UPPER THUMB – Construction recently started for the final phase of ITC Transmission’s 140-mile Thumb Loop high-voltage transmission line in Huron County.
The transmission line connects Huron, Sanilac, Tuscola and St. Clair counties. ITC says it will serve as the “backbone” of a system designed to meet the identified maximum wind energy potential of the Thumb region, and will be capable of supporting a maximum capacity of about 5,000 megawatts generated from 2,800 wind turbines.
“It’s the largest product in our company’s history,” ITC Transmission President Gregory Ioanidis said Tuesday.
“Phase 3,” which runs from the Rapson substation in Huron County through Sanilac County and into St. Clair County, is about 10 percent complete, he said.
“We expect to have Phase 3 done by 2015, which would represent completion of the entire project,” Ioanidis said.
Construction of the Thumb Loop started in 2011. “Phase 1” consists of 62 miles of double-circuit, 345,000 volt lines from the Bauer substation in Tuscola County to the Rapson substation in Huron County. It was put into service last September.
At a townhall meeting in Greenwood on Tuesday, the company announced completion of the 20-mile Phase 2 section in St. Clair County.
While Ioanidis said it would be hard separate the output of the portions of lines running through Huron County – specifically how the project would impact Huron County’s economy – he said construction of the entire project means an impact of $366 million to Michigan’s economy and an addition of 320 jobs.
“Most of that being felt here, in St. Clair, Tuscola, Huron (and Sanilac),” he said. “We’ll be needing gravel, cement, asphalt … we’ll need all those supplies. Crews are eating in restaurants. They’re staying in hotels. That boom is pretty significant for this part of the state.”
A 2008 state law requires utilities to produce 10 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2015. Ioanidis said as part of the process, “it was a matter of finding the best place to locate wind facilities in the state.”
“The Thumb was identified as being the ideal area to develop wind,” he said. “All these projects that are interconnecting to the grid we’ll certainly be able to accommodate, and we’ll even have room for more as we push toward that maximum number.”
Ioanidis said ITC hosts townhall meetings to hear feedback from residents and community leaders – from both those who oppose wind energy and those in favor – to determine locations of structures and line routes.
“At the end of the day, construction can be disruptive,” Ioanidis said. “But we try to bring back the land as best as possible to where it was when we first entered the area. We want to be a good neighbor.”
Part of being a good neighbor may mean reduced energy costs for residents plugged into the line, which Ioanidis said is possible because the lines are powered by renewable sources, meaning lower costs and a more efficient flow of electricity.
Ioanidis said the project has been “smooth sailing,” except for a few challenges at the start.
“We had a couple of property owners here and there, but for the most part we were able to effectively deal with everyone,” he said. “It’s been open, it’s been transparent and forthright.”
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