MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – Renewable energy firms from Kansas and Minnesota made competing pitches to Muskegon County officials on Thursday for development of a large tract land the county owns.
A possible solar farm at the Muskegon County Wastewater treatment facility was the focus of presentations from Geronimo Energy of Edna, Minn. and Tradewind Energy of Lenexa, Kan.
The county’s 11,000-acre facility in Moorland and Egelston Townships has large water treatment pools and farmland where the water is used. Gamesa Energy USA, a subsidiary of a Spanish wind-turbine company, starting in 2011 had development rights at the waste water land and tested wind speeds in the area.
Now, Gamesa isn’t interested, and Muskegon County is looking for other companies to take over the development project, said Muskegon County Economic Development Coordinator Jonathan Wilson.
The groups pitched ideas Thursday, June 16 to the Muskegon County Board of Public Works, which oversees the waste water facility. Both of firms were clear that wind speeds at the site aren’t optimal, and a solar farm producing more than 50 mega-watts would probably be a more viable option.
None other than “the Godfather of Michigan wind power,” Mackinaw Power President Rich Vanderveen, admitted the wind speeds were not optimal.
“It’s not as windy here – surprisingly – as it would be in the middle of the state or the thumb,” Vanderveen said as he introduced a Tradewind representative.
Instead, both groups seemed more interested in the prospect of a solar farm on the south edge of the property, below M-46 in Moorland Township.
Two things that made the property attractive is that it’s a large piece of land with a single owner, near a power line substation. Two hurdles for most development projects are getting property owners to agree on contracts and laying in power lines from the project.
A third factor that both companies referenced is a recent request for proposals from Consumers Energy that sought proposals for wind or renewable energy.
“The wind speeds here are not competitive with other places in the state, such as the thumb,” said David Shiflett, Project Manager for Geronimo Energy. “It’s going to be a challenging site for any developer.”
Shiflett said he was a Michigan resident who visited the property back in 2008. He said that many alternative energy plants become “huge windfalls” for landowners and local tax municipalities.
Still, selling the project to locals will be an important job.
“It’s got to be community-oriented,” said Tradewind Vice President of Project Development Joe Arb. “It’s got to be community at the center of it.”
Arb said it could possibly be feasible to build some wind turbines at the area because of an efficiency of scale created by having the solar farm in close proximity.
“I’ve never been part of a potential wind and solar project on the same site,” he said. “It’s pretty neat.”
The Muskegon County Board of Public Works took a preliminary vote June 16 authorizing staff to work on proposals with both firms.
“We’ve asked them to turn in their proposals by June 24th at the latest,” said Wilson, the county’s economic development coordinator.
Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern confirmed the company put out a statewide request for proposals for wind energy and renewable energy. Proposals to Consumers are due July 8, and then the company will review what’s been turned in from across the state.
All of this comes as Consumers recently a large solar park at Grand Valley State University in nearby Allendale.
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“Consumer’s Energy is going to act in the best interest of its customers,” he said. “We know the importance of a diverse energy portfolio to help move Michigan forward.”
Jeff Lohman, who represents Moorland and Egelston Townships on the County Board of Commissioners, said the pitches seemed promising. Both of the townships have wind ordinances that would need to be adjusted in order to erect new turbines, he said. On the other hand, the potential benefit to the tax bases and possible new jobs would be hard to turn down.
“I think the plan for the solar parks is certainly more attractive,” Lohman said. “It doesn’t seem to be as controversial as wind energy does.”
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