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Economic Evolution in the Great Lakes State
Mon July 11, 2011
reWorking Michigan: wind energy's future in the Great Lake State
By Scott Pohl, WKAR
Lansing, MI –
Michigan utilities are working towards a mandate of generating 10% of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2015. As that deadline approaches, wind power is proving to be a key component.
In this week's edition of "ReWorking Michigan", WKAR's Scott Pohl reports on how energy created by the wind could help the state meet that requirement. | SKIP down to article
Horrocks Farm Market is a 52-year-old business with a retail operation in Delta Township west of Lansing. When you visit the store, a prominent fixture next to the building is a wind turbine.
The store's website indicates that it cost $15,000 when it was installed five years ago, and it supplies less than 10% of their energy needs.
To owner Kim Horrocks, that isn't the point. Rather, he thinks it's important to move toward renewable energy sources like wind power to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil.
"If we solve that problem, by whatever means, and there are probably many ways to solve it, no single thing is going to be the answer, then we can become the economic leaders," Horrocks says. "We can become the low cost providers in this world economy. And that, economic might, is the foundation of everything else that's important to us."
Horrocks is considering putting in another turbine -- bigger this time -- at the Horrocks farm north of Portland.
Single turbines like the one at Horrocks is one way of using the wind to generate power. Another is large-scale wind farms. There's one planned for Michigan's thumb region.
Alternative energy production and the manufacturing of equipment like turbines were priorities for the administration of former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Her special advisor on renewable energy and the environment was Skip Pruss, who also chaired the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council.
Pruss says the governor wanted to make Michigan a center for wind power-related manufacturing.
"We've always focused on the manufacturing opportunity," Pruss says. "It aligns so well with all of our strengths, and we intend to export this technology regionally, nationally, and internationally, and some exciting things are about to happen in Michigan."
One problem Pruss says will need to be resolved is where to put wind farms. Few single owners have tracts of land large enough for a wind farm, so utilities will have to gain access to lots of small parcels. While that's more expensive, he says it's inevitable.
"We will see lots of wind farms in Michigan, and we'll see them onshore," Pruss says. "We'll even see them offshore in the Great Lakes, but that will take some time. And with the technology improving and the towers getting higher, and the turbines being able to produce much more energy from a single machine, there's just more and more opportunity in the future."
The move toward wind power is continuing in the first six months of Governor Rick Snyder's administration. Steve Bakkal is director of the Michigan Energy Office.
"The Governor has come out and said he's supportive of, for example, the RPS, the renewable portfolio standard," Bakkal says. "That was a law that went into effect in 2008 that requires our utility companies to generate 10% of their electricity from renewable sources, and the companies have come out with their plans of how they're going to reach that, and most of it is going to be generated from wind power, and that has to be done by 2015."
While making wind power economically feasible is important, it remains secondary to Kim Horrocks. After all, he says it might take 15 years for the energy savings to offset what was spent on his turbine, even though he hasn't had any maintenance costs.
Back at his farm market, he says converting to renewable energy sources is crucial to America's security.
"If we just kick the can down the road," Horrocks says, "we're going to experience this problem over and over and over and over again, and we get ourselves into situations domestically and in foreign entanglements that we would not otherwise get into."
For 90.5 WKAR, I'm Scott Pohl with ReWorking Michigan.
For more on job creation and workforce evolution in Michigan, visit WKAR.org/reworkingmichigan