State eyes standard for renewable energy sources

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Rich VanderVeen of Bay Windpower in Suttons Bay wants to take advantage of the fact that Michigan is the 14th windiest state, by using wind turbines as energy.
VanderVeen supports a proposed policy that would require a percentage of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydro.
“It’s new, clean power with no emissions,” VanderVeen said of the energy produced by his turbines. “It has an economic value of greater growth and a cleaner economy.
“Let’s protect our Great Lakes for our grandkids.”
The Small Business Association of Michigan also favors the proposal, called a renewable energy portfolio standard.
“Coal is a very dirty source of electricity and you’d only have to pull from it when the wind wasn’t blowing,” said Barry Cargill, SBAM vice president of government relations. “Bay Windpower is the kind of company that would flourish if Michigan put this (portfolio standard) together.”
Creation of new jobs would go along with that, Cargill said, as new industries would develop to administer renewable energy. Such a factor could make the portfolio standard beneficial for Mason County, which recently has had a high unemployment rate (14.6 percent in March) compared to the rest of the state.
“Our community has been particularly hard-hit by the economic slow-down,” said Bill Kratz, Mason County economic development director. “Anything that would lead to private sector capital investment and job creation would benefit Mason County.”
However, although Kratz sees renewable energy as a fast-growing portion of energy, he said that it is still a small portion.
Tanya Paslawski, departmental analyst for the Michigan Public Service Commission, said that last spring the PSC decided to let the market dictate when the agency would become involved in the portfolio standard for Michigan.
“If enough people voluntarily choose to use renewables, it’s something different than requiring companies to carry renewables,” she said. “If the public creates demand, it will increase the market.”
Bills also are under consideration in the U.S. House that have caused the commission to wait, since assistance could come from the federal level. One federal bill would require 20 percent of energy sources to be renewables by 2020. Another measure includes a table to require 1 percent of energy sources to be renewables in 2005 and 2006, increasing up to 10 percent in 2019 and 2020. In Michigan, adoption of a portfolio standard would also come from legislation.
A disadvantage to the portfolio standard, according to Cargill, is that Michigan law does not allow net metering, which causes utilities to resist the program because they could lose jobs to alternative sources of energy.
“If a windmill gives more energy than needed, the owner should be able to let it continue to run and sell the energy to a utility,” Cargill said. “It makes sense from a societal standpoint because it gives extra (energy) to the system.”
VanderVeen said other complaints about the turbines include that they are unattractive and that they may kill birds.
“Looks are in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “People have to understand that we’re going to leave our grandkids with less bills in health care and environmental concerns.
“And we haven’t had a problem with birds; I think the turbines are big enough that they can see them.”
*Bay Windpower was created in 1999 by VanderVeen and two partners to provide an alternative source of energy for the Great Lakes, and already has three turbines in Michigan, two in Mackinaw City and one in Traverse City.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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