County's study finds breezes too light to make turbines turn a profit
by Sally Pobojewski
From the January, 2011 issue
Plans for a commercial wind farm to generate electricity in western Washtenaw County have been scuttled due to a lack of wind.
To make sense economically, utility-scale wind farms need at least thirteen-miles-per-hour average wind speeds at eighty meters (262 feet) above the ground. But the tests found local wind speeds averaged just 11.5 mph.
The idea of harnessing wind power to produce electricity and attract economic development has intrigued county officials since 2006, when it was first proposed by county commissioner Wes Prater. But no one knew whether wind speeds in the county would be sufficient.
So in 2007, the Board of Commissioners funded a one-year study by an Ohio consulting firm, North Coast Wind & Power. In partnership with the city of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, and the Chrysler Corporation, Washtenaw County officials created the Wind Power Washtenaw Project to promote the development of wind energy in the county.
In May 2008, an eighty-meter meteorological tower was installed at the Chrysler Proving Grounds--considered the most favorable spot for winds in the county. Hopes were high, but winds were not. According to the consultant's final report, posted on the county's website, "the wind resource observed from June 2008 to June 2009 would likely not support the development of a utility-scale wind farm."
Chrysler paid $44,000 to install the tower and prepare the test site, leaving the county to pay $42,000, according to Tony VanDerworp, the county's director of economic development and energy.
"We knew we were in a marginal area, so we're not really disappointed," VanDerworp says.
There are no plans for further studies. But in two or three years, the picture could be very different, VanDerworp adds. Right now, taller turbines that could tap into stronger winds at higher elevations are too costly. Future improvements in wind turbine technology, however, could make even marginal wind speed areas viable for future commercial development.
[Originally published in January, 2011.]
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