The first in a series of brief reports from the Grand Valley State University West Michigan Wind Assessment project has highlighted a few key factors that historically seem to have the strongest impacts for and against wind farm proposals.
The first such factor cited by the principal investigator on the assessment project is existing access to the electricity grid.
“That’s why West Michigan is an attractive place for wind energy development — because we have an electricity grid in our area that has capacity to absorb more projects, and it is relatively close to the windy places,” said Eric Nordman, a GVSU professor of Natural Resources Management and the de facto supervisor of the research project.
The brief report, “Wind Energy Deployment: Global Lessons for West Michigan,” summarizes factors that have influenced wind energy development across the country and around the world.
According to the brief, as of March, there were at least four wind farm projects in West Michigan in which the developers have requested permission to connect to the electrical grid in the future. That information is based on data compiled by the Midwest Independent System Operator an independent, nonprofit organization that supports the reliable delivery of electricity in 13 U.S. states — including Michigan — and the Canadian province of Manitoba. In the Midwest, MISO administers the electrical energy market and identifies improvements that will be needed in the electrical transmission infrastructure. MISO, however, does not reveal the identity of the developers or the location of the planned wind generation projects, although the four active projects in West Michigan are in Oceana and Ottawa counties.
Wind farm proposals in the MISO queue do not include the Aegir Offshore Wind Project in Lake Michigan off Oceana and Mason counties, first proposed informally last December by Scandia Wind Offshore, a Minnesota company. SWO CEO Steve Warner told the Business Journal earlier this year that the Aegir proposal is still “very preliminary” and no formal, specific proposals have been made to any government entities yet. Nordman said SWO has not yet requested permission to wait in the MISO queue for future connection to the grid.
However, Warner did make the point that high-voltage transmission lines already in place near the Lake Michigan shore in Mason County and in Muskegon have played a major part in bringing SWO to West Michigan.
The Ludington Pumped Storage Facility on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan just south of Ludington has 345 kilovolt transmission lines tied to the grid, and the B.C. Cobb power plant on Muskegon Lake has “the kind of transmission lines that support a 500 megawatt wind farm as well,” said Warner.
“These two pieces of infrastructure combine to make the prospects for a wind farm very interesting, just from a technical standpoint,” said Warner.
The GVSU report highlights another key factor affecting wind farm proposals – the “permitting process” by government. States and other countries with “a more streamlined, top-down permitting process have more wind energy deployment,” according to the brief.
Michigan, however, follows the standard practice of most states, which means the local units of government control the location of wind farms through zoning ordinances. The Michigan Public Service Commission “recently reaffirmed the state’s interest in maintaining local control of wind energy permitting,” according to the brief.
Wisconsin has a uniform standard regarding local ordinances, in which “communities can choose to be less restrictive, but they cannot be more restrictive than the state-wide ordinance” regarding wind farms, said Nordman.
He said Texas allows “very minimal permitting at the local level.”
“They’re giving up local controls” in Texas, he said, while “Michigan has come down on the side of maintaining local control and having communities decide what’s best for themselves.”
The GVSU report indicates that organized opposition to wind farm proposals appears to have a larger impact than organized support in favor of wind farms.