article by Julie Spencer
My first reaction to the invasion of the wind turbines was that they were overwhelming. Then the practical conservationist in me took over, and I started pondering what it means to our community.
The first time I saw wind turbines like this, I was traveling west along I-80 through Illinois. There were two large turbines near the side of the highway, and we actually stopped to take a photo of them. When I heard there was a wind farm coming to Gratiot County, that was what I was expecting. I was unprepared for what I encountered as I drove east on M-46 towards Saginaw when they were first being installed. Now, they're everywhere, and more are on the way! What we have here is called a utility-scale wind project. There are actually three wind farms in development in Gratiot County: Invenergy, Beebe Wind/Nordex, and Tradewind.
Wind energy can be a cost-effective renewable energy option. According to Invenergy, one of the companies building these wind farms, “the cost of electricity from a new wind project is often less than or equal to the cost of electricity from traditional power sources.” Although variable and intermittent, wind farms can be backed by more reliable forms of energy to offset those times when the wind just isn’t blowing. Although the up-front cost to build the wind farm is high, the operation and maintenance costs are quite low compared to the cost of traditional energy sources. It is also used as a means of offsetting the volatility of fuel costs. The wind turbine itself takes very little space, and the land surrounding it can be used for farming or other purposes.
How Did this Happen?
For most of us, these wind turbines popped up out of nowhere. Yet, the process to implement this project began several years ago and has gone through many phases. According to Invenergy, the first step is to do a wind assessment. They do a long term study of an area to determine if there is enough consistent wind to warrant using that particular region. They use computerized wind mapping software, online tools, and on-site monitoring devices to record at least a year’s worth of actual wind data. They also do research to take into consideration how the wind farm will affect environmental issues such as wildlife, geology, and air traffic patterns.
Next, they need to find about 10,000 acres of land. This involves contacting landowners in a particular region to determine if there is interest. They also need to work with local community officials and representatives as well as acquire county, state, and federal permits. Gratiot County went out of their way to roll out the red carpet to get this project rolling. They even adopted a special wind ordinace to accompany thier master plan (see below for links to both of these).
The wind company also needs to ensure that there is accessibility to the local power grid. This may involve securing transmission easements and building private transmission lines to an existing substation. They also need to make sure that they have a utility buyer for their services. The job of the local utility company is to provide inexpensive and reliable sources of energy. They must do an assessment of their own to determine if a wind farm is the right choice for them.
Prepping the land for installation of the wind turbines includes building access roads, clearing the land and excavating the turbine sites. They then install formworks and pour the concrete for each foundation. Once all the components of the turbines have been moved onsite, the construction begins. A very large crane is used to put up the tower and all the moving parts. Next, an electrical network is installed and connected to the utility grid. Once a project is operational, a team of operation and maintenance technicians are hired.
As the Administrator of the Gratiot Conservation District, I am very interested in learning more about this innovative project and I plan to work hard to educate the public as well. I'm planning to host some informal, locally-led educational meetings in the near future. If you have any questions and/or comments you'd like me to include in these meetings, please respond or email me at email@example.com -Julie
Julie Spencer is the District Administrator for the Gratiot Conservation District. She can be reached at 301 E. Commerce Drive, Ithaca, MI 48847 or by phone at 989-875-3050. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you know that the Gratiot Conservation District is not government-funded? We rely on our generous supporters through our fundraisers, donors, grantors and corporate sponsors. For more information on how you can help us out, please see our webpage "Support the Gratiot Conservation District" or mail a donation to Gratiot Conservation District 301 E. Commerce Dr, Ithaca, MI 48847.
For more information about Gratiot County wind developments, see the following links:
Gratiot County's Adopted Wind Ordinance
Gratiot Regional Excellence and Transformation (GREAT) Plan
Greater Gratiot Development
Wind Resource LLC
Invenergy Key Documents for Gratiot County Wind Energy Zoning Ordinance Development