Benzie County—The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a Rural Business Enterprise Grant to the Michigan Land Use Institute to promote wind power development in northwest Lower Michigan.
The grant will help a group of local residents decide whether large-scale wind turbines can turn a profit as part of a community-owned energy farm they want to build in Benzie County.
USDA awarded the non-profit MLUI $20,000, which will be used to analyze a year’s worth of wind speed and direction data gathered at the site, near Benzie Central High School, by a 100-foot-tall anemometer.
The site, known as the Brauer Energy Farm, is on property owned by Traverse City filmmaker Rich Brauer, who wants to see more clean energy in northern Michigan.
The data analysis will help the farm’s promoters determine whether the wind blows hard and frequently enough to justify building a small number of multi-million-dollar wind turbines there. USDA had not supported wind energy development at this scale before in this part of the country.
“USDA has funded a few small renewable energy grants for individuals in northern Michigan,” according to Tom Karas, of the Michigan Energy Alternatives Project (MEAP), who wrote the grant for MLUI and frequently collaborates with the organization. “But this grant marks their first local or regional effort to support an energy project that could have such a large economic impact for a rural area.”
“Community energy,” according to Mr. Karas, “has two main characteristics: It feeds power directly into the grid, and it is at least partially owned by local residents or companies.
Mr. Brauer said he is excited about the project because he’s followed renewable developments in this part of the state for many years.
“I was one of the first to sign up for the green rate with Traverse City Light & Power 15 years ago to build the turbine on M-72,” he said. “To now have the opportunity to be involved in another groundbreaking clean energy project is a dream come true.”
Successful wind energy development depends on collecting highly accurate measurements and science-based estimates of wind speeds at various heights.
The Brauer data was collected at 90 feet, but today’s turbines often have hub heights of up to 300 feet. That means a wind-flow expert must apply sophisticated computer modeling to the anemometer’s year of hard numbers.
“Establishing the feasibility of a wind power site requires an expensive analytical system,” according to Mr. Karas, who is managing the technical aspects of developing the site. “That can be a major barrier to small, local groups trying to develop clean energy projects. The USDA is really stepping up and helping our little group get over the first big hump in establishing whether ours is an investment-grade site.
“We are very, very thankful to the USDA for not only helping this project, but in helping northwest Lower Michigan better understand the process of community energy development,” he added.
Over the past two years, MLUI and MEAP have conducted a public education campaign about moving Michigan’s electricity production away from coal-fired power plants and toward efficiency and renewable energy solutions.
As a part of its campaign, MLUI and MEAP published 20-20 by 2020: A Clear Vision for Clean-Energy Prosperity this spring and presented it to Traverse City Light & Power. The groups urged the city-owned utility to include community energy projects in its future power supply plans.
Policy specialist Brian Beauchamp leads MLUI’s Energy and Environment program.
About the Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 3,000 households, businesses, and organizations have joined the Institute in support of its mission to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity, and protects Michigan’s unmatched natural resources.