INTRO: This week, a metro Detroit township installed windmills and solar panels on its property. The devices can be seen by people driving by on I-96 . They’re generating interest as well as kilowatts. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has their story.
A motorcyclist going 100 miles an hour on the expressway might not see them, but look on the south side of I-96, west of Brighton. You’ll see turbines 50 feet in the air and solar panels below them on the ground.
Mike Archinal flicked the switch to turn them on for the first time. He’s the Genoa Township Manager.
“Instead of saying, ‘how much would it cost us to put in 5 wind turbines?’, we said ‘what can you do for $95,000?’ so we didn’t have to leave any money on the table, and that’s why we have the solar arrays as part of this project.”
A year ago, the state of Michigan got $20 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. 130 Michigan communities got them; this is the first one to be finished.
“A lot of people are looking to install these in their homes. They’re looking to find enough information. So with I-96 here we’ve got about 50,000 vehicle trips per day. We’ve got excellent visibility with our site. We’ve spurred a lot of interest, which is exactly what we wanted to do.”
John Griffin is a local resident who came to the ceremony. He’s going to monitor these units to see if they make enough electricity. Then he may buy some of his own. A single Windspire costs about $10,000 installed.
“I wanted to put one of these things, either the solar panels or the wind turbines in my yard at home. But I didn’t want to risk the money without knowing the performance.”
Devon O’Shea works with his dad. They are the main installers of Windspires in Michigan.
Windspires are made in Manistee.
“I would say that any experienced contractor that can build houses, to pour footings, to doing the electrical work, it is very traditional contract work, and you gotta just stay on budget and stay on time.”
Most turbines move up down and around like a Ferris wheel. Windspires are tall and thin and whip around horizontally. More than 20 contractors got work putting them in.
Jan Patrick of The Department of Labor, Energy & Economic Growth (DLEG) was asked if the grant is a waste of tax dollars.
“Oh no. Not at all. That’s something we have to overcome with the success stories is to show that it is producing jobs, which all of us want in this economy. And it is reducing the overall costs to the taxpayer of energy.”
Mike Archinal is expecting to save 20% on the township energy bill. Some of that will come when the building is closed and a net meter sends power back to the company.
“The economics of it with the grant make great sense. Without the grant, it’s marginal, frankly, with the wind speeds we have in this part of the state. As a demonstration, I think it has value in access of the electricity and the reduced carbon emissions that this represents. Maybe it inspires some 15 year old kid to study this and come up with a new idea that helps us solve our dependence on foreign oil.”