wind energy

Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

A controversial plan for a wind farm in the Upper Peninsula has been cancelled. Renewable Energy Systems was behind the project which aimed to put 49 wind turbines across 28,000 acres in L’Anse Township.

In a statement, RES said the project was no longer financially or logistically viable.

Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

This week on Points North, a renewable energy company wants to build a wind farm in a forested part of the Upper Peninsula, but there’s resistance. Plus, the last coal plant providing electricity in the U.P. shuts down.

From the top of a mountain, a snowy landscape with trees reveals a view of Lake Superior in the distance.
Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Most wind energy projects in Michigan are on farmland in the southern part of the state. They are often controversial even there, but one company wants to put a wind farm in an Upper Peninsula forest. Many community members don’t feel that’s the right place either.

Wind energy became popular because it can reduce the need for polluting coal and gas generated electricity. But, things are shifting now.

“The primary driver is economics,” said Stanley “Skip” Pruss with Five Lakes Energy, a consulting firm on sustainable energy.

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.

Tom Carr

Michigan has a number of wind farms because the state basically made them mandatory in 2008. That was when lawmakers decided a certain amount of our electricity must come from renewable resources, and utilities built wind turbines to comply.

Now, wind energy is, by some measurements, among the cheapest ways to keep the lights on. But nobody seems to be rushing to build more.

In fact, the man who has developed the wind farms we have in northern Michigan says his enthusiasm for wind is waning.

As recently as a couple of months ago, construction of a wind farm in Lake Erie, off the Ohio shoreline near Cleveland, looked promising. But now some are sounding the death knell for any wind development in the Great Lakes. 

The Department of Energy estimates the country has an offshore wind capacity of four million megawatts. That’s four times the generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.

Michigan was among a handful of states working with federal agencies a few years ago to speed up the development of wind farms off the shores of the Great Lakes. 

Wind energy developer Lorry Wagner says leaders started looking toward the energy sector to create more jobs. He says that’s when they realized the region’s potential for offshore wind energy.

“The real resource is in the lake. And the reason for that is you get about three times the energy due to the higher wind speeds and less turbulence than you do on land," he says.

Tom Carr

If the wind is right, the Buckley area could see 60 power generating windmills rise above the fields.

That's about what it would take to crank out enough electricity to power more than 30,000 homes, which is what NextEra Energy Resources hopes to produce here. Wexford County does not currently have any windmills feeding power to the utility grid.

The Juno Beach, Fla. company is asking the county's permission to first put up a tower to measure the wind, says spokesman Steve Stengel.

Will Ray Franz’s luck run out this year? Democrats from Ludington to Northport are hoping it will as Tom Stobie launches his candidacy for the 101st State House District. Stobie wants the nomination to challenge Franz in November. In the last two elections, Democrats took about 49 percent of the vote against Franz.

Stobie just retired after 10 years as superintendent of Frankfort-Elberta Schools. He says Republicans have dismantled Michigan’s public education system. Rather than just get mad, he decided to do something about it.

Peter Payette

Plans for wind farms along the coast of Lake Michigan had people up in arms from Benzie County to Mason County a few years ago. One did get built near Ludington, and the county is still working through the difficulties of living with it.

Windmills have been spinning in Mason County since late 2012. There are more than 50, owned by Consumers Energy. There is still a sharp debate about the impact they have, but there are also signs people have warmed up to the towering machines.

In China, more and more cities are seeing their streets filled with smog as cars and power stations pollute the air. One response by the Chinese government is to launch a major push for cleaner renewable energy. China is now the world's leading producer of wind power and it has plans to install thousands of turbines every year, especially in the remote regions in the country's far west.

That's where the BBC's science editor David Shukman is, and he sent us this report.

Listen to the full audio above.

Our state is working to get its energy needs met by wind and other renewable sources.

Right now, state law mandates that electric providers must obtain 10% of their electricity sales from renewable resources by 2015.

We're on track to do that.

But a recent report turned in to Governor Snyder says we could boost that to 30% by 2035. And when compared to neighboring states, Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard, the RPS, is not as robust as it could be.

John Quackenbush is the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission who led the renewable energy study at the Governor's request, and James Clift is the director of the Michigan Environmental Council. They joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

Mason County is not ready for another wind farm, at least not in 2014. County commissioners Tuesday extended their resolution to keep the number of wind turbines at 56 for one more year.

The Lake Winds Energy Park south of Ludington is the source of ongoing disputes. The county says Consumers Energy is violating noise ordinances and needs to address the problem. Consumers challenged those conclusions at a hearing last week. Meanwhile, some neighbors are suing the energy company.

Consumers Energy

Consumers Energy will defend its wind farm before a Mason County appeals board Wednesday night. The utility is resisting an order by the county to tone down the noise from several of its turbines.

Last summer, a consultant found that noise from four of the eight turbines it tested exceeded what’s allowed by Mason County’s wind ordinance. In September, the planning commission ordered Consumers Energy to submit a plan to reduce the noise.