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On the brink of change

April 4, 2008
Sean Harkins
Part 1 of a seven-part series

Although he has been dead for over 75 years, the inventions and philosophies of Thomas Edison seem rather pertinent to today’s energy issues.

Edison made the use of an incandescent light bulb practical, and he is considered a genius inventor and luminary in American history.

He was also a practical economist.

“Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success,” he said.

Innovation, practicality and cost are all major issues facing the “green” movement, which aims to replace traditional energy sources with environmentally friendly ones.

In an address to the National Governors Association on Feb. 22, Gov. Jennifer Granholm said Michigan is poised to go green.

“Michigan is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the evolving green energy revolution. Our untapped wind resources offer us an almost unlimited source of clean, zero-carbon electricity. Our productive farm and forest land can be put to use to grow the fuels of the future,” Granholm said.

She said alternative energy is an opportunity to create jobs and attract global investment.

If and when there is massive green energy boom, Northeast Michigan may be able to benefit, said Lee Shirey, Target Alpena chief economic development officer.

He points to the recent opening of ATI Casting, which moved into the facility previously occupied by Thunder Bay Manufacturing in Alpena. The company makes iron castings for wind turbines.

“The chances of ATI growing are really high. There’s a lot of demand for windmills,” he said.

ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said the company moved into Alpena because the facility was easy to move into, and growth in the region is a possibility.

“Let’s get this one up and running and see where the next growth platform will be” he said.

Shirey said a renewable energy portfolio, which requires power companies to use a certain amount of green energy, could really give the state and region a boost.

“That would really help open the door to alternative growth in Michigan,” he said. “Since it’s not mandated, many companies are kind of shying away.”

Many states, Michigan not included, already have passed legislation requiring a renewable energy portfolio. Some of those states are requiring 25 percent of their energy be renewable by 2025.

Rep. Bart Stupak said at the federal level, things are being done to propel the green revolution.

In February, HR 5351 was passed. The bill, which Stupak supported, gave tax incentives for homeowners and businesses to install green utilities.

It must make it through Congress and be signed by the president before being enacted.

“You can’t underestimate the value of (alternative energy) for our nation,” Stupak said. “People are looking for opportunities to invest in things other than carbon and fossil fuels.”

He said the presence of Mascoma Corporation in Gaylord is a good example of the region capitalizing on the green movement. Stupak said officials with the company have told him they decided to come to Michigan because it has exceptional wood fiber, which will be used for biomass production.

Wolverine Power Supply Cooperative recently began producing power from the state’s first commercial scale windfarm.

Director of Community and Government Affairs Ken Bradstreet said the Huron County windfarm consists of 32 turbines and generates over 50 megawatts of power when the wind is blowing.

With the windfarm, Bradstreet said the company’s energy portfolio is about 5 percent green right now — but it is looking to expand.

The company is conducting studies in Rogers City to see if that area is a viable source of wind power.

Beyond that, the company is researching forestry and agricultural products.

“There are a lot of possibilities, we’re just starting to scratch the surface,” Bradstreet said.

Sean Harkins can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5688.


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