Green program driver in Michigan

Michigan's first wind project -- a 5 MW plant near Mackinaw City -- is a direct result of a green power program, says Richard Vander Veen of Bay Windpower, the project developer. The program is being offered by Consumers Energy with the approval of Michigan's Public Service Commission. The five NEG Micon 900 kW turbines will be in operation by December.

Consumers Energy's 1.6 million customers can pay what the utility calls a "green surcharge" to buy 10%, 50% or all of their energy from qualified renewable generators in Michigan. "Although Consumers Energy already generates and buys significant amounts of electricity from hydro dams, waste-to-energy plants and other renewable power sources they are not included in this proposal," says the company's David W Joos. "Instead, we will offer customers a way to financially support the development of new, non-traditional generators that use the sun, the wind and other renewable energy sources in our state."

While applauding the program, James Clif of the Michigan Environmental Council, says the people who use dirty energy are the ones who should pay the higher rate, not those who choose a clean source.

Consumers Energy is initially limiting the program to three years and capping participation at the equivalent of 50 MW, enough electricity to supply about 18,000 homes. It will pass the proceeds, which it expects will be as much as $3 million annually, to renewable energy producers for reinvestment in new projects. The cap and the longevity of the program could be extended, says the company's Charles MacInnis.

Residential customers who want all their energy from renewable resources will pay a monthly surcharge of $0.03/kWh. They currently pay $0.085/kWh. Those who want 50% renewable energy will pay a surcharge of $0.015/kWh and for 10% the charge is $0.003/kWh.

Vander Veen says Bay Windpower is also looking at other sites in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and in Ontario, Canada. "We have for several years now been quietly buying sites from Cleveland to Chicago and north," he says. "Our goal is to build 300 MW more of wind projects over the next three years."