September 22, 2014

EMCOG applying for Arenac County wind energy grant

By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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ARENAC COUNTY — An $80,000 grant that would pay for a feasibility study on the practicality of wind energy in Arenac County is being sought out by county officials and the East Michigan Council of Governments (EMCOG), formerly the East Central Michigan Planning and Development Region.

“Arenac County has been targeted as one of the areas, because of its location, where wind energy is feasible,” said District V County Commissioner Joseph Sancimino. “We have the wind currents over the (Saginaw) bay to help us.”

According Anamika Laad, a transportation coordination planner with EMCOG who is writing the grant application for Arenac County, the county has been shown to be a potential wind energy hot spot by Michigan Department of Energy wind maps. She says the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Coastal Zone Management Program grant being targeted would include $40,000 from the program, a $30,000 in-kind match from EMCOG and an additional $10,000 from EMCOG and the Michigan Department of Transportation combined.

She also added the feasibility study, if the grant application is accepted, would begin in 2010. Laad says she expects to know whether or not the grant application will be accepted this fall.

And if the study is granted and goes well, there could be some positives for the economy of Arenac County.

“If the study determines that wind energy is feasible, that would allow farmers to lease their land to people who want to use wind energy, so there’s economic benefits,” Sancimino said. “It could also help anybody who owns land, it doesn’t have to be a farmer.

“(If deemed feasible) Then we can shop it (county) around to John Deere Power, because they’re the ones doing it in the thumb, we can shop it around to Detroit Edison and Consumers.”

When it comes to wind energy in the thumb area of Michigan, or more specifically, Huron County’s Elkton-Pigeon area, Michigan State University Extension Educator Dennis Stein says the communities have been overwhelmingly supportive of the 32-turbine, 3,200-acre wind farm that has been operational for 16 months.

“That community really wholeheartedly embraced bringing a wind farm in,” Stein said, adding farmers and landowners in the area actually drew up a plan to help attract wind turbine companies. “The village of Elkton has already developed a windmill festival.”

According to Stein, where wind farms have been erected the economies have already benefited.

“Farms across the Midwest have seen anywhere between $2,000 and $15,000 per turbine per year,” he said. “They (windmills) are on leased farmland.”

Laad says farmers are often in favor of wind energy coming in.

“They can continue faming and they just have to work around the turbine and get good returns,” she said. “Farmers generally do want to continue farming. … [But] They end up falling prey to developers who pay them money.”

Stein added that several hundred construction jobs were available when the Huron County wind farm was being built and that while only a couple operational jobs are needed after construction, the windmills provide a massive tax base that is charged to wind energy companies for improving the properties the turbines are built on.

And while Stein works out of Caro, he says the potential of Arenac County being a site for wind energy hasn’t escaped him and that a group from AuGres has even approached him about using wind energy to offset some municipality costs.

“I know the AuGres people, I’ve talked to them and they’re very interested in putting up some windmills for some of the [city] works,” he said, adding wind energy has drawn interest from municipal government as a way to run streetlights and municipal buildings. “What they’re (municipalities) really doing is they’re using this as a supplement.”

Stein did say wind energy systems such as these are different than wind farms, though, as these systems are used for powering specific items, rather than producing mass power that is added to the power grid, as is the case with wind farms, which he says are similar to fossil fuel power plants.

According to Sancimino and Stein, there are steps members of the community can take if they are interested in seeing wind power being generated in Arenac County.

“First of all, they can let their county government know they’re in support of it,” Sancimino said. “They got to write a letter to (Rep.) Tim Moore, they got to write a letter to (Sen.) Jim Barcia.

“Make you feelings known to your legislators and your county government and make your feelings known to your local unit of government.”

“A community, number one, has to have a positive attitude and a community, two, has to make sure zoning ordinances are in place that can accommodate wind turbines,” Stein said. “They need to think about where are some of these areas where we would like to see these windmills developed.

“Three, they need to find people willing to lease property for 30-50 years. … That has been an attractant in several cases.”

For more information on the wind power grant, contact Sancimino at 989-846-6188.

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