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More wind and solar installations likely in Mid-Michigan to combat climate change

The region is conducive for wind energy, but turbines are not always popular
Wind turbine in Michigan
Wind turbine in Michigan(Eric Fletcher/ WJRT)
Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
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MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) - Environmentalists are sounding the alarm that more needs to be done right now to slow climate change.

They are calling for more renewable energy to be generated in Michigan. That may mean more wind and solar farms around Mid-Michigan, adding to significant installations already in place.

Wind and solar projects are a hot topic around the region and often stir public debate.

MORE MONEY FOR LAND

The Gross family’s third-generation dairy farm on 800 acres in northwest Isabella County near Beal City produces a new crop nowadays: Wind energy from eight turbines installed on the farm last year.

Steven and Philip Gross took over the farm from their grandparents.

“We’ve been here for 90 plus years,” Steven said.

The Grosses said they weren’t sure if they wanted to have wind turbines in their fields because of how they look, but ultimately decided it was worth it. They felt the benefits outweighed anything else.

“I mean, let’s face it. Economically it was gonna help us produce more income off our land -- and that’s what farming is all about,” Philip said.

They say it takes some time getting used to having the wind turbines around, but they say it’s not really any different than having a cell phone tower nearby. They hope moving forward that more people will see the good and not necessarily the bad.

“It benefits everybody. That’s what I saw,” Steven Gross said. “Look at the big picture.”

He wouldn’t say how much money the family farm is receiving from the wind turbines on their land. But it’s enough that they are planning to do some construction that they’ve held off on previously and will be using local contractors to help.

MID-MICHIGAN WORKS FOR WIND

Gross Farms is located in the state’s newest and largest wind farm -- Isabella Wind. It includes more than 130 wind turbines that can produce enough electricity to power 120,000 homes per year, according to DTE Energy.

But Isabella Wind is just a fraction of all wind turbines in the state. Right now, there are 1,581 operational wind turbines in Michigan and 1,257 of them -- or about 80% -- are located around Mid-Michigan.

The weather conditions around Mid-Michigan make the area conducive to generating power with wind energy

“To be frank, it’s windy,” said Dave Harwood, the director of renewable energy at DTE.

He said DTE looks for places that produce a lot of wind and where they can work with communities on the project.

When wind farms are built in communities, they produce more than just renewable energy -- they also bring in cash. Revenue from the Isabella Wind project will help Isabella County pay off the cost to build a new $40 million jail.

LOCAL PUSHBACK COMMON

But wind farms don’t work everywhere in Mid-Michigan -- and not just because typical weather isn’t favorable. Wind turbines were proposed in an area of northern Lapeer County, but the project never happened because some people who live there pushed back and said no.

They include Michelle Peel, who lives on 10 acres just outside of North Branch.

“I live in the country because I want to be in the country,” she said. “I want to be where it’s quiet. I want to be where it’s cornfields, where people know your name and I don’t want to live in an industrial complex.”

Peel said DTE was looking to bring a wind farm near her property and she didn’t want that. She also was concerned with the sound and how close wind turbines could have come to her property.

It’s a concern shared by Norm Stephens.

“I’ve been to over 50 different township meetings or county meetings throughout the state. And those residents that do stand up and talk they say the same type of thing. They’re not against wind energy. They’re against the irresponsible siting,” he said.

Stephens is a retired school teacher and said he doesn’t like how things are handled when energy companies come into town looking to build wind turbines. Harwood with DTE said he’s happy to work with area residents on alleviating concerns.

“We want to understand what the concerns are. A lot of times, the concerns that are raised can be easily mitigated or explained,” he said.

CONTINUED GROWTH PLANS

Moving forward, advocates want to see more renewable energy production in Michigan.

Right now, Michigan ranks 15th in the country in its capacity and generation of wind energy. But only 8% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable energy like wind. Coal, nuclear power, and natural gas still lead the way.

That’s not good enough, according to Mike Buza, chairman of the environmental group Sierra Club’s Nepessing group.

“We really need to accelerate these things quickly,” he said. “We’re kind of, we should have been doing this sort of thing 10, 20 years ago and now we’re just finally getting around to doing it and we have a lot to catch up on.”

There is some catching up going on. Meridian Wind is being built right now in Saginaw and Midland counties with nearly 80 turbines expected to come online by next year.

So, this form of renewable energy doesn’t appear to be going anywhere and in fact, it’s growing. Harwood said plans continue at DTE to move forward with both wind and solar farms because customers are demanding more and want the utility to do more to protect the environment.

“Renewable energy is going to continue to grow,” he said.

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