Wind energy is an emerging issue across the country and in Michigan. The American Wind Energy Association has Michigan ranked 14th in wind energy potential, but it is no where near 14th in wind energy production.
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupek agrees wind energy potential in Michigan is an emerging issue, but that, as a state, it is nowhere near as competitive nationally as it could be.
“I think it’s an untapped area,” he said. “We’re way behind.”
In Alpena, ATI Castings, operating out of the former Thunder Bay Manufacturing facility, is already at work creating parts for use in wind turbines.
Dan Greenfield, spokesperson for ATI, said producing parts for wind turbines is something the company has been doing for many years and the business is constantly growing.
“The focus on renewable energy is very strong, particularly wind energy, and Michigan has a strong focus on being involved with renewable energy” he said.
Ken Bradstreet, director of community and public affairs for Wolverine Power, said the company recently entered into a partnership with a wind farm owned by John Deere in Huron County which will allow it to offer customers a portion of their energy through green sources.
The acquisition of the 32-turbine wind farm, which Wolverine will be receiving power from for at least the next 20 years, means it has the only existing utility scale wind project in the state.
“We have made a major commitment to wind energy and we believe in that,” Bradstreet said.
While he recognizes the importance of wind energy, Wolverine is not ready to rely on it as the only source of power for the company.
“It is part of our future. We think very highly of it, but we also recognize it is not baseload power. Baseload power is power you can rely on 24 hours a day,” he said.
Bradstreet said the real drawback to wind is operators cannot turn it on or off at will. The wind just blows when it blows.
“At night when it is 20 below zero and there is no wind and no sun it is nuclear or good old-fashioned coal that is making sure your house is warm and your milk is cold,” he said.
Jim Dulzo, Michigan Land Use managing editor, disagrees with that statement. He said it is pretty easy to predict accurately what the winds and electrical needs are going to be.
“Any time we can turn down a coal plant and turn up a wind turbine or solar panel, that is a good thing,” he said.
While it is widely recognized that wind energy is clean and an excellent alternative energy source, the AWEA says there are many myths out there regarding wind energy.
One of those myths is that wind turbines are loud. The AWEA said the turbines of a modern wind farm, at a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet are “no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quite room.”
Another myth involves the look of turbines and that people think they are unattractive. AWEA said there are varying opinions regarding the overall look of the turbines and how they impact the view. This is a view Dulzo shares with AWEA.
“I think that people really like wind mills when they see them,” he said. “I do not think wind turbines should be stuffed down anyone’s throat, but I don’t think you can say this county is just too beautiful for turbines.”
Another misconception about wind turbines is they will kill many birds and bats, something AWEA said is simply not true, compared to other human related activities.
A 2002 study found that for every 10,000 birds killed by human activities, less than one of those deaths is caused by a wind turbine, while 1,000 are caused by house cats.
While the Audubon Society supports the development of wind energy as an effective way to minimize global warming, it does so recognizing the importance of positioning the sites in a place that does not impact existing wildlife.
Thunder Bay Audubon Society President Linda Klemens said the real danger of the wind turbines for birds is the effect they will have on the migration patterns of the animals.
“There is a high incidence where they fly into the turbines and are knocked off course by them. It is a definite problem for migrating birds in particular,” she said.
Dulzo called wind energy an emerging technology in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth said there is currently 55.5 megewatts of wind energy systems installed in the state, with over 95 percent of that coming from the wind farm being utilized by Wolverine, which was installed in 2007.
While Bradstreet does not believe wind energy is a source of baseload power for the company yet, he said the company has a tower at Adams Point in Rogers City collecting wind data to see if it would be feasible to install turbines in the area.
“It is still premature to draw any conclusions from that,” he said.
Janelle Packer can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5695.
Fact BoxAmount of energy produced by wind turbines in Michigan:
? 1996 — 600 kW wind generator installed in Traverse City
? 2001 — Two 900 kW wind generators installed in Mackinaw City
? 2007 — 32 wind generators installed in Huron County, 52,800 kW