option aims to reduce pollution
Heinlein / Detroit News Lansing Bureau
CITY -- Slender polymer blades atop 256-foot towers
are cranking out enough wind-generated electricity for 572
Michigan homes and businesses whose owners have signed up
to use "green power."
They are part of a project to build as
many as 25 modern windmills, mostly in the breezy Straits
of Mackinac area, that could serve up to 12,775 customers
statewide. The idea is to reduce the state's dependency
on coal-fired plants and nuclear generating facilities,
according to the man building them.
"The goal is cleaner air, cleaner water
and protecting our Great Lakes for future generations,"
said Rich VanderVeen, president of Grand Rapids-based Bay
Windpower. He also hopes, of course, to make some money.
Technology makes wind a feasible power
source in Michigan and other states, reducing the need to
build as many conventional generating plants. The propeller-topped
towers, a bit gawky-looking, are becoming common in Europe
-- where more than 10,000 have been built. They supply 10
percent of Denmark's electricity, VanderVeen said.
Here, Bay Windpower has a contract to
supply up to 35.85 megawatts of wind-generated power to
the grid of electric lines run by Consumers Energy in 61
of the Lower Peninsula's 68 counties.
"It's time that Michigan finally started
adopting this as an energy source," said James Clift, policy
director of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing.
His group ranks Michigan as 14th among states for having
dependable enough winds to use this alternative energy source.
Most of the ideal areas are along shorelines of the Great
Under an agreement between Bay Windpower
and Consumers Energy, the environmentally conscious customers
can sign up to use wind-produced power for 10 percent, half
or all of their electricity. They have to pay a surcharge,
however: $19.20 a month for all of the 600 kilowatt hours
used monthly by the average home, $9.60 a month if they
opt for the 50-percent "green power" option or $1.92 for
Enough customers have contracted with
Consumers Energy to use all of the electricity generated
by the two Mackinaw City towers. So VanderVeen is moving
ahead with plans for three more wind towers next spring
in the same area near I-75.
He also is involved in talks with officials
in St. Ignace, north across the Mackinac Bridge from Mackinaw
City, where he hopes to build two more towers. Those would
feed into the power grid of Sault Ste. Marie-based Edison
Sault Electric Co., which generates 40 percent of its power
from hydroelectric plants on the St. Mary's River and also
buys power wholesale from Consumers Energy.
In Traverse City, another contractor built
a wind turbine in 1996 -- now operating at full capacity.
Jim Cooper, head of Traverse City Light and Power Co., said
it was relatively easy to find 110 homeowners and 15 businesses
to buy all of the power it can produce at a surcharge averaging
$7.58 a month. And the 160-foot tower is an attraction.
"We take people up there for tours," said
Cooper. "It's fun, if you like heights."
The surcharge is the only drawback, acknowledged
Clift of the Environmental Council. The main reason wind
power costs more, he said, is that state environmental laws
help keep the cost of coal-fired energy artificially low.
They don't require that power plants do enough to clean
health-threatening pollutants from smoke emitted by their
His council hopes Congress adopts a proposed
policy being debated with a national energy bill in the
U.S. Senate. It would require utilities to get part of their
energy from renewable "green" sources, then include those
costs in their regular rates. That would eliminate the need
for a separate class of customers paying higher rates.
"Making people pay a premium sends a mixed
message," Clift said. "We applaud those who do it. They
truly are making a statement."
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