The farm fields and rolling hills near Ludington, Michigan, sport new decoration now: big wind turbines that take advantage of the gales of nearby Lake Michigan. Consumers Energy, Michigan’s statewide utility, is constructing the $235 million, 56-turbine, 100-megawatt Lake Winds Energy Park with Danish-designed Vestas equipment, some of which arrives in Mason County by rail. The winter white towers and turbine blades soar above orchards, forest, and cropland, powerful sentinels of Michigan’s capacity to reckon with the new economic and environmental conditions of the 21st century.
On Sunday, a wondrous August afternoon of towering banks of cumulus clouds and brilliant blue Michigan sky, I drove by the wind park. It’s impressive, not only because of the scale of the enterprise, but also what it represents. Consumers Energy found a way to deal with grassroots opposition and build a clean energy installation that responds to climate change, promotes advanced manufacturing, and gets people in Michigan a little more comfortable with generating electricity with an energy source other than coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy.
One impending, and potentially disastrous impediment, though, is the reluctance by Republicans in Congress to renew federal clean energy tax credits, so crucial to financing new alternative energy projects. Vestas, for instance, said again this week that it is prepared to layoff 1,600 workers, most of them in Colorado, if the tax credits are not renewed by year-end.
Still, Michigan’s clean energy industry is persistent. In November Michigan voters will decide on whether or not to more than double the amount of electricity that must be produced from renewable energy — 25 percent by 2025, up from the current goal of 10 percent by 2015, which was enacted in 2008. Jacob Wheeler, a colleague at Circle of Blue, today posted a fine assessment of this proposal and how it fits in the roiled energy policy and politics of the Great Lakes region.
Over at the Michigan Land Use Institute, managing editor Jim Dulzo reports on how careful planning and a sound strategy helped a wind developer, Richard Vander Veen, build a big wind energy park in Gratiot County north of Lansing, the state capital.
So, despite all manner of market challenges and political resistance, there’s progress here in Michigan on clean energy.
– Keith Schneider