The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 17, 2012

Consumers Energy wind farm sprouts along Lake Michigan

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LUDINGTON – By the end of the year, White Construction, its subcontractors and the building trades will have placed up to 100 megawatts of new clean, renewable energy on the state’s power grid.

The power will come from the winds off of Lake Michigan, powering 56 wind turbines that are currently being installed at Consumers Energy’s Lake Winds Energy Park in Mason County. It’s the utility’s first venture in owning and operating a wind energy development in Michigan, although they buy power from other wind farms

“We had a good plan going into the construction,” said Consumers Energy’s Communications Director for New Generation Dennis Marvin. “We’ve had to adjust the site plan a bit because of amended zoning regulations from our original plan, but really, everything is going smoothly in the construction process.”

The Lake Winds Energy Park will produce enough electricity to meet the annual power needs of more than 31,000 residential customers. At the beginning of August, iron workers were nearly halfway through the turbine installation. Work began Nov. 10, 2011, and the Lake Winds project is expected to be complete and producing power by the end of this year.

Putting up 56 wind turbines isn’t as simple as say, planting trees. Consumers Energy has secured more than 16,000 acres of easements in Riverton and Summit townships to build the turbines. A good portion of that land is needed to create an underground electric collection system and establish setback buffers to meet zoning requirements for operational factors such as sound and “shadow flicker.” The flicker is the shadow created by moving turbine blades on area homes – and the turbines are being placed so that 94 percent of homes will experience only 10 hours a year or less.

All of the turbine locations received previous approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, Michigan Aeronautic Commission, and the Mason County Airport Zoning Board of Appeals.

Vestas-American Wind Technology Inc. is supplying each of the identical V100-1.8-megawatt wind turbine generators. From the ground to the tip of a rotor at the 12-o’clock position, the turbines stand 476 feet tall. Each base for the 56 turbines requires a supply of 50 cement trucks. Most of the hardware for the turbines is delivered from Colorado, but the workforce is local: about 150 Hardhats are currently employed by the Lake Winds project.

“We’ve sourced as much of our workforce as possible for this project through the union halls, and we’ve been very pleased with the work of the building trades,” Marvin said. “They’ve done a terrific job.”

Consumers Energy is the largest supplier of renewable energy in Michigan.  About five percent of the electricity the utility provides to customers comes from renewable sources in the state.

By the end of 2012, including the expected addition of Lake Winds, about eight percent of the power that the utility supplies to customers is expected to come from Michigan renewable sources.

The installation of the turbines and associated wiring and grid connections are part of Consumers Energy’s plans to meet the State of Michigan’s renewable energy standard adopted in 2008, which requires electric providers to meet a 10 percent renewable energy standard based on retail sales by the end of 2015.

According to Consumers Energy, in its first 10 years of operation, Lake Winds will generate nearly $20 million in new tax revenue, increasing to nearly $30 million after 20 years. The utility will pay a minimum of about $430,000 collectively each year to landowners who host wind turbines, pursuant to their easements.

The $235 million Lake Winds project “is part of $6 billion in investment Consumers Energy is making over the next five years in infrastructure projects,” said Consumers spokesman Dan Bishop. The utility is also in the permitting stage for the construction of its second wind farm, the 150-megawatt first phase of the 250-megawatt Cross Winds Energy Park in Tuscola County, scheduled for operation by 2015. “We see wind as part of a balanced energy initiative, and we’re on track to meet the state’s 10 percent standard,” Bishop added. “Wind is part of the power supply, but we still see baseload power supply as the workhorse of our system.”

IRON WORKERS Local 340 members working for White Construction lift a wind turbine section at the Lake Winds Energy Park near Ludington.

A turbine.

A STABLE FOUNDATION for a single wind turbine base requires a visit from 50 cement trucks. Here rodbusters from Iron Workers Local 340, working for Davis Rebar, get one of the rotor bases ready. Photos by Harry Sabourin/Consumers Energy