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Wind Farms Benefit to Michigan

When the wind turns the blades of wind turbines, electricity is produced. Simple, clean and swift. Largely due to improvements in technology, wind power as a source of electricity has grown tremendously in the last decade, especially in Europe. Germany is leading in the use of this technology, contributing a whopping 40% of the world ‘s total wind power capacity with its 15 gigawatt total annual output while Spain ranks second at 6 gigawatt.

In the United States, in 2005, an expected 2500 MW additional capacity was installed and this was enough to power 700,000 homes , create 2-3 $B investments and 10,000 jobs nationwide. (American Wind Energy Association, 1 ). California which ranks only no 17 in the top 20 states with wind generating potential is the state with the highest number of wind farms, generating 2,096 MW annually. Consider that Michigan is no 14 in potential , but currently it has only 2. 4 MW of wind power generators installed and lags far behind the other states in developing its wind energy resources.

The presence of high wind power, at least 15km/hr minimum, in the areas around the Great Lakes makes Michigan a good source of electricity from wind in the north eastern part of the USA. Currently, coal fired plants with the attending air pollutants generated in electricity production, dominate the area around the lakes. It is estimated that a 2 MW wind turbine can generate electricity for at least 300 homes. Currently models generating up to 7. 5 MW are already available. Also available are smaller units for residential or small farm use.

Needless to say, for Michigan, there are numerous benefits in shifting to wind power as energy source. But it is not so simple to move in this direction due to several concerns. To date there is not as strong a lobby from the existing utilities to convert to renewable sources such as wind power, not like in California for example which has done so more than 20 years ago. Michigan utilities are more comfortable to just get electricity from the age old existing coal plants which they think as cheaper, but this is only in the short term.

These coal plants have high negative environment impact, and not so acceptable now in the face of global warming warnings and very expensive fossil fuel and oil costs. Thankfully, now in Michigan there has lately been a move to go in the direction of wind power, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Richard Vender Veen of Mackinaw Power who built the first wind power farms in the state. Concerns on the new technology ranged from not looking good on the landscape to killing too many birds, to being noisy, unsafe or unreliable.

Over the years many design updates and on site studies have addressed these concerns. These include thorough evaluations before actual final siting of the turbines, making the blades less dangerous for birds, and placing the turbines up to 3 miles offshore so as not to disturb the landscape. Economic Benefits. At first glance the high initial installation costs of wind powered turbines look intimidating. However there have been developed several market based instruments and complex financial systems which allow for longer payback period to decrease the financial burden.

There are other mechanisms such as for example, Renewable Energy Certificate schemes and these offer the additional bonus of guaranteed revenues per mega watt for producers of wind power energy. There are also some locations where the community forms cooperatives to address the investment cost concern. Using the new developments in design and technology, cost to generate electricity by wind power can now equal or be much lower than conventional power generation. What matters more in most cases is the transmission cost.

But this can be regulated by the state after consultation with parties concerned. Policies and tax incentives in many areas push the costs further down. Saving of oil reserves, cutting on raw material imports, reduced operational costs and lower maintenance costs are among the other economic add ons. Farmers can also have added income from land rentals if the turbines are situated on their farm lands. The wind power technology can be used in existing agricultural lands. It can also restore productivity in barren lands which need irrigation , for example , by driving pumps in distant open areas .

Local cooperatives can explore the possibility of engaging in the business to distribute initial costs and share in the long term financial incomes. In time, when the business from this new technology is developed, this can increase the municipal tax base and government can earn more from the area. Whether on a national, state, municipal or household level, earnings and savings are expected , and direct dollars saved especially for those who choose to install individual resident turbines for home, business or farm electricity needs.

In addition, the economic benefits of having cleaner air to breathe in the locality, and less air quality related health concerns, in the long term, would be substantial but currently not easy to quantify. Social Benefits This relatively new technology needs new skills and offers opportunities for new jobs . It is estimated that more jobs are required compared to a conventional power production site. Installing a 24 MW unit will generate 100 new jobs in a project site.

The expertise / skills required are varied such as : in project preparation and dealing with site stakeholders : public relations staff, environmental impact assessors, community liaisons, project management, planning, site testing. On the technical side, not just engineers but also needed are turbine and blade manufacturers , subcontractors for other components, tower manufacturers, logistics transport specialists, finance and legal expertise ,grid connection experts, green electricity salesmen, domestic renewable energy systems promoters and others.

Entrepreneurship possibilities for Michigan residents can also be explored in this new market. The community can be leaders in pioneering a developing industrial cluster thus empowering them into a new social status. People will interact more on issues and concerns re this new technology , and have a sense of pride that they are working to relieve the earth a bit of its climate change concern due to fossil fuels use. Who knows, maybe at some point a tourism potential will develop in these industrial clusters and areas which harness abundant natural energy instead.

Environment and Health Benefits The benefits to the environment of using wind power as electricity source are unparalleled. Compared to coal plants, there are no greenhouse gas emissions , or hazardous wastes such as mercury produced as by products of the operations. Clean and completely renewable , the supply of wind will never run out in identified potential sites. Fluctuations in wind speed can be studied and addressed or mitigated, In the same way as reported damage to the bird population is now mitigated by turbine design.

Compared again to coal plants, there are no chemicals which can harm workers on over exposure, and no hot exhaust or waste water effluents to treat or cool down. No burners, no boilers and their accompanying health and safety hazards for the workers are used . Since no gases are released which can harm human health, the workers’ projected work related hospital expenses would be much lower . At the end of its lifetime, no expensive environment impact study and decommissioning cost is envisioned unlike for nuclear plants and coal plants .

If Michigan can build early consultation and strong community support in the potential areas , and develop clear land use policies, plus extend continuous production tax cuts , and other state policies geared to giving incentives to users and generators of electricity from wind power, then it can hasten the spread of this technology in the state. Perhaps it can learn a lot from what California and the other leading states have done. The national government can help a lot by initiating policies too in order to drive the shift to wind power.

Such as being tight about the monitoring compliance to agreed limits of conversion to wind energy and time frames per state. And just in time too, with the continuing rise in prices at the global oil market and pressures to adopt renewable energy sources to respond to Kyoto protocol , and climate change concerns. Wind power is the only way to go for Michigan as it adapts to the winds of change!

Works Cited

American Wind Energy Association. 2005. “Burgeoning New Investment Market Generates New Investments, New Jobs”. Outlook 2005<http://www. awea. org/news/news041013>

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