The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, which is undergoing an $800 million upgrade, holds 27 billion gallons of water as part of its energy storage process. Courtesy Consumers Energy
The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant is turning 40, and politicians in Lansing and Washington are singing its praises. Meanwhile, the electricity storage facility, jointly owned by Consumers Energy and DTE Electric, is in the first year of a planned six-year, $800 million upgrade that will employ 100 construction workers each year.
Perched on a high bluff on Lake Michigan four miles south of Ludington, it is a manmade, 842-acre paved reservoir holding 27 billion gallons of water that are pumped up to it 363 feet each night from Lake Michigan when demand on the state’s electricity grid is low. During the day, when demand is much higher, the water is released back down into the lake, through the same six giant turbines that generate enough power for 1.4 million people. Its current generating capacity is 1,872 megawatts, with the six turbines each rated at approximately 450,000 horsepower — more than aircraft carrier engines.
The six penstocks through which the lake water flows are about 1,300 feet long and 28 feet in diameter — large enough for a semi-truck to drive through.
The plant does not really add more electricity to the grid, but rather stores a great deal of energy from the grid during the night by reversing its turbines to pump water into the reservoir. Much, but not all of the electricity, is put back on the grid during the day, when the water is released back down through the turbines. Some electricity is lost in the process.
The 1,872 megawatt capacity is more than double that of the largest Consumers Energy generating plant.
The six-year project that started earlier this year will replace the six turbines with more efficient models, increasing the plant’s generating capacity by 15 percent and its efficiency by 5 percent. Once the overhaul is complete, the plant will be able to produce enough electricity for about 1.65 million people.
Large generating plants operate most efficiently at a continuous, consistent output, 24 hours a day. The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant stores the unneeded energy generated at night, releasing it during the day when demand is high.
According to Consumers Energy, the upgrade involves a major contract with Toshiba International Corp. for fabrication and installation of the six new turbines. Consumers said Toshiba is a global leader in electric generator technology and was awarded the contract through a competitive bidding process. Terms of the contract were not released.
The plant is adjacent to CE’s first wholly owned commercial wind farm, Lake Winds, which went online last year. Its 56 turbines have a total generating capacity of slightly more than 100 megawatts.
The high-voltage transmission lines required to tie a commercial wind farm into the grid are very expensive to build and, next to the average wind speed, is one of the two most important economic considerations in selecting a site for a wind farm.
Lake Winds Energy Park is “not here because of the Pumped Storage Plant; we’re here because of the transmission line that serves the Pumped Storage,” Consumers spokesperson Dennis Marvin told the Business Journal last year.
Three 345,000-volt capacity transmission lines connect Ludington Pumped Storage to the grid, and pass through the 16,000-acre area just to the east, where the wind turbines are now located.
Construction began on the facility in 1969, and it went online in 1973. At that time, it was the largest facility of its kind in the world — essentially, a giant wet cell battery. Today, it is the fourth largest of its kind, according to Consumers.
In 1973, it was named the Outstanding Engineering Achievement of the Year by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1987, it was named one of the 10 outstanding engineering achievements in Michigan’s first 150 years, and in 1999, one of Michigan’s top 10 civil engineering projects of the 20th century by the Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
In July, Gov. Rick Snyder, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Sen. Goeff Hansen of Hart and Rep. Ray Franz of Onekama signed a special tribute at the State Capitol, commemorating the plant's 40th anniversary. Franz personally delivered the tribute to the plant, where employees and their families celebrated with a tour of the facilities.
In addition, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan’s 2nd District made a floor statement that was printed in the Congressional Record, congratulating employees on the accomplishments at the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant.
“We are deeply honored to receive this recognition for Ludington Pumped Storage from legislators in Lansing and Washington,” said William Schoenlein, manager of hydro and renewable generation for Consumers and plant manager of Ludington Pumped Storage.