Alternative Energy: More Research, Information and Funding Needed to Create Viable Wind Farm Energy Program

The push to develop alternative sources of energy continues to gain momentum and has created a sense of urgency among various federal, state and local governmental agencies and private power companies. The Detroit Free Press reported in an article in its Sunday, August 16, 2009 edition that one significant problem of increasing wind and solar energy is the overburdening of the nation’s electrical grid and increasing the threat of blackouts. The funding committed by President Obama to prepare high voltage lines for handling the additional load of alternative energy supply is less than 5% of the 130 billion that power users, producers and the U.S. Energy Department say is needed. The Free Press article quoted John Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as stating that ". . . as we add more wind power, the grid will get more stressed and there is going to be a point where the grid can’t handle anymore." He further stated, "The first thing we need to do is build out transmission capacity."

With that being said, a full refit of the U.S. grid would cost 13 billion dollars annually over ten years, compared with the 5 billion dollars per year averaged over the last decade according to Rich Lordan of the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry funded research organization located in Palo Alto, California.

The amount utilities will spend is limited by how much consumers are willing to pay for transmission work and alternative energy, said Keith Martin, a lawyer at New York based Chadbourne and Parke, LLP who represent developers of renewable projects. The Department of Energy estimates that a new solar power facility costs three times as much as a coal fire plant of the same size.

Closer to home, the State of Michigan is requesting local municipalities to comment on a Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board (WERZ) report. The WERZ report identifies four regions in the state with the highest wind energy potentials which include many areas where the local economy depends on its national lakeshore, inland lakes and natural beauty in the state. One such location identified in the WERZ report is most of the Leelanau peninsula. The possibility of windmills out in Lake Michigan and on land along the coastline is of great concern to county residents. State Senator Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau) has been quoted as indicating ". . . the biggest concern I have with utility grade windmill farms – either out in the lake or on land – is the impact on our local economy. In Leelanau County, we rely so heavily on tourism and the natural beauty of our area. Windmills would certainly affect the aesthetics here." McManus further commented that although there is a need to conserve energy and create jobs, ". . .we also need to take care that constructing windmills all over the place could affect our local economy, particularly tourism."

Local municipalities have been requested to provide input regarding the WERZ report and the deadline for the submission of that input has been extended to September 4, 2009. Many local townships, such an Empire Township in Leelanau County, are seeking wind energy input into scaled down approaches to the alternative energy option by gathering input from their residents regarding the allowance of wind towers producing energy solely for onsite use with height limitations that produce energy solely for onsite use as a special land use with special permission from its planning commission. This approach seems to be the most popular among Leelanau County residents.

In summary, residents seem to be in favor of local use of alternate energy which would be less intrusive with respect to disrupting the natural beauty of the area but yet allow for the supplementing of traditional energy with alternative energy sources for private use.

Our firm will continue to monitor the issues surrounding alternative energy and keep you advised on the relevant issues, both positive and negative, that may affect you as a consumer and/or business owner, as this initiative moves forward.

Dan A. Penning