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Michigan renewable energy more resilient to cold than frozen Texas wind turbines

Knowing Michigan’s weather, DTE makes sure the equipment is able to handle temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 6:10 PM EST
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MID-MICHIGAN, Mich. (WJRT) - (2/17/2021) - The frigid temperatures across the United States have been difficult to handle in the south. Energy companies are conducting rolling black outs throughout the country to help conserve what little power they can provide right now.

In Texas, Republican lawmakers are blaming the wind turbines -- frozen by the unusually low temperatures.

But experts say that renewable energy source only makes up a fraction of energy in the state. The real problem is frozen natural gas pipes.

Here in Michigan, we use both natural gas and wind turbines to power our homes. So why aren’t we losing power?

DTE operated more than 400 wind turbines in Michigan. The energy company explained the state won’t see the issues states like Texas are facing right now because the turbines are crafted to handle temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.

“Wind turbines can be designed and outfitted to operate in whatever weather conditions they’re expected to see, wherever they’re located,” David Harwood, DTE’s Director of Renewable Energy, said.

Knowing Michigan’s weather, he said DTE equipped their wind turbines across the state with what are called “cold weather adaption packages.”

He said that provides heat in the turbine to prevent them from freezing up and failing to operate.

“These packages include additional heating components for hydraulic and lubrication oil systems and in other critical components; but, you know as a result, our turbines have been operating very well over the last few weeks, and last few days,” Harwood said. “And even if you go back to the Polar Vortex in late January a couple years ago, our wind fleet operated just as expected, right through that with no issues.”

Almost exactly two years ago, in 2019, Michiganders dealt with a Polar Vortex that brought bitter, cold and record temperatures.

While the situation was certainly not as drastic as what our neighbors to the south are experiencing, energy companies did ask their customers to lower their thermostats and minimize their electricity usage. That was a direct result of a fire at a Consumers Energy gas compressor station in Macomb County.

At that time, DTE shared “DTE Gas did not have a shortage in 2019. This was a Consumers Energy issue that stemmed from a fire at one of their facilities. In fact, DTE Gas aided Consumers Energy with additional supply to address that shortage.”

One type of energy they didn’t have any concerns with? Renewable.

In 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable energy made up a little more than 6-percent of Michigan’s energy. 60-percent of that energy was generated by wind turbines.

“We’ve been very happy with our wind investments,” Harwood said. “They’ve operated very well for us. The first one came online in 2012. And, we’ve been adding projects online almost every year since.”

Harwood said wind energy, combined with solar energy from DTE’s solar panels installed across the state, powers half a million homes.

And, DTE plans to double that energy generation, powering one million homes, with new projects over the next 2 years.

While the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, Harwood shared these sources of energy do not pose any serious challenges.

Something he said the 2019 Polar Vortex confirmed for DTE.

“With respect to our renewables, I think if anything else, it was, it was just a verification that the cold weather packages and the preparations that we had designed into our systems, actually worked very well and gave us confidence that we were on the right track,” he said.

Because, despite what we may think, the solar panels actually operate more efficiently in cold weather.

“As long as there’s, there’s a little bit of light that gets to the panel, even through a snow layer, it’ll generate a little bit of heat,” he explained. “And that heat will, within a day or so, slide that snow right off the panel. And so we don’t we don’t have any, you know, maintenance activities where we send people out to, you know, brush snow off a panel. It pretty much takes care of itself.”

Which is why, on top of these energies being safer, cleaner and better for the environment, Harwood said wind turbines and solar panels are the future.

“We don’t do projects in communities that don’t want the project. There may be a few people here and there that are opposed to it; but if the community generally is supportive, then, then we’re interested in coming there and building a project,” Harwood said.

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