Despite setbacks in 2010, proponents of wind power and other alternative energy sources hope to move forward on proposals to build windmills in Leelanau County that they claim could earn money for local units of government in addition to saving taxpayers money.
Representatives of the Northport Energy Action Taskforce (NEAT) and Leelanau Community Energy, L.L.C., appeared before the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners twice earlier this year. They hope to appear for a third time before the board next month with a proposal they hope the board will find difficult to reject – a no-cost study that might point the way toward construction of an electricity-generating windmill on the county Government Center campus in Suttons Bay Township.
“A windmill at the Government Center would be designed to offset the $125,000 annual electric bill at the center,” explained Tom Gallery of Northport. “A 300 to 800 kilowatt turbine would contributed $40,000 to $130,000 per year to the county.”
Wind proponents will face some skeptics. Earlier this month, county officials declined to act on a request to pay up to $4,250 to fund a feasibility study to determine whether a windmill would be practical on the Government Center campus.
Another proposed windmill near the Braman Hill Recreation Area in Northport could offset a $40,000 per year electric bill for a wastewater treatment plant, with a 150 to 300-kilowatt wind turbine contributing $40,000 to $50,000 per year to the Village of Northport, Gallery said.
A feasibility study conducted earlier indicated the Northport project was worth pursuing, but a $138,000 federal grant to help fund construction of the 135 foot Nothport windmill never came through. Windmill proponents hope to try again in 2011.
Gallery and others have also proposed building one or two 800 to 1600 kilowatt turbines at the county Road Commission’s Pit Road site in Leland Township near a county-owned communications tower, but the Road Commission last month decided not to go into the “energy business.” The wind turbines might have supplied the Road Commission with $200,000 to $1 million per year in revenues, Gallery said.
NEAT is a non-profit organization that is involved in more than projects to build windmills in Leelanau County, however.
On Saturday, Jan. 8, from 9 to 5 a.m., NEAT will sponsor an Energy Expo at the Leelanau Township Library. The event will be designed to showcase the many ways local people can conserve energy and take advantage of alternative energy sources, according to Gallery.
Leelanau Community Energy, L.L.C., is technically a “for-profit” organization, but was established because non-profits and units of government are not eligible to apply for much of the grant funding available for alternative energy development, Gallery said.
He explained that bylaws of the limited liability corporation (the L.L.C.) limits the profit of Leelanau Community Energy to five-percent of gross revenues.
“So, although it’s not a ‘nonprofit,’ Leelanau Community Energy is a ‘not-for-profit’ corporation set up specifically to help facilitate development of wind energy to benefit local units of government and taxpayers,” Gallery explained.
Gallery said he hoped that NEAT and Leelanau Community Energy would be included on the agenda at the county board’s next meeting Jan. 11, 2011 – the new board’s first meeting since the Nov. 2 General Election.
“We intend to present a proposal under which we would conduct a study of the county’s facilities for free,” Gallery said. “This would involve a look at where a windmill might be sited on the Government Center campus, how it would be interconnected with the local power grid, and its impact on the view shed.”
A second proposal Gallery said would be presented to the board early next year would involve the installation of a permanent weather station on the county’s central communications tower at the Law Enforcement Center on the Government Center campus. He said it would cost around $3,000 to install the weather station, but anyone could access data from the weather station which would be tied in with the National Weather Service, and with agricultural weather stations operated in Leelanau County by Michigan State University.
“A dual purpose of the weather station would be that we could monitor wind speeds on the Government Center campus and determine the feasibility of installing a wind turbine there,” Gallery said.
At least one Northport resident has expressed concern that the newly seated Leelanau County Board of Commissioners will not give NEAT and Leelanau Community Energy a fair hearing on their proposals.
In a Dec. 13 letter to the board, James A. Ham of Northport noted that District No. 7 commissioner Melinda Lautner is also a member of the board of the Cherryland Electric Cooperative, and that newly-elected District No. 4 commissioner Tom Van Pelt also serves on the Cherryland Electric Board. Ham said he believes the two have a “conflict of interest” between their roles on the county board and the Cherryland Electric Board.
“I suggest that they (Lautner and Van Pelt) have the moral, if not legal, obligation to recuse themselves from any discussion or vote taken on the proposal, or any future proposals or contracts involving the use of alternative sources of energy for County facilities,” Ham wrote.
Lautner denied having any conflict of interest on the issue. She said Van Pelt shared her feelings.
“In order to have a conflict of interest, we would need to have some kind of financial stake in this, and neither of us does,” Lautner said.
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