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Mackinac Center says not enough wind for ‘25 by 25’ Proposal

UPPER THUMB – Proponents of Proposal 3 say there are adequate wind resources to accommodate the approving of the proposal, which would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Opponents disagree.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy published a report Friday stating most of Michigan is “poor” or “marginal” for producing wind energy. The Midland-based think tank looked at a 2010 Michigan map of wind strength 80 meters off the ground, which shows about 25 percent of the entire state would reach 6 to 6.5 meters per second, which is the suitable standard for wind development.

Because wind is expected to be the primary source of renewable energy if the proposal passes, the center reports Proposal 3 would require that the state add as many as 13 times more wind turbines in Michigan than the 292 currently in operation.

Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Michigan Environmental Council communications director, said the center focused on developers constructing 500-feet tall turbines, and the industry norm is about 350 feet. He said it also looked at wind speeds that are 80 meters above the ground. He said a 2003 map showing wind speeds 100 meters off the ground is a better gauge. It shows that about half the state had wind speeds of 7 to 8 meters per second at 100 meters above the ground.

Both studies were conducted by AWS Truepower. A company spokeswoman told the Mackinac Center that there were more “actual wind” measurements in the 2010 map, and it was more accurate than the 2003 version.

A supporter of Proposal 3, the Michigan Environmental Counsel believes 25 by 25 is good for the environment, will create jobs and is less costly than building a new coal plant, said McDiarmid, who stressed that it will be feasible for developers to meet the proposed new standard.

“There are absolutely enough resources in inland areas of Michigan to meet the 25 percent standard without any significant issues,” he said.

The council believes an additional 2,300 turbines will have to be constructed to fill in the gap utilities will have to fill between 2015 and 2025 if Proposal 3 passes, McDiarmid said. Utilities already are constructing wind developments and other renewable energy projects to comply with the 2008 state law requiring they provide 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

Irene Dimitry, DTE Energy Renewables director, said when considering whether developers can meet the quota proposed by Proposal 3, it’s important to consider not just wind maps, but what areas of land can be developed. Combined, those two factors make it very challenging to meet the requirements in the proposed ballot request, she said.

She noted the best wind resources are located along the coastal areas and in the Thumb. In those areas, there are a lot of homes, rivers and roads, all of which have setback distances that reduce the amount of space where turbines can be constructed.

“(So) even if the wind is there, (it) doesn’t mean you can develop it,” Dimitry said.

DTE Energy and other opponents of Proposal 3 believe 3,100 turbines will have to be built to fill in the gap between 2015 and 2025, if voters approve the proposal, Dimitry said. In that event, another issue developers will face is locating different areas to develop because as more developments are constructed in specific areas, the communities may feel saturated and tell developers they’ve had enough. Should that occur, developers will have to build in other parts of the state, which increases the developer’s cost.

The Michigan wind map shows the Thumb has the largest areas most suitable for wind development. There currently are a number of projects completed or in operation, and it’s anticipated there will be 160 wind turbines in operation by the end of the year in Huron County.

However, there have been some residents and county officials concerned about local wind development. Some issues have been about aesthetics, the proximity of turbines to the shoreline and their affects on the environment and wildlife. Some officials have voiced concerns about the uncertainty of future tax revenue from the developments, particularly because the Michigan State Tax Commission voted last fall to lower the taxable value of wind turbines.

The Huron County Board of Commissioners earlier this week unanimously voted to oppose Michigan Ballot Proposal 3 because of concerns that if the proposal passes, it would cost the state $12 billion and require the construction of at least 3,100 wind turbines if utilities used wind energy to meet the 25 by 25 mandate.

The commission approved a resolution stating the proposed constitutional amendment is missing a bipartisan proponent like the 2008 law requiring utilities produce 10 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2015; the constitution is not the place for energy policy and this would hurt state flexibility; there would be additional costs to customers; and the additional wind turbines would take up a significant amount of state land.

When asked about local opposition to future developments, McDiarmid said he has talked with experts who have said developers shouldn’t need to push wind farms in places where people don’t want them. There are enough wind resources in the state to construct projects where they are wanted, he added.