources in Michigan,” Russell said of mainly the company’s hydroelectric power plants. “By the end of 2012, including the addition of our Lake Winds Energy Park, about 8 percent of the power that Consumers Energy supplies customers is expected to come from Michigan-based renewable sources.”
Except for an information booth Consumers Energy officials had at the Western Michigan Fair in Ludington the last week of July, the Lake Winds Energy Park has progressed with little public notice. The company quietly began working on its Mason County wind farm development in early 2007, officials said.
“A few people showed up at our prior (township) board meeting concerned that there has been very little publicity and wondering why it has been so quiet,” Summit Township Supervisor Nancy Estola said. “People are a little bit surprised that it’s a done deal.”
Consumers Energy spokesman Dan Bishop said his company still needs final site plan approval from Mason County, which handles zoning issues for the affected townships. The company also needs final approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration, Bishop said.
The public utility plans to move forward with its plans this fall by awarding a contract for engineering, procurement and construction services. There are eight bidding companies wanting to manage the construction of the Lake Winds Energy Park, Bishop said.
In contrast, the Scandia Wind Offshore proposal for wind farms in Lake Michigan off Pentwater and Grand Haven has caused a nine-month controversy as opponents have put up an organized and well-funded fight.
Usually, even land-based wind farms have local residents concerned about such issues as killing of birds and bats, “light flicker” from the turning blades on sunny days, ice thrown from the blades in the winter; and noise issues.
Estola said that property owners in her township who have leased land to Consumers Energy for the wind farm have received “lucrative” payments to have turbines, transformer facilities and electrical lines on their properties. Consumers Energy officials would not disclose the terms of the contracts with affected land owners.
Consumers Energy has focused on land-based turbines rather than offshore because it makes more economic sense, Bishop said.
Energy industry observers also point out that offshore wind farm developments are years away and would not be generating electricity by 2015, when the renewable energy standards become state law.
Consumers Energy will install 56 1.8-megawatt Vestas wind turbines that will produce enough electricity to power 25,000 homes. Vestas is a Danish company that is the leading producer of utility-scale wind turbines in the world.
The Vestas turbines for the Mason County project will be manufactured in the United States through the company’s U.S. division with operations in Portland, Ore., and Tyler, Minn.
The Lake Winds Energy Park is part of Consumers Energy’s 20-year plan to meet the power needs of its 1.8 million electric customers in Michigan, company officials said.
The “balanced” plan approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission includes a portfolio of generation from coal, natural gas and hydroelectric sources, along with wind energy.
The $6 billion plan over the next five years also includes improving customers’ energy efficiency and development of a “smart grid” to help both customers and the utility manage electrical uses.
Besides the Mason County wind farm, Consumers Energy is planning development of the Cross Winds Energy Park in Tuscola and Huron counties in Michigan’s Thumb region. The first phase will be 150 megawatts of wind power planned to be operating by 2015 and an additional 100 megawatts by 2017.
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