Michigan adds megawatts to its wind power
DTE Energy has built on to its renewable energy portfolio in a big way, with the addition of the award-winning Isabella Wind 1 and 2 wind power projects.
By Paul MacDonald
DTE Energy’s Isabella 1 and 2 wind parks in Michigan—totaling 383 megawatts (MW)—are helping both large and not-so-large organizations with their move to renewable energy.
The two wind power projects—among the largest in the utility’s renewables portfolio—support the clean energy goals of Ford, General Motors, the University of Michigan, and other customers enrolled in DTE’s MIGreenPower voluntary renewable energy program.
The projects are also helping the Detroit Zoo transition to 100 percent renewable energy. “Joining MIGreenPower is a major step forward for us, as our power needs significantly exceed what we can produce on site,” said Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society Executive
Director and CEO. The 125-acre Detroit Zoo—home to 2,600 animals representing 228 species—has won a number of green awards for its sustainability initiatives and achievements. Among other measures, the Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in the U.S. to install a Smartflower, an all-in-one ground-mounted solar panel system that generates more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually.
The Isabella wind parks have received their own industry recognition—they were named a 2020 Project of the Year by the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council.
Apex Clean Energy developed and managed construction of the wind projects, which DTE purchased and is now operating. The parks are located in Isabella County, in north central Michigan.
Combined, the Isabella wind parks have a total of 136 GE 2.82 MW wind turbines.
Individually, the two parks are the second and third largest wind parks in the state—only the utility’s Meridian Wind Park, at 225 MW, is larger. Meridian is set to come online this spring.
“As the state’s leading producer of renewable energy, DTE is committed to increasing its generation from clean energy sources, including wind and solar,” said Trevor Lauer, president of DTE’s electric company, on the start-up of the Isabella parks.
“Bringing these new wind parks online helps us deliver on our commitment to reduce carbon emissions with the goal of achieving net zero by 2050. Our short- and long-term plans include continued investment in clean energy projects, including some of the largest solar projects in Michigan.
“Our goal,” added Lauer, “is to get as clean as we can, as fast as we can.”
Fagen Inc. constructed the project, and Michigan-based M.J. Electric built a 138 kV substation, 16 miles of radial transmission line and more, as electrical contractor.
Matt Wagner, Manager of Renewable Energy Development for DTE, explained that the utility purchased the projects after selecting Apex’s response to DTE’s Request for Proposals (RFP).
Wagner noted the significant scale of the project, which spans some 56,000 acres over six townships in Isabella and Midland Counties, and the boots-on-the-ground work that Apex Clean Energy had done to make the project a success. “By the time they got to the point of seeking community approval, they had nearly 600 landowners signed up.”
As seems common with wind power projects these days, there can be some opposition, and that opposition can try to divide communities with misinformation campaigns.
“I give Apex a lot of credit,” Wagner said. “They saw this happening, and worked hard to engage the communities—even more so than they had already done—to answer a lot of questions.
“Apex helped the communities understand what the projects involved, and the economic benefits they would deliver,” Wagner said. “That effort built trust and increased the faith of landowners and others in the communities who wanted the projects.”
|Apex Clean Energy developed and managed construction of the Isabella wind projects, which DTE purchased and is now operating. Fagen Inc. constructed the project, and Michigan-based M.J. Electric built a 138 kV substation, 16 miles of radial transmission line and more, as electrical contractor.|
Apex was grateful for the support it received from local residents, from lawn signs to presentations at town meetings, and positive postings on social media.
Along the way, Apex and its supporters won over some skeptics, though as with most wind projects, it can be difficult to win everyone over.
Apex has projected that the Isabella Wind parks will generate approximately $30 million in tax revenue for the six townships in Isabella and Midland Counties, and $100 million in landowner payments over the lifetime of the project. In short, says Apex, the agricultural community will benefit from an economic boost unparalleled in most residents’ lifetimes.
It has become clear to both developers and utilities that wind project opponents have become increasingly sophisticated in their efforts, and social media can be one of their main tools. Wagner said it is important to address opponent misinformation, and that community engagement, more than ever, is key to both the successful development, and operation, of a wind power project.
Wagner said DTE is pleased to have the Isabella wind parks in their portfolio, noting that the wind in this part of central Michigan is ideal for wind park operation.
A significant difference between the Isabella wind parks and the utility’s other wind parks at the time was the size of the turbines.
|The Isabella wind projects site spans some 56,000 acres over six townships in Isabella and Midland Counties, in central Michigan. Combined, the Isabella wind parks (tower components being transported above) have a total of 136 GE 2.82 MW wind turbines. Individually, the two parks are the second and third largest wind parks in the state—only DTE Energy’s Meridian Wind Park (inset photo), at 225 MW, which was recently completed, is larger.|
“They were the first wind turbines in Michigan to be above 500 feet,” Wagner said. In fact, the GE 2.8 MW 121 turbines have a tip height of 581 feet.
“Being higher, we are able to take advantage of better winds—we were very excited about the extra generation potential,” he said, adding that the rotor diameter on the turbines is over 400 feet.
As with other projects that have been purchased by DTE, Wagner said there is a “transition phase” from when the developer, in this case Apex, completes and hands over the project.
Essentially, DTE is “onboarding” the project into its portfolio at that point.
“That happens on a variety of levels,” he said. “For example, Apex signed leases with the landowners, and we now have those lease obligations. We have a lot of communication with the developers and their community engagement people about the agreement.”
Typically, the contractor will have its own people working on installing wind turbines, and DTE employees take over once construction and park commissioning is complete. “During the transition, turbine OEM technicians were also involved, besides the Apex team, which helped,” said Wagner.
He noted that DTE, as a regulated utility, has a blend of renewable energy projects—with some that are purchased, like the Isabella wind parks, and others where DTE develops, constructs, and operates the park. “It works well for us to self-develop projects, but we are equally in favor of a good project that is brought to us through the RFP process.” he said.
|A significant difference between the Isabella wind parks and DTE Energy’s other wind parks at the time was the size of the turbines: they were the first wind turbines in Michigan to be above 500 feet.|
“Apex did a great job developing this project and getting the approvals across the finish line,” Wagner added. The company has plenty of experience—Apex Clean Energy has developed and built commercial-scale wind and solar energy facilities across North America.?
DTE itself has plenty of experience building and operating renewable energy projects. It currently has 18 wind parks and 33 solar parks throughout Michigan generating enough clean energy to power nearly 700,000 homes. By 2025, the company plans to invest an additional $2.8 billion in renewable energy assets, developing a portfolio that will generate enough clean energy to power more than one million homes. With the Isabella wind parks—and more recent wind projects like Meridian Wind—operating well, DTE is turning its attention to further renewable energy developments.
In January, DTE announced that it is seeking renewable energy projects totaling up to 850 MW as part of the company’s CleanVision Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and continued demand for the company’s?MIGreenPower program. The Clean-Vision IRP outlines the
company’s plans to invest in a cleaner energy future, including the addition of more than 15,000 megawatts of renewables and an additional 1,800 megawatts of storage by 2042.?
To support this clean energy transformation, DTE is issuing an RFP for new wind and solar projects.
Not all the company’s renewable generation sources are related to wind or solar power, though.
Methane from cow manure is now becoming sustainable renewable natural gas (RNG) at a new DTE Vantage (a subsidiary of DTE) biomass facility that began operations in February in Wisconsin. The new project with Matsche Farms, which manages approximately 10,000 dairy cows and spans more than 5,000 acres of land, will produce enough RNG to fuel approximately 1,600 vehicles per year.?
This RNG project is the company’s eighth in Wisconsin, making DTE Vantage one of the largest RNG producers in the Midwest.
The RNG produced from the farm’s manure waste is transported to DTE Vantage’s nearby?Newton Interconnect?site and injected into a natural gas pipeline. DTE Vantage is working with?U.S. Gain—a Wisconsin-based company that delivers alternative fuel and renewable energy—to transport the RNG to market for vehicle use.
U.S. Gain brings the RNG generated from this new project to the transportation market in California, where it will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of its customers’ fleets.????
Big picture on the overall renewable energy front, DTE’s Matt Wagner said the utility is encouraged by the Biden Administration's Inflation Reduction Act and its measures to encourage renewable energy in all its different forms. “DTE is excited about how the IRA is going to help renewable energy development in Michigan—and across the country,” he said.