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Renewable energy supporters gather, but anti-wind turbine folks ‘want you to go away now’

EAST LANSING – Momentum is building for Michigan to update its renewable energy policies as the state continues to add wind power capacity.

Michigan added more wind power capacity last year than most other states, and is currently building more wind power than every state but Texas, according to American Wind Energy Association’s third quarter 2013 market report.

The state now has enough turbines to power more than 325,000 homes, said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

“Our onshore (wind) potential is more than 1.6 times our total electricity capacity. We could power our entire state’s electricity needs just with wind,” Stabenow told wind energy advocates, utilities and suppliers on Monday at the AWEA State Energy Forum at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center in East Lansing.

While the wind industry and environmental groups tout the benefits of wind power as a cleaner alternative to coal-fired power plants, wind turbines can be controversial among residents who don’t want the towering machines in their communities. More than 20 people protested outside of the forum on Monday morning, arguing that wind turbines are disruptive, destroy neighborhoods, and are not as cost-effective or reliable as proponents say.

Utilities have been relying on wind turbines to provide most of the renewable energy needed to meet Michigan’s current renewable energy standard of 10 percent by 2015. But wind power growth could slow if the state doesn’t update its renewable energy requirements.

The wind forum comes on the same day the Michigan Energy Office and Michigan Public Service Commission submitted their final report on renewable energy to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The report found that it’s theoretically feasible for Michigan to achieve renewable energy standards as high as 30 percent by 2035. It also noted wind generation costs have significantly dropped and that wind power hasn’t contributed to any system-wide reliability problems.

“We’re capable of reaching that goal with resources located right in the state of Michigan, but we can look beyond that as well,” MPSC Chairman John Quackenbush said at the wind conference. “Infrastructure improvements may be needed to move that energy if we get up in that higher range, but that’s all part of the analysis.”

Snyder in November 2012 called for a one-year study on Michigan’s energy future after voters rejected a ballot proposal that would have amended the constitution to require Michigan utilities to derive at least 25 percent of their annual electric retail sales from clean renewable sources by 2025.

A draft renewable energy report was released in September. The final version contains updates based on feedback from hundreds of people. It’s the first of four final energy reports that will be submitted to the governor before Thanksgiving.

Kevon Martis disputed the report’s findings, contending that wind is not affordable, reliable or cost-effective in reducing emissions. He leads the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a Blissfield-based group comprised of people who live near wind turbines or proposed wind farms.

Martis and joined several IICC members in protesting the wind energy forum at the Kellogg Center on Monday morning.

“The people sitting inside here are the architects of the failed Proposal 3 campaign last fall…” he said. “We’ve already said no to your proposal once before, we want you to go away now.”

Several factors could impact Michigan’s ability to meet higher standards, including local restrictions on locating wind turbines or other legal challenges.

A coalition of utility companies and business groups supports more renewable energy but wants Michigan to also consider natural gas and cleaner burning fossil fuels.

“I don’t know whether a standard or mandate is the way to go, but we definitely need to push forward to continue the progress we made in the last five years and add more renewable and clean energy to the system,” said Steve Transeth, senior policy director for the Michigan Jobs and Energy Coalition.

He said the state should use more flexible targets and goals – rather than strict mandates – to allow utilities to take advantage of emerging technologies and a variety of energy sources.