Utilities power up renewable energy efforts

Posted on February 4, 2011

Michigan utilities are adding to their wind and solar portfolios as they strive to meet the state’s mandate to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015.

A massive wind farm under construction in Gratiot County north of Lansing is one of the most recent efforts by Detroit Edison to bolster its renewable energy portfolio. The farm, the largest wind farm in Michigan, will contain 125 wind turbines on 30,000 acres and is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

Under a 20-year, $1.1 billion agreement, Detroit Edison, a subsidiary of DTE Energy and the largest utility in Metro Detroit with 2.1 million customers, will buy 200 megawatts from the farm, enough energy to power 54,000 homes.

“Our goal is to have 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2015,” said spokesman Scott Simons. “Half of that would be owned and operated by us and the other half would be purchase power.”

Detroit Edison generated about 2.5 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2009; the wind farm will boost that to 4 percent.

Among Michigan’s utilities, renewable energy percentages in 2009 ranged from 1.5 percent by Indiana Michigan Power Co. to 4.7 percent by Consumers Energy Co.

Signed into law in October 2008, Michigan’s Clean, Renewable and Efficient Energy Act established a renewable energy standard for the state and requires Michigan electric utilities to reach at least 10 percent renewable energy by 2015. Utilities can use wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric sources to meet the mandate.

Detroit Edison and Consumers are the largest electric providers in Michigan, and both are confident they will meet the mandate through existing facilities and projects in the works.

Michigan is among 29 states and Washington, D.C., that require utilities to have renewable portfolio standards, but the Great Lakes state ranks near the bottom in terms of percentages in renewable energy, said Jennifer Alvarado, executive director for the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, which works with nearly 300 renewable energy companies in Michigan and others seeking to enter the industry.

Michigan, she said, lags other states because its law came later than other states. She praised efforts by Consumers Energy for encouraging customers to get on board. The utility pays a limited number of customers who produce solar electricity a fee per kilowatt hour.

“We’re looking to have other programs like that across the state,” she said.

Like Detroit Edison, Jackson-based Consumers Energy expects most of its renewable energy to come through wind, said spokesman Dan Bishop.

Consumers Energy, which has nearly 1.8 million electric customers, has several agreements in place to buy wind power and plans to build its own wind parks in Mason County on the state’s west side and Tuscola and Huron counties in Michigan’s Thumb. Bishop said each project is an estimated $250 million investment.

“Wind parks provide an economic boost for the communities that host them and increase tax payments,” he said.

The Mason County farm will generate 100 megawatts and could begin running by late 2012; the Tuscola County farm will generate about 350 megawatts and open in phases between late 2015 and 2017, he said.

The Detroit Edison wind farm in Gratiot County is being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy Wind. The utility recently bought 56 of the farm’s turbines, making it the first wind farm partly owned by the company, Simons said.

Currently, Detroit Edison buys about 20 megawatts of electricity from Heritage Sustainable Energy LLC, produced at the Stoney Corners wind farm near Cadillac.

Detroit Edison also is producing electricity through solar means, including at an upgraded facility in Washtenaw County’s Scio Township that includes 270 solar panels. This spring the utility expects to receive 1.7 megawatts of solar power from installations at companies such as Ford Motor Co., Simons said. “We’re full steam ahead as far as meeting the (mandate).”
From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110203/BIZ/102030344/Utilities-power-up-renewable-energy-efforts#ixzz1D01Tz5cB