For five generations, Darryl Fowler’s family has worked 800 acres of Bethany Township land, coaxing corn and soybeans out of the ground.
Soon, something new – and far larger – will be sprouting up along the farm’s property line.
The township and nearby communities have welcomed Chicago-based Invenergy Wind LLC and its plans to create Michigan’s largest wind farm.
Once completed, it will feature 133 turbines and produce 212 megawatts of electricity – enough for 50,000 homes.
The Michigan push coupled with similar efforts in neighboring Ontario are part of a plan to move from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.
But offshore wind development has been an entirely different issue. Concerns over aesthetics, impacts on local economies, property values and wildlife have served to put offshore efforts in limbo.
Neither Michigan nor Ontario has been able to move forward with offshore projects due to opposition from residents in the areas targeted for wind farms in the Great Lakes. For the power companies, it’s a missed opportunity.
Efforts in Michigan and Ontario to expand wind power on land have shown signs of success.
The Fowler farm, for instance, will join the 23 wind farms planned or in operation in Michigan that will produce 1.127 megawatts of power, according to the state Public Service Commission.
Siting turbines offshore can increase efficiency thanks to stronger and more reliable winds, according to power companies, and it also allows developers to use larger turbines.
Along Lake Michigan, Scandia Wind Offshore’s efforts to move forward with its Aegir Project – a 200-turbine, 1,000-megawatt wind farm targeted for Lake Michigan – have included public meetings packed with opponents and skeptical local officials.
On Nov. 1, Oceana County’s planning commission became the latest agency to reject the plan, calling it flawed and saying Minnesota-based Scandia had overestimated the amount of local jobs it would create.
But the public’s reaction to the idea of turbines sprouting up out of the Great Lakes has been every bit as key a factor, said Arn Boezaart, director of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon.
The opposition has spawned activist groups like the Lake Michigan P.O.W.E.R. Coalition, which has followed every phase of the project. The coalition’s list of reasons it opposes the project includes:
Allowing public land – the lake bottom – to be used by a private company without a bidding process.
Placing a power generator in Lake Michigan’s ecosystem “could degrade or destroy vital habitat …”
Creating a potential hazard for recreational boaters.
Clean energy goals
Within four months beginning in October 2008, Michigan and Ontario set out clean energy goals designed to move away from fossil fuels. Michigan plans to get 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015, and Ontario is shooting to increase its renewable energy output by 3,000 megawatts by that same year.
Three years later, both governments appear on their way to reaching those goals with a boost from wind power. Turbines have cropped up, mostly in rural areas, slowly increasing capacity.
Energy effort a boost
In Michigan, the Invenergy project will be a significant boost to the state’s renewable energy effort. Detroit Edison will operate half of the wind farm and purchase electricity from Invenergy, which will operate the other half.
Fowler pulls double-duty as a farmer and as Bethany Township’s treasurer. From those vantage points, he can see the benefits to himself and the community as a whole. As a property owner, he stands to earn $80 for each of the 120 acres he leases each year.
“To our township it’s going to mean somewhere between $70,000 to $80,000 in additional tax revenues in the first year,” he said.
Property owners such as Fowler receive payments for leasing rights from Invenergy, as well as percentage payments based on the energy generated.
Meanwhile, wind energy has become a political football in Ontario. In February 2009, lawmakers passed the Green Energy Act that called for the province to increase its power generated from renewable sources from 8,300 megawatts to 10,000 megawatts by 2015.
That legislation also sowed the seeds of opposition to wind power, said Beth Harrington of Wind Concerns Ontario. It set forth few, if any, guidelines for where and how wind turbines could be sited.
Her organization represents more than 50 citizen groups that are pushing the Ontario government to hold back on the expansion of wind power.
In February, the province enacted a moratorium on all off-shore projects.
SouthPoint Wind, a Leamington, Ontario, company, had planned to place three groupings of up to 55 turbines in Lake St. Clair. That project is now on hold, and the moratorium has triggered a $2.25 billion lawsuit by Toronto-based Trillium Power Wind Corp against the province.