Under an overcast sky, Lynn Weismiller points proudly to the windmill that towers above his business, Holt Auto Alignment – his bid to harness the wind to generate electricity.
But the wind, for now, is at a standstill. The windmill’s blades are not moving.
“You’ve got to have wind blowing,” the 77-year-old explains sheepishly.
Near the start of the green energy movement a few years ago, several mid-Michigan townships began adopting ordinances to regulate the expected whirlwind of requests from homeowners and small businesses to install wind turbines to reduce their electric bills.
But that influx never came and that early enthusiasm appears to be gone with the wind, said Mark Graham, community development director for Delta Township.
Since the township regulated windmill installation in 2009, Graham said, it has received only one request to install a windmill. He said there has been lackluster interest even though there is a 30 percent federal tax credit on wind turbine purchases through 2016.
“There was not as much interest as everybody was hoping for,” said Tracy Miller, director of community for Delhi Township. “Everybody expected people to be installing wind and solar arrays for their properties but maybe the technology is not totally there yet to where it’s a feasible option. The payback isn’t quite there yet.”
Miller said only one homeowner has received a permit to erect a wind turbine since Delhi Township passed its own windmill ordinance in 2010.
That has left only a few of the faithful, such as Weismiller, who paid half of the $11,000 cost for the 75-foot high windmill.
He hopes he will see his investment repaid through lower electricity bills by 2019. The other half of the cost was paid through an incentive provided by the Delhi Downtown Development Authority.
“I thought this was something of the future,” Weismiller said. “I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on.”
No one is blaming government red tape for windmills not taking flight in mid-Michigan. The vast majority of the new township regulations were designed to expedite windmill approval for homeowners and businesses.
Previously in some townships, those wishing to erect windmills had to request variances from a planning commission, which can be a lengthy process.
Gail Oranchak, principal planner for Meridian Township, which adopted a windmill ordinance last year, said covenant restrictions in some subdivisions might be preventing homeowners from installing windmills.
But the main culprit might be Michigan’s lackluster wind, experts say. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, mid-Michigan has either “poor” or “marginal” wind speeds, ranging from 0 mph to 14.3 mph at a height of 50 meters (about 164 feet) – not ideal speeds for moving turbines.
Michigan’s shoreline, which has much higher wind speeds, has been the site of several large-scale “wind farms” proposed by companies hoping to sell electricity to utilities. The U.S. Department of Energy considers “good” or “excellent” wind speeds for wind power at between 15.7 and 17.9 mph at a height of 50 meters.
“Small wind turbines do work but you need to have good wind,” said Steve Harsh, an MSU professor of agriculture, food and resource economics who has studied wind energy. “And we don’t have that good of wind in the state for small wind turbines.”
Perhaps due to a lack of interest, there apparently are very few dealers in the region. One Michigan vendor that sold windmills in mid-Michigan a few years ago has gone out of business.
Lowe’s Cos. Inc., a national home improvement chain store based in Mooresville, N.C., has small wind turbines advertised on its corporate website. But its South Cedar Street location does not keep wind turbines in stock. On its corporate website, Southwest Windpower Inc., an Arizona manufacturer of wind turbines, refers prospective buyers in the Lansing area to a dealer in Windsor, Ontario.
Still a believer
Kirk Horrocks said he never expected to see big savings on his electric bill when he installed a 36-foot tall, $15,000 wind turbine at his grocery store and floral/greenhouse, Horrocks Farm Market in Delta Township, in 2007. After installing the device, he saw it generate less than 10 percent of the market’s energy needs.
Still, Horrocks remains a big believer in green energy. He said it’s important to develop alternative energies to make the nation less dependent on foreign oil.
“I wish we could build a thousand windmills a day,” Horrocks said. “There’s good jobs in building windmills.”
Soon, wind turbines might be visible atop the roofs of Lansing City Hall and the Lansing Center in the city’s downtown. Last month, Mayor Virg Bernero announced a “Live Green Lansing” initiative to use the equipment to lower the buildings’ power costs; it is funded by a $40,000 federal stimulus grant.
Though his Holt neighbors have not yet embraced wind energy, Weismiller still remains a believer. He’s been a lover of windmills ever since he was a boy and watched wind turbines pump groundwater on his father’s farm in Clinton County.
“I think God has given all this to us,” he said. “Why can’t we harness the wind and the sun?”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding