MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – Three 200-foot towers, not yet the proposed wind turbines, standing on Muskegon County’s wastewater site are a sign that research into a wind farm there is quietly continuing.
The county in 2011 signed a lease agreement with Gamesa Energy USA to investigate the possibility of developing a potential large-scale wind farm on the 11,000-acre property in Egelston and Moorland townships.
The project isn’t on track to start construction in 2013, which might have qualified it for a federal tax credit that congress recently approved an extension for.
However, Gamesa is carefully continuing its research into the site. The three towers, loaded with wind-monitoring gadgetry, were installed on the site in August 2012.
“By next August, they’ll have a good year of data,” said Mark Eisenbarth, the county’s wastewater director.
The structures look like radio towers, but collect data on wind speed and wind direction, he said.
Gamesa Technology Corp. Vice President of Marketing and Communications David Rosenberg said that work continues on the Muskegon County project, making sure there are no protected or sensitive species that could be affected by the presence of a wind farm, researching grid interconnection costs, working on timelines and measuring wind.
“The project is still in early stages of development,” he said.
Remaining hurdles for the project include documenting the wind speeds necessary for turning the turbines, studying the effect on bats and birds in the area and securing agreements from energy companies for purchasing the electricity generated by the wind farm, Eisenbarth said.
“Any one of them might slow down the project or make them re-evaluate the turbine size or turbine location,” he said.
The project could be completed by 2015 or 2017 if everything goes smoothly, Eisenbarth estimated.
Gamesa was provided five years of exclusive rights to study the site and the company could have that deadline extended if it shows progress, Eisenbarth said.
If completed, the project would stack one ambitious “green” project above another one. The sprawling wastewater treatment plant uses a unique land treatment process involving wastewater aeration and settling basins, storage lagoons and irrigated cropland. The cleaned water is returned to the Muskegon River, eventually flowing to Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan, according to the facility’s website.
The rare combination of such a treatment plant with a wind farm would likely be a first for Michigan, Eisenbarth said.
“I’m not aware of any wind farm on wastewater property (in Michigan),” he said.