Wind power on the rise in the Great Lakes region

Wind turbines at DTE Energy's Thumb Wind Park in Huron County, Mich., completed in December. Photo by DTE.

Wind turbines at DTE Energy’s Thumb Wind Park in Huron County, Mich., completed in December. Photo by DTE Energy.

Nearly 70 percent of all new power plants built in the Great Lakes region use wind as an energy source, according to reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The reports, which summarize developments in the United States’ energy infrastructure, show the Great Lakes states contributed to a national trend of increased reliance on renewable energy. Nationwide, 49 percent of all new power plants in the country were using renewable sources in 2012.

 Only two fossil fuel plants came online in the Great Lakes region since January 2012, a coal-fired plant in Washington County, Ill. and a gas-fired plant near Dresden, Ohio, according to reports. The same period saw the completion of 21 wind farms and 8 plants using other renewable sources such as solar energy and sustainable-harvested biomass fuel.

The wind farms, which contain a total of 1,532 new wind turbines, generate approximately 2,952 MW of energy. That’s 68 percent of the 4,372 megawatts produced by all new power plants built since January 2012.

“Wind power has grown markedly in the last decade or so,” said Matthew Wagner, wind development manager for DTE Energy, a power generation company based in Detroit. “There has been much more discussion lately about going green, particularly because the conversation around climate change has increased in frequency. Whether you agree with this theory or not, wind energy is the renewable technology that really provides the highest return in terms of energy production and cost-effectiveness.”

Other renewable technologies, like solar or geothermal energy, do not approach the economic benefits of wind power, Wagner said.

DTE completed a trio of wind parks in Michigan’s Thumb region in December, producing 110 megawatts using 69 turbines.

Many states in the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, have set renewable energy requirements. Michigan law dictates that 10 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2015, although voters last fall rejected a plan that would have raised the amount to 25 percent by 2025.

In New York, the target is 30 percent by 2015. In Ohio, it is 25 percent by 2025. A full compilation of renewable energy standards across the nation is provided by the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.

Most new facilities in the Great Lakes region were built in Michigan. The largest new facility is Iberdrola’s 152-turbine Blue Creek Wind Farm in Ohio. New wind plants were built in every Great Lakes state except Wisconsin.

Advocates of wind power have greeted its growth with optimism.

“Above all, wind is a clean, renewable and home-grown source of energy,” said Kelley Welf, spokesperson for Wind on the Wires, a Midwest-based wind energy advocacy group.

Welf said that in addition to wind power’s environmental benefits, it stimulates local job growth.

Wind Turbines in Huron County

Wind power accounts for 68 percent of all new electricity generated in the Great Lakes region since January 2012. Photo by DTE Energy.

“A typical 250 megawatt wind farm creates 1,079 jobs over the life of the project, including positions in manufacturing, construction, engineering and management,” Welf said. “With about 67 percent of the 8,000 component parts of a turbine now being manufactured in the U.S., the cost of producing the turbines has decreased dramatically.”

Despite these advantages, wind power continues to face difficulties when compared to traditional energy sources.

“It would be a challenge for a wind park to match the output of a traditional power plant,” Wagner said. “This is because typical wind turbines range in capacity from 1 to 3 megawatts, while traditional coal-fired plants have capacities on the order of hundreds of megawatts. Our largest plant is capable of generating more than 3,000 megawatts.”

For a wind farm to approach that level of energy production, it would need about 4,000 turbines, Wagner said.

“Could you build a wind farm that size? Probably. But you’d need lots and lots of land, so I’m not sure you could do it practically,” he said. Wind energy is also less reliable than traditional energy sources, because wind does not occur with the same speed or frequency at all times.

As states pass new and stricter emissions controls that make traditional power generation more expensive, wind power, which is not subject to those controls, has become more appealing, Wagner said. As the deadlines set by state renewable energy standards draw closer power companies expect to continue to increase their wind power production.

  • leroy

    Joe:
    The unit used to rate wind turbines is meters per second (m/s) wind speed.

    For a quick conversion multiply meters per second by 2 to get miles per hour, 4m/s X 2 = 8 mph

    The wind industry likes to put things in terms that us average folks aren’t familiar with. It is easier to keep the facts from people that way.

    Yes wind turbines may ‘cut-in’ or start to turn at 8 mph but they will be producing near zero output at that wind speed.

    The wind speed has to get up to around 12m/s, 24mph before they produce full power.

    There is a handy little graph about half way down this webpage:
    https://energypedia.info/wiki/Estimation_of_Wind_Energy_Production

  • Joe

    I don’t know if I’ve seen a turbine move with 15 mph winds. I have a hard time imagining them moving at 8 mph. 5.5 mph sounds like a biased study to me.

  • Anonymous

    Leonard is right about the jobs. I live in a town with two wind parks and the companies that do the operating and Maint. Have offices here. There’s about ten guys that work there and they come into my husbands gas station for supplies every day. When they were putting up the wind farms though there were more like 90 or so construction and company workers. Now they’re over in the next county putting up another park… Still local development though and everything helps!

  • Tram_#3

    While I believe Wind is a necessary part of a balanced energy portfolio, I find myself agreeing with the comments regarding jobs. “Big” Wind does not generate the long-term jobs as the companies state. Yes, there are short term job growth due to construction, trucking, and workers frequenting local establishments, however, the long-term jobs (careers) are limited. These company’s use a regional / global team to troubleshoot and perform preventive maintenance, not locals. We need to be more honest about “jobs” produced by Wing. Not saying its bad . . .just be realistic.

  • Leonard

    A few comments…

    Wind turbine projects usually employ hundreds of people during the research and development phase through the end of construction… After that each project would typically hire about 2-3 people for every 20 turbines to perform routine maintenance for the next 20+ years.

    Modern turbines actually cut in to production at more like 5.5 mph winds and cut out around 40mph winds.

    As far as the “noisy” turbines, a typical car that passes by a household at 2am is nearly 6x louder than a turbine running at maximum output.

    Traditional, non-renewable energy sources are also highly government subsidized. The cost of producing wind energy has actually dropped to a level where it is competitive with traditional energy sources as government requires costly pollution controls on traditional sources to reduce pollution.

    All that being said, there is NO silver bullet… A diversified energy portfolio will help reduce costs across the board and provide reliable energy when it is needed most.

  • leroy

    Also check out this link to see what 1200 wind turbines are producing in Ontario, Canada. Gas in the graph is natural gas, not gasoline.
    http://media.cns-snc.ca/ontarioelectricity/cns_e_chart.png

  • leroy

    If I may make a few clarifications.

    “wind turbines, generate approximately 2,952 MW of energy.”
    This is a very misleading number that the wind industry likes to use. It is called nameplate capacity. It is the maximum amount that the turbines could produce in very strong wind conditions. Constant wind speeds over 25 miles per hour. How much do they produce when the wind speed is under 10 miles per hour? Zero.

    Where will the electricity come from when the winds are light? Fossil fuel fired generating plants.

    “A typical 250 megawatt wind farm creates 1,079 jobs over the life of the project”
    Show us the proof! 250 megawatts about 125 turbines. According to the claim that is 9 people per turbine over a period of about 20 years. This story above has pictures of turbines. Do you see 9 workers – people running around the bottom of each turbine? For the next 20 years?
    That is quite a claim.

    Wind Rush ducumentary – 3 minute trailer
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UatWvEV5hN8

  • Wind Reality

    Wind is a high cost federally subsidized farce that is environmentally and economically unsafe. It is noisy and environmentally damaging to residents and wild life in the vicinity of IWT (Industrial Wind Turbine) sprawl.
    Infra-sound devalues property of abutters and drives them out of their homes in many cases. It is an illegal taking in many instances by unscrupulous wind developers.
    With highly dense clean natural gas on the rise, they are a useless unreliable farce of political motivation of this present administration.
    They will bust the bankrolls of areas that rely on this intermittent unreliable source of boutique energy folly.

  • Annie

    Check out the CBC documentary “Wind Rush” on youtube. Ontario’s experience with wind power includes spiralling cost of power, some neighbors forced from homes, bird kills and disregard for endangered species, property values affected, a government losing seats and being sued on both sides. (In contrast, distributed solar technology is getting cheaper and production more closely parallels peak usage.)

  • Kelley

    Grid operators are already very good at dealing with variability and uncertainty on the power system because that’s what their job is all about. Factories turn large electrical equipment on and off at various times, and people change their use of air conditioning and electric heating, for example, at various times. This causes unpredictable changes in the demand for electricity. Grid operators may also experience a sudden outage due to mechanical or other failures. Because of the sophisticated wind forecasting technology available to grid operators, the slow fluctuations of wind make integrating wind into the system very predictable. Furthermore, a robust and well-integrated transmission system, which can redirect energy wherever it is needed, virtually erases the variability concern people have about wind.