wind energy

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan has 883 operating wind turbines.

There’s been a big push for wind farms since 2008. That was when lawmakers decided a certain amount of our electricity must come from renewable resources, and utilities built wind turbines to comply.

A wind turbine in the Garden Wind Farm in the Upper Peninsula.
Garden Wind Farm Project

GARDEN, Mich. - Eleven people who live near the first wind farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula say the whir of turbines has reduced property values, diminished their sleep and put birds at risk.

They filed a lawsuit last week in federal court against Heritage Sustainable Energy and the U.S. government, seeking to block expansion and require more study on the impacts.

(courtesy Consumers Energy)

Michigan connected more wind farms to the power grid than almost every other state last year, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Michigan added 175 megawatts of wind power in 2013 – more than 46 other states.

Kim Hansen / Flickr

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.

user vaxomatic / flickr

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.

Last month, Governor Rick Snyder called for less coal power and more renewable energy in Michigan. Utilities are in a good position, but questions remain over whether lawmakers will be able to act before the state's current energy standards expire. We found out more on today's show.

Then, of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14% are women. Why do some female scientists give up? And what can be done to help female students and minorities succeed?

And, we heard from the BBC on how China had become the world leader for wind power.

Also, a group of “free skiers” have found a new ski location in the abandon buildings of Detroit.

First on the show, it's Thursday, time for the first check-in of this New Year with Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes.

Understandably, he has the auto industry on his mind as we prepare for next week's opening of the North American International Auto Show. He got an early look at the show, and he joined us today to discuss it.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Gratiot County Wind Farm has 133 wind turbines scattered over more than 30,000 acres. It's the largest wind farm in Michigan. Each 1.6 megawatt wind turbine can generate enough power for 350 homes.

And this is what it sounds like when you stand directly beneath a wind turbine that stretches more than 450 feet into the sky with the wind blowing between 10 to 15 mph.

(Listen below - You can hear the turbine slow down - I think it's neat, but I'm a nerd.)

Heritage Sustainable Energy / heritagewindenergy.com

When Heritage Sustainable Energy built its first wind farm in 2008, almost all the money was funneled to companies in Europe.

Compare that to the Big Turtle wind farm the company is building now. More than half the materials, turbine parts, engineering, and labor will come from Michigan. That means half of the roughly $40 million project will go to Michigan companies.

Rick Wilson is the company’s vice president of operations. He says they want to build a wind farm that’s "pure Michigan."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - More wind and solar energy users in Michigan are getting billing credit for excess power they generate.

State regulators issued a report last week showing utility customers with their own windmills and solar panels onsite increased the net metering program's production size by 55% from 2011 to 2012.

There also were more than 300 additional residential or business customers taking part in the program last year than the year before.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Four years after raising customers' bills to meet mandates to sell cleaner power, Michigan's biggest utilities are eliminating the fees or slashing them significantly.

Residential customers of DTE Electric may see their $3 monthly surcharge fall to 43 cents under a proposal to state regulators. Consumers Energy's 52-cent monthly fee for residential customers - which once was $2.50 - could go away entirely.

Advocates say the shrinking surcharges for residents and businesses are another reason to make utilities sell more green electricity.

www.genoa.org

The wind turbines installed in Livingston County's Genoa Township 3 years ago are scheduled to be torn down within the coming weeks.

The Genoa Township Board says the turbines are hazardous and have sent aluminum parts flying into surrounding areas on windy days.

We wrapped up our week-long look at energy in Michigan with a focus on wind. Is it really a viable energy source for our state?

And, we headed to Flint to find out how some residents are helping to shape their community through all different types of art.

Also, if you love the sound of pipe organs, head over to the Great Lakes Swell Organs festival happening in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek this weekend. We spoke with program director Brooks Grantier.

First on the show, economic development leaders in Michigan like to talk about the number of manufacturing jobs created in the state in the last couple of years. But Michigan is not keeping up with the job growth of some other states as the nation recovers from the Great Recession.

It's Thursday, which means we talk to Daniel Howes, a business columnist with the Detroit News.

Howes joined us today to discuss Michigan’s anemic job growth.

Tim Wang / Flickr

The potential of wind energy is just beginning to be realized in the U.S.

Some states have been embracing this technology to create electricity, but Michigan has been a little slower to put up as many wind turbines.

Mark Clevey, co-chair at the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, and Victoria Pebbles, program director with the Great lakes Commission, joined us today.

www.geograph.org.uk

Two northern Michigan representatives want to keep the picturesque shoreline of the Great Lakes free of spinning wind turbines.

New legislation introduced by Republicans Greg MacMaster and Ray Franz would stop any proposed research or production of offshore wind power in the Great Lakes that border Michigan.

It would also ban it for the future.

Critics say the bill lacks foresight.

"We think it is a mistake to limit research in this area," said James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council. "We have a number of universities who have gotten grants to do research on offshore wind. It may be decades down the road, but to restrict our ability to even learn the possibilities there is extremely shortsighted."

warrenski / Creative Commons

Check this chart out. Interact with it.

The green circles hovering over each of the fifty states represents each state's green energy consumption, based on recent data from the Energy Information Administration. 

The map was created by Mother Jones, and is a visual aid to understand how much each state used solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A new report finds that most of Michigan's electricity providers are on pace to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015.

The Michigan Public Service Commission's annual renewable energy report released Friday finds the use of wind, the sun and other renewables was expected to have reached 4.7 percent last year. The estimate was 4.4 percent in 2011 - up from 3.6 percent the previous year.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Public Service Commission and Michigan Energy Office officials plan to hold the first of seven forums this week on the state's energy future.

Among those scheduled to speak Thursday in Lansing include representatives of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Environmental Council and Citizens Against Rate Excess.

The four-hour public forum called "Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions" starts at 1 p.m. at the Library of Michigan.

user vaxomatic / flickr

A four-year effort to build a wind farm in mid-Michigan took a big step forward today.   

Clinton County Commissioners voted five to two to approve a permit for the $123 million wind farm project.

Tim Brown is the manager of Forest Hills Energy. He’s glad the long permitting process is over.

“The good thing about the permit process,” says Brown, “It makes for a good strong project.”

Brown says it may take until 2014 before actual construction can begin.

Callum Black / Flickr

With all the buzz around the fiscal cliff in Congress, something happened that you might’ve missed.

There’s a federal tax credit. It’s called the wind energy Production Tax Credit, and it was about to expire at the end of last year.

At the final hour, Congress extended that tax credit, and President Obama signed the bill.

It now covers wind projects that start construction in 2013.

Peter Kelley, a spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, says the credit gives tax relief for the first ten years of a wind farm.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week people in Muskegon have been checking out a rare sight; several giant foreign ships that have docked there to unload cargo.

Crews in neon hard hats carefully lower a nearly 200-foot-long wind turbine blade from a massive ship onto a special truck that’s three times as long as a normal semi-trailer. The carbon fiber blades from Germany weigh about 22,000 pounds. The tower sections shipped from Korea can weigh up to 68 tons.

These thirty blades are destined for a wind farm in Ithaca, south of Mount Pleasant.

About fifty people gathered Thursday afternoon to watch. Families with small children snapped photos.

Life-long Muskegon resident Judy Dobberstein says she’s only seen the foreign ships, or “salties,” a couple of times before.

“This is the best viewing of salties that I think I’ve ever seen; one after another like this. This is really cool,” Dobberstien said.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Wind speed in the middle of Lake Michigan appears to be some of the best in the state for developing wind energy. That’s according to preliminary data from a high-tech research buoy that’s been anchored there all summer.

It’s pretty common knowledge that it’s windy out here off the Lake Michigan shore. But exactly how windy, and when, and what direction, details about bats and birds; none of that information has been available until now.

“I suspect that will ramp up some levels of interest in what we’re doing,” said Arn Boezaart.

Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. He revealed the preliminary data at the center’s annual business meeting Monday afternoon.

“I think we’re demonstrating that we now have the ability to go out onto the Great Lakes and do a very credible and scientifically relevant job of measuring wind speeds, wind capacity that others can use to make whatever decisions they might,” Boezaart said.

Early data show the average offshore wind speed is at least 22 miles an hour. Wind farms have been built on land in Michigan where wind speeds average around 17 miles an hour.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan Attorney General fights to keep juvenile lifers behind bars

"State Attorney General Bill Schuette has not given up on trying to keep so-called juvenile lifers behind bars. Next week, he plans to file to join a case before the state Court of Appeals involving a 21-year-old man convicted in 2006 of assisting a murder. The US Supreme Court in June struck down mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles as unconstitutional. Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout says the attorney general believes the ruling should not apply to people who are already serving sentences. The ACLU of Michigan says the state cannot continue to keep people in jail without a new hearing if the US Supreme Court says the sentence is cruel and unusual. Michigan has more than 360 people serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18," Jake Neher reports.

Flint family pleas for Marine's release

"The family of a Marine veteran  imprisoned in Iran for more than a year, says time is running out for the family to reunite. The Marine's father, a professor at Mott Community College, has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. Amir Hekmati is still being held in Iran on charges of spying for the United States. Both his family and the US government say he is not a spy. But their pleas for his release haven't worked - although his death sentence was overturned by an Iranian court. The family is pleading for their son's release while Amir's father is still alive. The Hekmatis are holding a candlelight vigil in Flint today. They hope their case will be discussed with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while he's in New York this week for a meeting at the UN," Kate Wells reports.

Research buoy shows wind in Lake Michigan averages 22 mph

"Wind speed in the middle of Lake Michigan appears to be some of the best in the state for developing wind energy. That’s according to preliminary data from a high-tech research buoy that’s been anchored there all summer. Early data show the average offshore wind speed is at least 22 miles an hour. Wind farms have been built on land in Michigan where wind speeds average around 17 miles an hour. The research buoy will continue collecting data through December. Ultimately it could determine whether an offshore wind farm is viable in Lake Michigan," Lindsey Smith reports.

user vaxomatic / flickr

The campaigns for and against Proposal 3 on the November ballot are arguing the economic merits of renewable fuels versus coal and gas.

Proposal 3 would require 25 percent of the state’s electricity be generated using wind, the sun, or bio-fuels by 2025.

Ken Sikkema conducted a study for the campaign against Proposal 3.

He compared the costs of renewable generation to the costs of using coal or natural gas.

He found renewable energy will be more expensive. Sikkema says businesses, in particular, need flexibility in planning for their energy needs.

"We don’t know what the cost of fuel’s going to be – for example, natural gas prices are on a downward spiral," says Sikkema. "That could be a factor in, if you need new generation, what do you use? Do you use wind? Do you use natural gas, or coal?"

The campaign for Proposal 3 says the ballot question would help stabilize energy costs, because the cost of wind and solar energy is not as volatile as fossil fuels.

The campaign also says the 25 percent target would help make renewable energy more affordable.

Leah Zuber / Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center

Scientists are analyzing new data that’ll determine whether offshore wind farms are viable in Lake Michigan and the data is more detailed than any available from the Great Lakes so far.

A floating eight-ton research buoy is collecting the data. There are only three such vessels in the world and this is the first one launched in the United States.

The buoy has been anchored about 37 miles off shore for about two months now. Recently crews retrieved the first set of data cards – with information about wind conditions and any bats and birds that fly by. Scientists are now analyzing that data.

Arn Boezaart heads the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that’s operating the buoy. "I think we are getting data at this point that will be very useful and will validate the fact that the wind conditions at mid-lake are very promising for potential future use as a commercially viable wind source," Boezaart says.

But right now there is no clear path to proposing an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes inside the Michigan border.

warrenski / Creative Commons

The City of Holland is backing out of plans for a potential wind farm. The city-owned utility bought the option to lease hundreds of acres in Allegan County after the state identified the area as one of the best in Michigan for wind energy potential.

But after more than a year of serious study, the city doesn’t think there’s enough potential to build the wind farm.

“When we went into this, everything looked like it was going to be a good project to pursue,” said Dan Nally, who directs business services for Holland’s Board of Public Works.

"We shouldn’t take the fact that this project doesn’t go forward that we are not supporting renewable, because we absolutely, positively are. But we will also, at the same time, get the best value that we can,” Nally said.

The wind was good, but not as strong as they had hoped. The plan was to have a 20 mega-watt wind farm-- relatively small compared to large scale commercial projects.

Nally says the utility has spent roughly $678,000 to collect wind data and study the impact on birds, bats and wetlands.

"We don’t feel that any of this money has been wasted. It’s been an investment in understanding what we could and could not do,” Nally said.

Nally says Holland is working on agreements to purchase renewable power from other wind farms, but he declined to give details until any agreement is negotiated.

Holland and all other utilities in Michigan must have 10 percent of their energy come from renewable sources like wind by 2015. Nally says Holland is still on track to meet that requirement.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Supporters say a ballot measure requiring that utilities get more of their electricity from renewable sources would make Michigan a leader in clean energy and create jobs.

Opponents say it would cost electric customers more money and make it harder to provide reliable energy.

On Monday, opponents with the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) for Michigan Coalition plan to ramp up statewide efforts to defeat the issue. They argue the requirement doesn't belong in the state constitution.

Green Energy Futures / Flickr

The Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs coalition wants to increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025.

That would mean that a quarter of all the energy used in Michigan would come from renewable sources like the wind and sun.

The coalition is trying to collect enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November. They'll need to collect a minimum of 322,609 valid signatures by July 9th, 2012. Organizers say their goal is to turn in 500,000 signatures.

And, interestingly enough, the proposal is getting support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Steve Linder is President of Sterling Corporation, a Republican consulting firm. He says his organization is behind the proposal for business reasons. “While we don’t like government mandates, this allows us to use manufacturing capacity in Michigan rather than bringing in $1.6 billion worth of coal from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. So, this is really a business to business ballot initiative and we are very comfortable in making the business and economic case that this keeps dollars in our state and it keeps us at the cutting age of new types of manufacturing technology,” Linder says.

Mark Fisk, a Democrat, is co-partner of Byrum & Fisk, a political consulting firm. He says he’s working on behalf of the initiative because of the jobs it’ll bring to the state and the environmental benefits of renewable energy. “This initiative will create thousands of new Michigan jobs and help boost Michigan’s economy by building a clean energy industry right here in our state. And, it gives Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It’ll protect our Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease, and ultimately save lives,” Fisk says.

michigan.gov

Officials in Eaton County are considering a proposal that would see the construction of several dozen wind turbines.

The plan from Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy LLC would create a 63-turbine wind farm and, as the Lansing State Journal reports, the Oneida Township Planning Commission is looking into amending zoning restrictions to accommodate the project.

More from the Journal:

Approval of the ordinance changes are under review because the turbines are not currently regulated by the ordinance...The draft ordinance covers placement, maximum size, setback requirements and eventual removal requirements for wind turbine towers, and also regulates noise and electromagnetic interference.

Based on applications filed with the Federal Aviation Authority, each wind turbine is expected to be nearly 500 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the blades, and would be located within a 42 square mile area.

While the proposed wind farm could provide power for up to 30,000 homes, the Lansing State Journal writes that the plan does face some opposition, including from the advisory board of the Grand Ledge Abrams Municipal Airport, which cites concerns about increased air turbulence in the area. 

Even if the plan is approved, actual construction would depend on the results of wind studies in the area, a process that could take up to a year.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Lansing is turning to a new source for its electric power.

"Thank you all for joining us on this breezy, lovely day in downtown Lansing…perfect for the announcement that we’re here to make," [Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero joked, as high winds spun three small scale wind turbines on the plaza in front of Lansing city hall.    The turbines are part of a one year trial.

John DeGray is with Windstream Technologies, an Indiana company developing  small corkscrew shaped wind turbines for residential and business use.

The Glosten Associates

One major investor could make all the difference for a group hoping to test a prototype of a floating offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes. The group needs about $3 million to apply for a federal matching grant to support testing the floating wind farm concept.

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