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State poised to be a leader

April 11, 2008
Janelle Packer and Sean Harkins
Seventh in seven-part series

Oil, steel, gold and the automobile. The discovery or development of those resources or products has vastly changed the makeup of cities, states and countries.

Imagine living in San Francisco in 1847, just before the gold rush. In two year’s time, life changed dramatically for the residents of the city. It improved for some with the wealth the gold brought, but the unprepared growth also brought unintended consequences — such as putting a strain on the city’s infrastructure.

With green energy thought by many, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to be the next big thing, it is hard to predict the impact it may have on the country, state or region, leaving many feeling like those San Franciscans in 1847.

In Michigan, green energy is being viewed as a way to create jobs.

“Development of alternative energy technologies represents a transformational opportunity for Michigan to attract new global investment and create new jobs,” Granholm said in an address to the National Governors Association.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak said Northeast Michigan is ideal for wind energy, stating winds blow through the Mackinac Straits at more than 35 mph over six months per year.

“I think it’s an untapped area,” he said.

If or when there is a development boom in cellulosic ethanol production, Stupak said Michigan could benefit. He said Mascoma Corporation opened a plant in Gaylord because Michigan has the best mix of wood fiber in the nation.

Target Alpena’s Chief Economic Development Officer Lee Shirey said the key development of alternative energy in Michigan is the establishment of an alternative energy portfolio in the state that would mandate energy companies get a certain amount of energy from renewable energy sources.

He said the portfolio has proven successful in other states and has the potential to bring some business and industry into the state.

Alpena Mayor Carol Shafto said the city hasn’t formally discussed it, but offering tax breaks to companies associated with green energy could be done to attract them to the area.

She said the city is limited, however, in how much it can do.

“We can be business friendly, we can be supportive, but as far as financial incentives the city’s budgetary and finance constrictions aren’t going to let us do a lot of things,” she said.

Michigan Land Use Managing Editor Jim Dulzo thinks a community could persuade alternative energy ventures to come to an area. He said if a city made a concerted effort to be more green it would find itself inundated with capital green groups trying to come to the area.

Dulzo said the ramifications of a city doing something like that would have the potential to change both the lifestyle and design of those communities.

Dan Greenfield, spokesman for ATI Castings, said the company has been involved with the manufacturing of parts for wind turbines for many years.

The acquisition of the former Thunder Bay Manufacturing plant was another step for the company in its ever growing involvement with renewable energy and he pointed to Michigan’s focus on being involved in renewable energy sources.

Ken Bradstreet, director of community and public affairs for Wolverine Power, said alternative energy is clearly on the rise and Wolverine is researching various avenues to find its best fit in this new field.

Wolverine’s partnership with a wind farm in Huron County has enabled the company to provide five percent of its power from a green source.

In addition, the company is looking into ideas regarding a methane-based power plant based on the utilization of cow manure.

“We are trying to figure out how to position ourselves on the renewable energy side,” Bradstreet said.

With the possible growth of green energy, there is some fear it will have unintended consequences, just as the gold rush did over 150 years ago.

There are some zoning ordinances already in place to prevent wind turbines from becoming eyesores or disturbing neighbors.

Bird watchers, such as Thunder Bay Audubon Society President Linda Klemens, worry wind turbines may change the migration pattern of birds — thus affecting tourism as birdwatchers will no longer visit the area.

The Audubon Society does, however, support properly sited wind farms, pointing to wind power as a clean energy source that “reduces the threat of global warming.”

There is one thing that is undeniable, alternative energy is an ever growing field and experts agree Michigan is positioned to play an integral role in this new technology.

“The smart thing to do is to use what the planet has already provided us that harms no one. This is where the global economy and national economy is going,” Dulzo said.

Janelle Packer can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5695; Sean Harkins can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5688.



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