The Lansing Board of Water & Light has discovered that expanding use of wind power is easier said than done.
Lawsuits and zoning troubles have delayed construction of a massive wind farm in northern Michigan that would provide 89 megawatts of energy to the BWL, Lansing’s city-owned utility.
Despite months of delays, BWL leaders say they will still meet the utility’s goal to provide 20% renewable energy by the end of 2020.
Solar and landfill gas energy will make up for some of the slack, BWL leaders say.
The BWL struck a deal in 2016 with the Florida-based company NextEra Resources to purchase power from a wind farm planned for Huron County at the tip of Michigan’s thumb region.
Due to local opposition, NextEra later selected a different site just south of Huron County in Tuscola County.
The BWL previously expected the NextEra wind farm to be fully operational by the end of 2018 or the start of 2019, but conflicts with local communities in Michigan’s thumb region have extended that timeline.
“More of our customers want clean energy but they’re not used to it in their backyards,” BWL General Manager Dick Peffley said. “They’re used to a centralized plant in the industrial area with wires underground. … They’re not used to driving through the countryside and seeing windmills.”
Wind plans lead to recall, lawsuits
The Tuscola County farm, known as the Pegasus project, would include more than 60 turbines total in the rural communities of Fairgrove and Juniata townships.
Fairgrove’s planning commission granted a special land use permit to the project, as did the Juniata planning commission in 2018.
The approval angered some community members, Juniata meeting minutes show.
Some Juniata residents raised concerns about noise, shadows from the turbines and setback distances from property lines, arguing that the project violated requirements in the township’s wind ordinance.
In November 2018, voters recalled three trustees who had supported the Pegasus Project.
Earlier this year, the board, featuring newly elected members, revoked NextEra’s special land use permit, arguing that construction could not continue while NextEra lacked approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics.
The wind company scored a partial victory last week, when Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart ordered NextEra’s special land use permit to be reinstated. Juniata Township supervisor Garrett Tetil did not respond to request for comment about whether the township plans to appeal the order.
Recent court order bodes well for Pegasus farm
“We’re smiling,” Peffley, the BWL’s general manager said of the ruling.
Peffley estimated that by June 1, 2020 the BWL would have 75% of the energy it had planned to harness from the Pegasus wind farm.
NextEra representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The company has big plans for wind in Michigan’s thumb, a favorable area for the technology because of lakefront gusts. Another NextEra project, known as the Tuscola III wind farm, has likewise encountered local pushback.
In 2017, a NextEra subsidiary sued Almer and Ellington townships, two Tuscola County communities where the farm would be located, alleging violations of due process, Michigan’s Open Meetings Act and the state’s Zoning Enabling Act.
Almer Township had rejected NextEra’s permit and Ellington Township did not consider the permit request due to a moratorium on wind projects. A federal judge ruled in favor of the townships, however, and dismissed NextEra’s lawsuits in 2018.
The Tuscola III project would tie into other nearby wind farms, including the Pegasus project.
How BWL plans to reach 20% renewable energy
Pegasus would be the second wind farm in the BWL’s portfolio. The BWL buys power from eight turbines, generating 19.2 megawatts, at the Beebe Community Wind farm near Ithaca. The sprawling farm, visible from U.S. Route 127, is north of Lansing in Gratiot County.
A 2016 plan committed the BWL to reaching 20% renewable energy by the end of next year. The BWL predicts its 2020 portfolio will include 15% wind energy, 2% solar energy and 3% energy from landfill gas, considered renewable because it is the natural byproduct of decomposing material in garbage dumps.
The BWL could purchase energy credits from other utilities with renewable surpluses in order to meet its 20% by 2020 goal, Peffley said.
He does not anticipate that will be necessary, however, adding that it should be sufficient to base calculations on the energy the BWL provides to its customers.
“I keep credits in my back pocket in case Pegasus doesn’t come online,” Peffley said.
The BWL has also promised to reach 30% “clean” energy by 2020. To reach that number, the BWL plans to count energy efficiency programs toward 10% of that goal.
BWL cites struggle to obtain land for wind power
The BWL selected NextEra’s Pegasus project via a competitive bid process. The proposal offered the “best value” for ratepayers, Peffley said. Obtaining land for wind farms has proven difficult – much more difficult than obtaining land for solar arrays, he said.
Some raise aesthetic objections to wind power. Others complain about the noise or the loss of farmland.
And wind farms tend to be large, requiring approval from multiple jurisdictions with their own local rules.
“You try to marry the wind profile with a town, a jurisdiction, that welcomes wind power,” Peffley said.
Tuscola and Huron counties have an attractive wind profile, combining ideal elevations and wind speeds. Peffley said he favors getting wind power from Michigan, noting that costs would increase to transport power from far-flung areas of the country.
Compared to coal and natural gas, wind and solar energy emit much less of the carbon dioxide that contributes to global climate change.
The BWL, which serves more than 100,000 customers in the Lansing region, has promised to stop generating coal energy by 2025. A natural gas-fired power plant in Delta Township will generate up to 250 megawatts, making up some of the difference once both of the BWL’s coal plants are offline.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding