Michigan’s wind energy industry soaring
Credit: Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press Business Writer | October 12, 2014 | www.freep.com ~~
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The shift to renewable energy sources in Michigan – particularly wind – has picked up in the past few years and could get more of a boost as the Obama administration seeks a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, advocates and utility companies say.
That could mean more investment and more jobs to add to Michigan’s modest energy sector profile of about 83,000 workers. One recent study concluded targeted local investment in wind and other renewable energy could support nearly 21,000 jobs in the state by next year.
“Wind energy has been the primary source of new renewable energy in Michigan,” John Quackenbush, the chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission said as he spoke earlier this year to green energy proponents at the Michigan Energy Fair in Mason.
One reason: It’s about half as expensive to produce than utility companies initially expected, down to as little as $50 a megawatt hour last year from more than $100 a megawatt hour in 2009.
In the past few years, wind power in Michigan has created jobs, given rise to new companies that supply components – such as Ventower Industries in Monroe – and even inspired a few school projects and tourism. The nonprofit group, Natural Resources Defense Council, says Michigan is home to about 120 companies that supply wind components and employ 4,000.
DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, the two companies that serve Michigan’s lower peninsula, are building wind turbines in the Thumb area. Consumers built turbines recently in the Ludington area in western Michigan. The Thumb has enough wind to be a top site nationally for harnessing the resource, officials from the companies say. Wind and other renewable sources of power are expected to provide a steadily increasing amount of Michigan’s power needs by 2030.
A state law that requires 10% of electricity produced come from renewable sources by the end of next year has increased demand and helped propel the construction of wind farms. Michigan still gets more than half, 54%, of its power from coal, a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions.
Since the state law passed in 2008, utilities have invested more than $2.2 billion in renewable technology, including building hundreds of wind turbines, some as tall as the Fisher Building. There are now more than 20 wind farms in Michigan that are operational and in development, the public service commission said.
Michigan utilities and energy producers have strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, mostly by adding scrubbers to coal-fired power plants and also by replacing coal-fired plants with ones that run on cleaner-burning natural gas. More renewable energy also has become a big part of the equation. Because of that demand, Michigan’s growing wind business has meant falling prices for residential consumers.
To cover the extra cost of green energy production, residential customers have been paying a utility surcharge. This year, largely because of the lower cost of wind, DTE has reduced its surcharge from $3 per meter a month to 43 cents, and Consumers Energy eliminated its surcharge altogether, down from $2.50.
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