Michigan Elementary School, Utility, Wrangle Over Wind Turbines

While wind turbines are spinning away at some schools in the Midwest, the blades on windmills at Pigeon, Michigan's Laker Elementary School are locked. Utility Detroit Edison (DTE) claims that the grid-connected turbines don't meet "safety and reliability standards," and has given Laker's school board two options to unlock the blades:

Under one option, the school would disconnect three 65-kilowatt windmills there from DTE's electrical grid, and the turbines would only operate when power is needed at the elementary school and a junior-senior high school building next door. ...

Under the second option, the school would pay $180,000 to upgrade its equipment and DTE equipment to be able to operate the turbines on the utility's electrical grid, and then be paid back for a percentage of the excess power the turbines generate.

Wind developer Brion Dickens, who installed the turbines, believes that DTE, which generates power by burning coal, doesn't support the school's use of the turbines, and notes that the first option would ruin the blades "in about a week" from turning them on and off. Interim District Superintendent Bob Drury says the school system doesn't have the money for the upgrades required by DTE, and believes that they're not necessary. DTE's press release on the matter claims that the company has "...expedited an analysis needed to determine the best way to install wind generators for interconnection with Detroit Edison's electric grid," and that they're fully supportive of the school's desire to generate power from the turbines, which were funded by a grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission. The company would also kick in $150,000 to defray costs regardless of which option the school chooses.

DTE notes in its media release that "It is extremely complex to connect large wind generators to the electric grid..." The US Department of Energy's "Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" bears this out, but also notes that the only standards for grid connection are voluntary -- they otherwise vary from state to state, and utility to utility. We're not in a position to pass judgment on this impasse, so we're interested to hear what you think. Is DTE stomping on a legitimate renewable generation project? Or, did Laker Elementary jump onto the renewable bandwagon without doing its homework? ::The Bay City Times


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