The nation’s political winds blow against a clean environment, but Michigan’s turbines are still turning

wind turbine

Renewable energy is the state’s future, and a new plan for more of it is smart policy

Late in 2016, the Michigan Legislature did something remarkable: Republican and Democratic lawmakers set aside partisan differences and worked creatively and collaboratively to set the course for our state’s energy future. The result was an energy plan that was good for Michigan ratepayers and praised by business leaders, leaders from both parties, as well as conservation and environmental groups -- including the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

That plan took effect April 20, setting Michigan on track to generate 15 percent or more of our energy using renewable sources. This truly represents a floor for Michigan’s potential renewable generation because today, renewable energy is not only the cleaner option, but also increasingly less expensive than the alternatives. The director of the Michigan Agency for Energy ‒ Valerie Brader made that point in 2015, acknowledging that “the renewable energy we’re adding is actually helping to lower energy prices because it’s so competitive.”

The 2016 law will also reduce needless energy waste by at least one percent each year, because ‒ paraphrasing Governor Snyder ‒ “The cheapest, cleanest form of energy available is the energy we don’t use in the first place.”

Lisa Wozniak is executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters

This is an incredibly important step forward, but it didn’t happen without concerted effort and intentional education. When the original policy options were introduced, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and many others were deeply concerned with what was on the table in Lansing. Early proposals aimed to repeal the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, which were adopted with bipartisan support in 2008, and institute steep fees that would decimate the residential solar industry. These proposals would have put us on an entirely different path as a state, but thanks to months of hard work, we were able to help produce a plan that truly works for Michigan.

Part of the credit goes to Gov. Snyder, who came out early in 2015 to make the case for an energy plan that focused on reducing energy waste while boosting inexpensive, clean energy. His leadership was instrumental in setting up the terms of the debate around developing affordable, reliable, adaptable and clean energy.

The governor’s fundamental goal was a strong Michigan-centered energy policy that would rein in rising electricity costs for Michigan families and businesses. This is exactly what Michigan’s new clean energy standards will do, as evidenced by the analysis of the 2008 standards by the nonpartisan Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC).

The MPSC found that Michigan’s 2008 renewable energy standard brought in about $3.3 billion of private investment to the state through 2016, creating thousands of jobs in the process. The case for reducing energy waste is even stronger, with the MPSC finding that ratepayers save $4.35 for every $1 invested by the utilities in energy efficiency.

While the governor set the stage for the debate, ultimately it was the persistence of regular Michiganders over the past two years that drove this smart policy forward.

In 2016, Michigan LCV members sent more than 10,000 messages to Snyder and legislative leaders, made thousands of phone calls and attended hundreds of community events and meetings with decision-makers. The flood of advocacy in Democratic and Republican districts made it clear that, for Michiganders, protecting our land, air and water by paving the way toward a clean energy future is a nonpartisan priority.  

Our new energy law puts Michigan on track to see continued development of clean energy, lower electric bills, and less air pollution. Michigan’s electrical utilities ‒ as noted recently by Consumers Energy’s Brandon Hofmeister ‒ are using this new law as a platform to build upon for the future: they are investing in renewable energy, reducing energy waste, retiring out-of-date coal power plants, and updating Michigan’s aging energy infrastructure.

There is more work to be done to promote clean energy development here in Michigan, and an urgent need to go further, but Michiganders should be proud that our state is on track to a clean energy future.

With the future of energy and environmental policy on the federal level increasingly uncertain, state-based leadership is critically important. President Trump has moved to end the Clean Power Plan, eliminate funding for Great Lakes restoration, and dramatically reduce the funding and scope of work for environmental protection, overall.

The majority of Michigan’s congressional delegation ‒ joined by congressional leaders from across the region ‒ have stated that they will stand up for our Great Lakes and other key environmental protections. While all this is happening in Washington, it is imperative that we encourage continued bipartisan work in Lansing.

In 2016, Michigan set an example for the nation of how a state can come together to craft smart policies that improve the economy, lower costs for Michigan families and businesses and protect the health of our communities and our Great Lakes. The law that now takes effect shows we have reason to hope the state can, and will, do it again.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Robert Nelson
Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:10am

Although the energy law reflected a bipartisan effort to move Michigan forward, the utilities got exactly what they wanted- the ability to raise rates every ten months with little opposition.

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:15am

Are you kidding me? This article is nothing more than liberal gobbledygook. Alternative energy has proven that its not ready for prime time. It costs 4 times as much (read the required energy pricing to be paid for alternative energy law which was put into effect by our so called representative legislature entirely on behalf of the energy producers not citizens ) as coal fired or nuclear production. And all of these so called free energy project require vast landscapes because the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. That means that energy company investments are returning profits to the company regardless of their efficiency of productive output. Talk about a no brainer, the whole energy plan is to benefit the Consumers and DTE....and nobody else. Ask yourself, would DTE and Consumers be contributing so much money to legislators campaigns if alternative energy wasn't artificially allowed to make these huge profits without even lifting a finger?

Fri, 05/05/2017 - 12:20pm

I must be really behind the times. I don't know what is meant by "clean energy," "renewable energy," or "reducing energy waste." But I do know that people that speak about the topic in this way are usually clamoring for money. This huge, huge industry. Don't know about it, but I pay lots for it. Can someone explain in plain English?

George Ranville
Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:36am

This is all lovely except:
We have to have natural gas generated or fission power to back up this sporadic, extremely expensive source. This power source requires subsidies. Constantly.
These unsightly monstrosities destroy our natural beauty and skylines. So ugly.
They are lethal to raptors and other birds. We went away from DDT because it damaged our birds. Now we are pressing forward with these bird manglers? As a person with native American heritage, the thought of the damage these do to our feathered friends makes me ill.

Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:38am

Tax dollars... a lot of them... prop up wind energy. Conservation and nuclear generation, appropriately built and operated are the answer. In the meantime, shutting down coal and gas can only damage our economy.

Aldon Maleckas
Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:56am

In February 2017 I wrote to Kelley Wells, "Wind on the Wires. I received no return communication: I read “Wind Energy Is Full Of Wins For Michigan”. Basically, you want it to look like farmers are growing electricity and not food. I am 72 years old and I do not remember an area farmer harnessing the power of the wind until 2012. You must have meant solar power, not wind power. You state that wind energy will produce enough electricity by 2030 to power 710,000 homes. You did not state how many people would be driven out of their homes, how many acres of farm land will be taken out of production because of wind turbines, or how may traditional power plants must be running to produce electricity at a moment’s notice when the wind stops. Seems like we need our homes and food more than we need wind turbine electricity. I will concede that farms are bigger than they were years ago and that they have many acres that do not have houses located on them. I would hate to believe that the only reason farmer’s would have nice retirements and be able to keep their farms in their families is because of wind turbines. I know of county officials, instrumental in changing county wind turbine ordinances to allow wind turbines, which are receiving yearly payments from wind turbine projects. Of course, other government officials find no conflict of interest there. I noticed you did not mentioned the people in the wind turbine projects who receive no money, suffer health problems, may have to leave their homes, and/or suffer loss of income due to decreased property values. I noticed that tax money goes to pay for schools, county and township services, police and fire departments, and programs for seniors and veterans. These are all nice, feel good projects, but why do we have to harm and not provide for our neighbors in the process. A search of the internet will provide scientific and empirical evidence that people are/will be harmed by wind turbine projects. An additional search of the internet will show that the majority, if not all, of the problems associated with wind turbine projects come from the projects with wind turbines producing 1.8 MW or more. The old bigger is better philosophy. In any case, we are all harmed by the electromagnetic pollution caused by a wind turbine project, just some of us show it sooner than others.

Why Wind Turbines?

The enclosed “MISO Monthly Wind Contribution” spreadsheet shows that the average contribution of wind turbines to MISO’s total electricity usage is 6.7% over the last six years. Hardly worth the money. Who in their right mind would destroy hundreds of acres of farm land to produce the same MWh (Mega Watt hour) of electricity that could be produced by a gas turbine generator in someone’s garage? There isn’t a company in Michigan that would build a multi-million dollar plant, use it less than 10% of the time, and offer to pay their customers to purchase their product. Don’t believe it. Look at the LMP$/MWh column on the same spreadsheet. The numbers in parentheses are negative numbers, this means the power company is offering to pay anyone to take their electricity.

We seem to have forgotten Proposition 3 and its mandate to increase renewable (wind turbine) electricity production to 25%. The Michigan big utilities (Consumers Energy) fought the proposal and it was defeated (Michigan Proposal 3 Results: State Rejects Renewable Energy Proposal). Beginning around 2003 and ending in 2012, hundreds of Mason County residents and professionals presented testimony opposing Consumers Energy’s Lake Winds Energy Park composed of 56 wind turbines. The residents lost and Consumers Energy won. Why is it that the big utilities are always winning no matter what side of the argument they are on?

Currently we have organizations opposing our coal fired power plants and want them shutdown. This is interesting because Germany, with the largest installed wind power capacity (Global Wind Energy Council) in Europe, has had its electricity cost double in ten years. In order to reduce electricity costs they are not building more wind turbine projects; they have decided to build ten new coal fired power plants (EPA’s Climate Regulations Impede Economic Growth). Something is not right.

Traditional power handling companies have plans in place to handle sudden surges in demand or the failure of an electricity producing generator; in any case this does not affect the whole system at once. Not so with wind turbine produced electricity, when the wind stops or slows the electricity for hundreds of miles in each direction will cease. The people supporting wind turbine generated electricity would like to see a wind turbine in everyone’s back yard. They think that wind turbine electricity that is not generated in Michigan when the wind stops can hopefully be supplied by Minnesota or New York. Looking at MISO’s, “Section8: Wind Utilization” report, we see that wind is intermittent and highly variable and as we can see from the spreadsheet above, only 6.7% (on average) of wind produced electricity will be utilized at any time to meet MISO’s electricity requirements. I draw your attention to the EON/Netz “Wind Report 2005” Summary page. In the middle of the page you will notice, “Consequently, traditional power stations with capacity equal to 90% of the installed wind power capacity must be permanently online in order to guarantee power supply at all times”. Traditional power stations means coal, gas, nuclear, and/or hydroelectric. No savings here. Return to the “MISO Monthly Wind Contribution” spreadsheet and the fact that the average utilization of wind turbine generated electricity is 6.7%. You will conclude that power handling companies, like MISO, will never use more than 10% wind turbine generated electricity without having a traditional power station running at capacity to guarantee a power supply at all times. What a waste. So, whether you people claim that 25%, 35%, or more of your electricity is supplied from wind turbines, at least 90% of that electricity is being backed up by a running traditional power station.

Wind turbine projects use traditional power to operate; in other words, wind turbine projects cannot operate without a traditional power supply. I have asked Consumers Energy what the net monthly electricity output (electricity produced less electricity used) in MWh (Mega Watt hours) is for Lake Winds Energy Park. They would not provide an answer. At the bottom of the “MISO Monthly Wind Contribution” spreadsheet you will see a typical month’s Lake Winds Energy Park’s electricity output. The wind turbine project’s electricity consumption is for electronics monitoring the turbine operation, the WIFI system to transmit and receive information, turning the turret, changing the pitch on the props, turning the prop when there is no wind, running lubrication systems, etc. It is possible on weeks when the wind does not blow, or hardly blows, that a wind turbine project will use more electricity in one month than it will produce. Experts have guessed that the electricity consumption of a wind turbine project is between 8% and 16%. It is also possible that if we try to supply all of our electricity needs with wind turbine electricity, the 90% of traditional power supply that has to be permanently on line may cause the net gain in electricity, less pollution, or more energy savings from a wind turbine project to be negligible. Is that why this information is not public knowledge? Does anyone know?

A casual search of the internet will show that there is a certain number of people affected by wind turbine operation. This could be from turbine vibration, turbine generator noise, dirty electricity from cheap electronic controls or invertors, ground currents, and other turbine noise. Michigan counties that want wind turbine property tax revenue word their ordinances so that surveys need to be made to determine if any harm will be made to animals or birds. There are no surveys to determine if any harm will come to humans, to monitor human health in a wind turbine project, or to determine if the additional ground currents produced by wind turbines will harm buried gas lines. Typical human health problems caused by wind turbine projects are stated in the “Health Department Brown County” letter from Jay J. Tibbetts, MD. The only recourse affected residents have is to sue. What a tragedy.

A casual search of the internet will show that a broken wind turbine blade will fly up to one mile away from its site (Summary of Wind Turbine Accident data to 30 September 2016, page 4). Yet, turbines are allowed closer than one mile from a residence.
Michigan has a growing energy conservation business. Some companies are lowering their electricity bills from 40% to 50%. This would be a less expensive way to conserve energy and clean up the environment. Tragically, it will not use more electricity, not produce more income for big utility executives, or allow the big utilities to use excessive profits to influence politicians.

The article, “Electricity Prices Soaring In Top Wind Power States”, shows what the future is for promoting wind turbine generated electricity. From 2008 to 2013 electricity prices in these states have risen as much as 34%.

In the article, “Cost of electricity by source”, we see that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for onshore wind generated electricity averages at $73.60 per MWh. LCOE is considered the minimum cost at which electricity must be sold in order to break-even. Unfortunately, because the wind is intermittent and variable, traditional power stations (if over 10% of the electricity is generated by wind) must be ready to come on line in a moment’s notice. You have to add the LCOE of coal, gas, nuclear, or hydro to the LCOE of onshore wind. No cost savings there.

We were led to believe that before the Lake Winds Energy Park was built in Mason County that it would create Mason County jobs. It created jobs alright, but not in Mason County. Of the seven employees that run the Lake Winds Energy Park, as of 2014, only one is from Mason County.

It is common knowledge that wind turbine projects cannot produce enough money to pay for themselves. The only reason they are in existence today is because of government credits, subsidies, etc. If we are going to put our money into something that cannot pay for itself, shouldn’t we be putting our efforts into rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure? Maybe we should be asking ourselves, “Do we need more wind turbines or do we need safer bridges and highways?”

Michigan Observer
Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:22pm

This is very well done. My compliments to Aldon Maleckas. He might have added that "more than 330,000 German households have had their electricity shut off in the past year from nonpayment of bills almost three times as high as those paid by U.S. households."

Daniel Schifko
Sun, 05/07/2017 - 7:19am

This column fits right in with Bridge's far left agenda. There is no longer even a hint of nonpartisan perspective in this magazine. I shake my head wondering how you can ask for a donation while pushing a political agenda.

Barry Visel
Sun, 05/07/2017 - 9:10am

Huh. My Michigan utility has failed to reduce the kWh price they charge me. Maybe this lady's organization will send me the refund for all the savings she describes.