Alger Delta and Baldwin Commodities settle wind turbine dispute

MARQUETTE – The Michigan Public Service Commission is expected to consider approval of an agreement at an upcoming meeting after parties in a dispute over connection of a wind turbine in Powell Township recently agreed to settlement terms.

The electric power connection dispute has been ongoing over the past few years and involves the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association and Tom Baldwin of Baldwin Commodities Corp., owner of the wind turbine erected on Loma Farms property, which is situated off Marquette County Road 550 north of Marquette.

In January 2013, Baldwin said he had worked for three years developing the wind turbine project that was ready to be connected to Alger Delta’s system. However, he said Alger Delta was requiring him to install a protective device he didn’t believe was necessary.

Baldwin plans to use the generator to help cut electricity costs.

The two parties argued before the Michigan Public Service Commission. A commission spokeswoman said Baldwin recently asked the state regulator to dismiss his complaint after a settlement was reached last month.

“Alger Delta was requiring me to install an unnecessary and redundant protective device, called a recloser, at a location on County Road 550 that would not protect all of Alger Delta’s customers as Alger Delta was claiming,” Baldwin said. “Only after the Michigan Public Service Commission agreed with my assertion that the location of the recloser was incorrect, did Alger Delta agree to settle this dispute.”

Baldwin said several members of the commission agreed with his position that the recloser was unnecessary.

“However, the majority were unwilling to set a precedent telling utilities what devices to use in their systems, even though I supplied them with over 25 examples of projects with my design, including two in the state of Michigan,” Baldwin said.

Tom Harrell, general manager at Alger Delta, said Baldwin sought to interconnect the 100-kilowatt wind project with the Alger Delta Cooperative distribution system beginning in 2011. Harrell said Alger Delta and BCC agreed to interconnect the project under the Public Service Commission rules for “net metering.”

“In 2013, a dispute arose when Alger Delta required the installation of a device called a ‘recloser’ to protect its power lines and other consumers, and demanded that BCC pay for the purchase and installation of the recloser,” Harrell said. “Alger Delta claimed that the MPSC rules for net metering require the interconnecting party to pay for such devices. BCC filed a complaint with the MPSC disputing the need for the recloser and claiming that Alger Delta could not require BCC to pay for the device.”

The recloser was estimated to cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

Harrell said Baldwin alleged that Alger Delta violated its own technical standards and MPSC rules and discriminated against Baldwin.

“The settlement resulted when BCC agreed to purchase and install the recloser,” Harrell said. “The settlement agreement must be approved by the MPSC and approval is expected at the next commission meeting.”

Baldwin said during his litigation, he has helped begin the process of reforming Alger Delta, which he said is “desperately needed.” He cited the replacement of some of the board members as progress.

“Even though the federal government is supporting renewable energy projects, backward cooperatives that are mismanaged like Alger Delta, can discourage the building of renewable energy projects by causing them to install unnecessary devices that will make the projects economic failures,” Baldwin said.

Harrell said previously the cooperative has worked hard to improve its system – which provides service to more than 900 members situated along County Road 550 and in Big Bay – resulting in improved reliability and safety.

“Mr. Baldwin’s wind generator is 10 to 50 times larger than other renewable generation projects on our system,” Harrell said previously. “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 the recloser was needed.

“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 thought Baldwin should pay the cost of the device.

Alger Delta previously required Rio Tinto to install a recloser for its Eagle Mine to isolate a back-up diesel generator from the Alger Delta system.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.