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Home · Articles · News · Features · Winds of fortune
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Winds of fortune

Anne Stanton - November 29th, 2010
Winds of Fortune: 12,000-acre wind farm planned for Manistee and Benzie counties
By Anne Stanton
Over the years, Jim and Carol March have traipsed in the hills of
their Arcadia hay fields with energy company reps who talked of
building a wind turbine on the farm’s hilly ridge. But after getting
the couple’s hopes up high, the company reps disappeared and refused
their phone calls.
A new company is in town, also talking of wind turbines, but the
Marches believe that Duke Energy will make good on its plans to build
a 12,000-acre wind farm in northern Manistee and southern Benzie
counties. For them, it would be a godsend.
The Marches live in a small home on a 263-acre hay and cattle farm in
Arcadia Township. Like most area farmers, they work second jobs to
keep their farm going. Carol, who’s been on crutches over the last
several months, works at Shop’N’Save; Jim, a Vietnam War veteran,
usually works construction, but hand surgery for crippling arthritis
has put him out of commission. The farm has belonged to the March
family since 1914; Jim’s voice quivers when he says the wind turbine
money — if and when it becomes a reality — will get the farm to the
centennial mark.
Since last February, Duke Energy has quietly met with the Marches and
dozens of other property owners — many are farmers who live a mile to
several miles inland from Lake Michigan. The company calls the project
the Gail Windpower Project. If it proceeds, the company will put an
estimated $1 million or more into the pockets of those who live in the
12,000-acre footprint and another $1 million of tax money into
township and county coffers, according to a slide show presentation in
the company’s Beulah satellite office.

So far, Duke Energy has already signed leases for 6,000 acres of land
with up to 100 landowners. The 25-year leases pay about $14,500 per
year to owners who’ll put a turbine on their property.
The company, which plans to erect about 100 wind turbines, will divide
a share of the revenues among the property owners living within the
12,000-acre footprint, including those without a turbine on their
property, said company spokesman Greg Efthimiou.
Allan O’Shea, a regional coordinator and long-time wind power
enthusiast, said the pooling agreement is significant.
“This is something important. If you put these turbines out into the
water, no one benefits except the State of Michigan and the power
company. No township, no county, no landowner benefits. I’m kind of a
populist, I believe that people do best if they get a little taste of
the pie, and I love this pooling agreement. It’s very complicated for
Duke Energy to do that. Even a person with five acres gets into the
pooling agreement,” O’Shea said.
Unfortunately, because of Proposal A, the area’s struggling school
districts won’t gain any additional tax revenues, said O’Shea, who is
trying to figure a way for them to benefit, as well.
The wind project would provide enough power for 60,000 homes and an
urgently needed shot of jobs in an area that struggles with
joblessness, even in good times. But it’s all contingent on finding a
utility willing to sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a
utility, such as Consumer’s Power, Cherryland Electric or Traverse
City Light and Power. A PPA is a long-term contract between a utility
and developer, which locks in a rate for 20 to 30 years, Efthimiou

“Once we have a purchase power agreement, we’ll know we’ve got a
guaranteed revenue stream, and it gives us a certainty to proceed,” he
At the same time the company is seeking out a potential power
purchaser, it’s also proceeding with an environmental analysis to flag
any potential concerns, such as avian and bat migratory paths,
critical habitat, or wetlands. The evaluation will also include
reviewing local ordinances and zoning requirements, Efthimiou said.
Duke Energy chose Benzie and Manistee counties for a few reasons.
First, the high ridgeline produces powerful wind currents — some of
the highest in the state. Secondly, the State of Michigan will require
that utilities procure 10% of their energy from renewable sources by
the year 2015, he said.
The third reason is personal. The project site was flagged by Milt
Howard, Duke Energy’s vice president of wind development, whose wife’s
late grandma, Gail Swanson, lived in Manistee and is the project’s
“She was a force of nature in her own right. She loved nature, her
family, and her home town,” said Efthimiou.
Howard’s in-laws also live in Manistee County much of the year. Howard
came to the Michigan Energy Fair in Onekama, said Mary Bigelow, who
works as a contract company representative in the Beulah office, along
with Lindi Milner.

The community’s enthusiastic response is accelerating the project’s
momentum relative to the company’s other wind energy projects on the
drawing board, Efthimiou said.
Softening potential controversy is Duke Energy’s decision not to site
turbines along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Also, the company is not
presently considering putting turbines on a 60-acre Arcadia Bluffs
parcel that’s contained in a conservation easement, he said.
Some of the property owners are still angry about the idea of the huge
turbines, which reach nearly 500 feet. They fear the turbines will be
noisy and vibrate.
The Marches had the same concerns, so they went to wind farms in
McBain and Ubly, located in the thumb of Michigan.
“To see them firsthand, they were awesome. When I hear people say they
are noisy or make the earth move — it’s just not true. They just have
to go see them,” said Carol March.
Area environmental leaders couldn’t be more excited, in part, because
wind turbines emit no carbon dioxide or pollutants. Even the pollution
emitted during the life cycle of a wind turbine — from manufacture,
start-up, use and dismantling — is recovered in less than a year,
according to an International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment study.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity and an incredible opportunity
for Manistee to lead the way for wind power in Northern Michigan,”
said Benzie County resident Monica Evans, a member of Michigan
Citizens for the Energy, the Economy and the Environment, a group
formed last spring to oppose biomass plants.
“There will be concerns about views and the impacts on the environment
as far as placement goes, and those are legitimate concerns. I hope
Duke Energy will have public meetings and get comments, and reassure
us that they’ll do this right and in the best way. They really have to
engage Benzie and Manistee. I share those concerns, but I’d much
rather have a wind farm than a biomass plant. It’s pretty much a
no-brainer,” Evans said.

Gerard Grabowski, who led the charge to oppose a 425-megawatt,
coal-fired electrical plant in Manistee six years ago, couldn’t be
more delighted.
“I’d like to think, in some ways, that the fact that we were able to
avert a nasty coal plant in Manistee has paved the way for a project
of this scope and this size. It’s truly the kind of project that would
deliver serious amounts of kilowatts,” said Grawbowski, adding that he
won’t financially benefit from the project.
Grabowski said there is nascent opposition by those who don’t want
turbines near their homes, but he believes that wind is the best of
all alternatives.
“We are all consuming electricity at an incredibly obnoxious rate.
We’ve got to do something. Both my children have asthma. Benzie County
has some of the highest ozone ratings in the country, as high as
Denver, Colorado, because of the winds that carry heavy noxious stuff
all the way from Gary, Indiana, and Chicago. In the summer, Benzie,
Mason and Manistee have issued ozone warnings. You can see it coming
in a fine haze. If you have ever seen your kid unable to breathe with
their lips turning blue, it makes you move pretty fast.”
Jim March said the wind turbine farm is a breath of fresh air for
Manistee, which has a paper mill and coal plant.
“I understand that we need manufacturing, but this has next to zero
environmental impact on our children, our children’s children, and our
children’s, children’s children. They’ll breathe in clean air.”
March said that he and his neighboring farmers sat around his kitchen
table last spring to talk about the project. Later the Marches sought
out legal advice to come up with the best deal they could.
Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a major energy
player with assets of $49 billion and 18,000 employees. The company’s
portfolio includes nuclear, coal-fired, and hydro-electrical energy.
Wind energy and solar are a minor, but growing part of the company.
The company’s nine wind energy farms are located in Wyoming, Texas,
Colorado and Pennsylvania,  Efthimiou said.

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