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Despite political setback in the Thumb, growth in Michigan wind energy expected to continue

One of the 475 turbines in Huron County, where voters recently rejected proposals to construct two new wind farms.
One of the 475 turbines in Huron County, where voters recently rejected proposals to construct two new wind farms.

Stateside's conversation with Skip Pruss, who was chief energy officer during the Granholm administration.

The state of Michigan’s renewable energy mandate requires energy providers to supply 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2022. So far, all of Michigan’s providers are on track to meet that goal.

Wind energy has been a big part of that success. In Michigan’s Thumb, which includes Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac Counties, wind farms have become a part of the landscape.

But wind energy is also facing resistance in that part of the state. In early May, voters in Huron County, where there are 475 wind turbines in operation, rejected proposals to allow the development of two new wind farms.

That represents a setback to wind energy in Michigan, but not a fatal blow, said Skip Pruss,

Pruss served as Michigan's chief energy officer during the Granholm administration and is a co-founder of 5-Lakes Energy, a clean energy consulting firm. He told Stateside that while residents of the Thumb are suffering from “turbine fatigue,” other areas of the state may be more amenable to new wind farm development.

“We have Gratiot County, for instance, which has almost as many turbines as Huron County,” he said. “But in that community, there’s very little opposition to wind. Indeed, county officials, local townships are inviting more wind projects into that area.”

One explanation for the warmer attitudes toward wind farms in Gratiot County may be economic. While Huron County has a substantial tourism industry and shorefront property where nice views are a valuable resource, Gratiot County’s economy is largely agricultural.

Pruss said that farmers in Gratiot County appreciate the reliable, long-term income provided by wind farm leases on their land.  

Going forward, there are reasons to expect growth in Michigan’s wind energy industry to continue.

The state’s largest energy provider recently announced that it will cut carbon emissions 80% by 2050, largely by replacing coal plants with natural gas, wind, and solar.

Meanwhile, major employers, including Dow Chemical and General Motors, have made pledges to cut carbon emissions by using renewable energy to power their plants and offices.

One reason those companies are interested in renewable energy is simple financial math. Wind energy is now cheaper than coal, and improvements in turbine technology means prices should continue to fall.

According to Pruss, those same improvements should help the state meet rising demand, even if voters in other shoreline communities follow Huron County’s lead. More efficient turbines will enable the development of wind farms in less-windy parts of the state.

“Large areas of central Michigan are candidates now for utility-scale wind projects,” Pruss said.

Listen to our full interview with Skip Pruss above.

(Subscribe to the Stateside podcast oniTunes,Google Play, or with thisRSS link)

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Nick Wallace