But it was a fairly warm day and appropriately breezy outside when Dick Vanderveen announced that his firm’s two towering wind turbine generators had come on line and were pushing electrical current into the Consumers Energy power grid.
Both generators, manufactured by NEG-Micon, a Danish firm, lie outside the village of Mackinaw City and are easily visible to the west to drivers on the Mackinac Bridge.
Vanderveen, a lawyer with Miller, Johnson, Snell and Cummiskey here in Grand Rapids, is the president and CEO of Bay Windowpower LLC, which erected the two 900 kilowatt wind turbines atop masts that are 256 feet high.
The other principals of Bay Windpower are Tom Fehsenfeld, CFO, of Grand Rapids, who also is president of Crystal Flash, a locally based propane and petroleum company, and Steve Smiley, vice president, of Sutton’s Bay, who is president of Bay Energy Services Inc.
Aside from their business interests, the three officers also are leaders of organizations focused on corporate “green thinking.”
Vanderveen is the former chairman of the Michigan Small Business Clean Air Panel, and Fehsenfeld is the founding chairman of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. Smiley is president of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Institute.
They founded Bay Windpower in 1999 with the main goal of providing new clean power for the Great Lakes at competitive prices.
Crystal Flash is the lead investor in constructing the two wind turbines. A second phase of construction will lead to the installment of three more wind turbine generators, which combined will produce an estimated 12,000 megawatts of new power.
Vanderveen said the firm sees the Mackinaw wind project as one with far-reaching benefits that will serve as a first mover in redefining how the state, Consumers Energy and customers in the state get their energy.
“The general public and the business community are very interested in affordable, renewable energy sources, and we have no greater resource than the wind coming off our Great Lakes. We are very excited about harnessing that resource to serve the needs of energy customers while protecting those very same Great Lakes in the process.”
The firm notes that thanks to its shoreline, Michigan is one of the windier states in the union and probably would be ideal for more wind firms.
And the nice thing about wind firms, according to Bay Windpower, is that they cause almost no interference with the rural land they typically occupy. In terms of access roads, assorted equipment and the bases of the masts themselves, they actually take up only about 5 percent of the property upon which they stand. The rest of the land is available for grazing or farming.
According to the information released by the firm, wind turbine efficiency has radically improved over the technology’s 20-year history. This has caused the cost of electrical generation by wind to drop from 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, to as low as three cents to six cents, depending upon the constancy of the weather.
That’s still higher than the cost of coal-generated power — unless one adheres to the premise of an August article in Science magazine, which sets the true cost of coal generation at five cents to eight cents per kilowatt-hour.
The Science article, cited by Bay Windpower, contends that the actual consumer price of coal power does not include the public costs of social, environmental and health problems arising from coal-fired power generation, which are reflected in tax bills.
According to Bay Windpower, consumers who wish to use the firm’s zero-emissions power may do so through Consumers Energy. Through an agreement with the power company, Bay Windpower will provide the two turbines’ first four million kilowatt-hours of electricity for customers enrolled in the Consumers Energy green power pilot program.
According to the big power company, signing up for wind power is simple. Details are available through the Consumers Energy Web site: www.consumersenergy.com. One also may call (800) 477-5050.
The two Mackinaw city generators are rated at 900 kilowatts. NEG Micon builds turbines rated up to 1.5 megawatts and installs them from Japan to Germany and, indeed, in the North Sea shallows off Denmark’s own coast.
The turbines’ size is deceptive since they are located virtually a full football field length above the eye of the viewer. Manufacturers’ photos of the production of the turbine hubs are startling in that the hubs dwarf the workers who are sitting atop them.
The hubs, in fact, look considerably larger in circumference than the engines of 747 airliners.
To function efficiently, wind turbines need steady winds averaging at least 14 mph.
One finds the turbines on the west coast, high on some mountains and dotted about the Great Plains of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma where the wind almost never ceases.
It was just about 25 years ago that county planners on the West Michigan shoreline joined what then was Consumers Power in shopping for federal grants for a pilot wind power project. That was in Muskegon County.
The technology at the time, however, was seen as too inefficient.