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Cross Winds II: Consumers Energy files for 55 new wind turbines in Tuscola County

Consumers Energy has filed applications with the Federal Aviation Administration for 55 new wind turbines in Columbia Township, a result of several factors accelerating development of Cross Winds Energy Park II.

The 55 applications were filed July 13. Consumers’ original Cross Winds Energy Park in Akron and Columbia townships went into operation in 2014 and consists of 62 turbines and cost about $250 million.

Officials at Jackson-based Consumers Energy said it was too early to call anything definite, but noted several factors have put the company in position of ramping up activity related to development of Cross Winds II, originally slated for the 2021-22 time frame.

Those factors include potential increased demand for renewable energy and tax incentives that expire at the end of this year, said Dennis Marvin, community engagement manager, Consumers Energy.

“In order to accelerate our plans for Cross Winds II, we also had to take some steps from a development basis just to kind of test the waters…and see how things might work,” Marvin said. “Particularly in Columbia Township where we have quite a few easements.”

Marvin told The Advertiser several factors are at play, starting with the potential for a larger market for renewable energies such as wind.

“We are experiencing requests from many large industrial customers who want, and have their own, renewable energy philosophies and goals and are looking for an opportunity to link with us to provide more renewable energy.

“We continue to believe that while we are developing solar, wind is by far the most efficient and most cost-effective way to supply energy,” said Marvin.

Another factor, Marvin said, is the potential for new legislation and/or policies at the state and federal levels that could result in requirements for increased use and demand for renewable energy.

“And, again, wind makes the most sense for us,” Marvin said.

In addition to the FAA applications, Marvin said Consumers Energy issued a request for proposals (RFP) about a month ago whereby another developer or developers could be responsible for constructing and owning the project and Consumers would buy the electricity.

Respondents are required to submit plans for how many megawatts they could produce and at what cost, Marvin said.

“If that turns out to be a lower cost option for us than to do it ourselves, then we would go in that direction,” Marvin said. “If it turns out self-build is more competitive, then we would proceed in that direction.”

Marvin said proposals are being evaluated currently and a decision could be made by the end of this month.

He also confirmed that several tax incentives that expire at the end of 2016 are a factor in the future of Cross Winds II.

Marvin said those incentives – offered through the U.S. Department of Energy – are contingent on construction beginning by the end of the year or “a certain level of investment made into the infrastructure.”

“We’re not formally announcing plans,” said Dan Bishop, director of media relations, Consumers Energy. “But we are focusing more earnestly on possible development.

“When we build a new facility or contract to have that done we’re really investing our customers’ money, so it’s important that we have a healthy due diligence ahead of time, and ask questions that need to be asked, before we make a formal decision on whether to proceed or not.”

Marvin said any figures related to the final scope of Cross Winds II, such as total size and cost, are part of the due diligence process underway.

Cross Winds II would be the second phase of the existing Cross Winds Energy Park in Akron and Columbia townships.

Cross Winds Energy Park is a 111-megawatt wind turbine project that consists of 62 wind turbines – 43 in Akron Township and 19 in Columbia Township. The project is owned by Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy (NYSE: CMS) and began operating in 2014.

According to a website specific to Cross Winds, “After carefully studying 19 potential sites in Michigan, Consumers Energy chose Tuscola County due to the wind resource and because the area offers access to available transmission – a key consideration when building a wind farm. The Tuscola County townships where Consumers Energy built Cross Winds also offer wind ordinances that ensure public safety while providing the flexibility to develop and operate a highly productive wind farm.”

The Advertiser tried to reach Columbia Township officials for comment.

Ed Spannagel, supervisor, Columbia Township – who also serves as liaison to the township planning commission – did not return several messages left via phone and email.

Records at the Tuscola County Register of Deeds show that Spannagel has been dealing with wind companies since at least 2009. He is not seeking re-election in November.

County records show that five other elected or appointed township officials have had wind-related deals – Clerk Christine Kolar, Trustee Mike Findlay and planning commissioners Tom Zimmer, Robert Becker and David Sting. Kolar, Findlay and Becker did not return messages by press time. Contact information for Zimmer and Sting could not be found.

Consumers Energy’s filings with the FAA come as Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc. (NYSE: NEE) is working to build its third “wind farm” in Tuscola County.

That project, called Tuscola III, is expected to cost at least $200 million and be located in parts of Almer, Ellington and Fairgrove townships. The project has faced delays as local officials in Almer and Ellington have been reviewing and considering changes to their respective wind ordinances. However, a NextEra official says the project is still moving forward (See story below).

Consumers Energy and NextEra Energy Resources (through subsidiaries) have filed petitions with the Michigan Tax Tribunal against Tuscola County and several local townships contesting the assessed value of existing wind turbines in Tuscola County. The state court is expected to take up the matter late this year.