By Anne Stanton
Northport Village, population 648 (or so), at the tip of Leelanau County is a perfect little test town for renewable energy with its cluster of homes, quaint stores, a school, an assisted living facility, a marina, and a waste treatment plantall within a mile of each other. It doesnt hurt that high winds routinely whip around the village, which sits on the picturesque shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Thats why a group of villagers believes they can achieve an ambitious goal for the town: 100% renewable energy in the future, beginning with two wind turbines that will hopefully go up by the end of this year. Their ultimate goal is to also power outlying Leelanau Township (population 2,139) with renewable energy.
The two medium-sized wind turbines will generate approximately 800,000 kilowatt hours per year. They wont completely power the village, but they will generate enough electricity to power the towns new waste water treatment plant and a portion of other municipal facilities, said Douglas McInnis, president of the 20-member Northport Energy Action Task Force.
The rest of the energy will come from solar, geothermal, possibly a future biomass plant, and energy conservation initiatives. The task force has plans to help people winterize and retrofit their homes as well as educate people on the various state and utility rebate programs such as energy-efficient appliances and CF bulbs. If state funds become available, the group will apply for a grant to help with their plans for educational programs, home energy audits, facilitating installation of energy saving components and developing local citizens, business and government partnerships which in the future might help these initiatives become self sustainable.
This whole project was triggered a year ago with a speech that Steve Smiley, a renewable energy guru, gave at the Traverse City Economic Club.
It really enthused me, said McInnis, a retired engineer who subsequently asked Smiley to come up to Northport and speak to The Circle and Crackle Barrel mens groups. Just like me, everyone was inspired! One of our senior members said, You guys sit around and talk and talk, but now heres a chance to actually do something! That spurred us on.
The group has plans to locate two wind turbines in the village on a hill above the Northport Wastewater Treatment Plant site where nothing else could feasibly be located because of the odor and low-level noise. The wind turbines will go near an existing substation and transmission line to save money. Since they will be hooked into the grid, the electrical company serving the villageConsumers Energycan buy electricity generated by the turbines. One of the challenge with wind energy is that it cant be easily stored, but thats not a problem since Consumers Energy will provide a constant base load to the village.
The task force plans to buy two refurbished, mid-sized turbines for approximately $500,000, half the cost of brand new ones. McInnis said his group is now in the process of developing strategies to pay for them.
Money: thats the tricky part right now. We are investigating the formation of a limited liability corporation as some farmers did in Minnesota. By forming a LLC that invested in wind turbines, those farmers took advantage of corporate federal tax credits for wind power.
If Northport formed an LLC, the investors could be paid off with revenues from selling electricity to Consumers Power. After the investment is fully paid back, the ownership of the turbines would go to the Village of Northport and revenues received from the power continually sold to Consumers Energy will be available for community purposes.
We are also looking at the possibility of getting grant money or a guaranteed loan through the USDA. They have a program for funding renewable energy projects but we are investigating whether we might be eligible.
Are there concerns about electric bills going up? McInnis said the wind turbines wont have a direct impact on customer bills. Consumers Energy will buy electricity from the village for 12 cents per kilowatt hour and charge customers its standard rate, which is now about a penny below that. Consumers Energy is mandated by law to convert to 10% renewable energy by 2015 and these wind turbines will help them do that.
When you look at the future, we know energy costs will go up. The cost for natural gas, propane, coal, nuclear, whatever is going to be more expensive. By using wind energy, thanks to mother nature, we ought to have a renewable source of energy far into the future