Michigan Public Service Commission to decide turbine argument
MARQUETTE – A Powell Township resident and the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association are arguing over safety measures involved in connecting a wind turbine at Granot Loma to the cooperative’s electrical system.
Tom Baldwin, owner of Granot Loma and the wind turbine, said he has worked for three years developing the project which was ready in November. However, he said Alger Delta is requiring him to install a protective device he doesn’t think is necessary.
Baldwin said the engineer who designed the wind turbine at Granot Loma, located along Lake Superior about eight miles north of Marquette, works for Consumer Edison.
“The Granot Loma Wind Turbine is utilizing multiple protective devices that are being used in other wind turbine projects across the country,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said he provided examples to Alger Delta of 23 identical projects, with 18 different utilities in 18 states that are the same design as Granot Loma’s Wind Turbine, none of which are using Alger Delta’s required device. One project in downstate Rockport is using the exact wind turbine technology as Granot Loma and is interconnected to Consumer Edison, Baldwin said.
Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association General Manager Tom Harrell said the cooperative has worked hard to improve its system, which provides service to more than 900 members situated along Marquette County Road 550 and in Big Bay, resulting in improved reliability and safety.
“Mr. Baldwin wants to interconnect a 100-kilowatt wind generator to the Alger Delta system on County Road 550,” Harrell said. “Mr. Baldwin’s wind generator is 10 to 50 times larger than other renewable generation projects on our system. Mr. Baldwin’s generator can create unsafe backfeed conditions on our system and/or create voltage problems that could damage other member-consumers electronics, equipment, and appliances.”
Harrell said Alger Delta’s system engineer is the person most familiar with the engineering and electrical aspects of the cooperative’s system. Harrell said the engineer determined that in order to protect Alger Delta’s system, a device called a recloser must be installed before connecting the Granot Loma wind turbine to Alger Delta’s system.
The device is estimated to cost between $40,000 and $50,000. Alger Delta required Rio Tinto to install a recloser for its Eagle Mine, to isolate a back-up diesel generator from the Alger Delta system.
“This device monitors many different electrical values and if problems occur, it will isolate the Alger
Delta system and Mr. Baldwin’s generator from one another,” Harrell said. “When the problem goes away, the recloser allows everything to be restored to normal. Reclosers are installed throughout our system and provide this kind of protection in many locations.”
Harrell said that without Baldwin’s generator, there is no need for a recloser at that location. Therefore, the cooperative thinks Baldwin should pay the cost of the device.
“Alger Delta’s member-consumers should not have to pay for equipment that is not necessary absent Mr. Baldwin’s project,” Harrell said.
Harrell said the Michigan Public Service Commission rules for interconnecting a generator like Baldwin’s support Alger Delta’s position. In December, Baldwin filed a complaint with the commission, which will take several months to decide whether the device is needed and who should pay for it.
Baldwin said his generator project seeks to provide energy at reduced rates to township residents. He said Alger Delta charges the highest rates for energy in the state at .15 cents per kilowatt.
“With our wind turbine project, my intention is to use this renewable energy resource to benefit everyone by offering the surplus power to Alger Delta at .02 cents per kilowatt,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said that rate is significantly lower than the .08 cents per kilowatt rate Alger Delta is paying Wisconsin Public Power Incorporated.
“The aim of this project is to prove that Powell Township has the wind resources necessary to support a large community wind turbine, built and financed by outside sources,” Baldwin said. “The ownership subsequently would be turned over to Powell Township.”
Harrell said that in July 2011, Alger Delta and Baldwin came to an agreement regarding the interconnection of the Granot Loma wind project, the result of dismissing a previous complaint filed by Baldwin before the commission.
“As part of this agreement, Mr. Baldwin represented that he would consume all of the energy he plans generate, and significantly more,” Harrell said. “Because he committed to consuming so much energy, the agreement also says that Mr. Baldwin’s project shall be net metered.”
Harrell said “net metered” means any excess energy generated by Baldwin flows on the Alger Delta system to nearby members and Alger Delta pays for the energy.
“Credits for excess energy are used to offset future consumption-they are not for sale to Alger Delta at .02 cents per kilowatt hour,” Harrell said. “In fact, I am not aware that Mr. Baldwin is offering to sell energy to Alger Delta at .02 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Harrell said he is unaware of any actions by Baldwin to change the consumption patterns at his property so that he would actually qualify for net metering as he committed in the July 2011 agreement.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.