Muskegon County Authorizes Negotations For Wind Farm At Wastewater Site

Andrew Trzaska | July 19, 2011

Muskegon County is one step closer to the possibility of building a $300 million wind farm on its 11,000-acre wastewater site in Egelston and Moorland townships down Apple Avenue.

County public works board members decided Thursday to proceed with negotiations with one of two companies recommended to them in a presentation by Howard & Howard, consultants for the County on wind development last week.

Earlier this year the County sent out requests for proposals to a wide range of wind energy companies and received numerous responses, both yes and no.

Two finalists, publicly known only as Company A and Company B at this time, are being kept secret at this time as not to jeopardize any negotiations.

Both companies are apparently very similar, according to Howard & Howard attorney Rodger Kershner.  They each involve a large, European part and a local part working in a joint venture partnership.

Kershner recommended negotiations begin with Company A first because its plans to involve local business were more solid as of now, and its outlook for the project was more positive.

The County went with the recommendation, and they now have 30 days to negotiate with Company A.

If no agreement is reached, they intend to option negotiations with Company B if possible.

If either company is settled on, the farm is set to go online by early 2015.

The decision to move forward with the wind farm does rely on assumptions of its profitability, explained at last Tuesday’s presentation.

Expectations for this farm are not overwhelmingly optimistic, but are instead guarded and will in the end still have to rely on some future tests to get a better idea of how much the farm could produce.

Kershner explained last week that there is a range of capacity that is considered profitable for wind farms.

This means that the turbines need to be spinning a certain amount of time per day to eventually make the farm’s contributions to the electrical grid worthwhile and make the lease agreement profitable.

The Muskegon County farm, according to Kershner, is expected to have an average 29% capacity, which is at the low end of the spectrum for being profitable for a farm of this proposed size; he estimated the farm have around 50 turbines at 1.8 megawatts each.

While expectations for performance may not be incredibly high, projections for the wind farm’s cost are thought to be lower than similar wind farms currently coming online.

Kershner cited that making and maintaining turbines has become more efficient, driving down overall cost.

Turbines are expected to have a 25-year lifespan, meaning this 50-year project will see the replacement of every unit about halfway through a tentative contract.

The impact on the local economy, which ended up being a deciding factor between the very similar Companies A and B, was explained at last Tuesday’s meeting as well.

Company A and B have similar financial and technical experience, which was seen as fortunate.

“[The similarity] was a very encouraging development.  Of course we wanted people of this caliber but we couldn’t count on it,” said Kerschner.

However, Company A listed names of businesses they intended to include and provided letters of support from owners of those businesses; some, but not all were in Muskegon.

At last Tuesday’s presentation, district 11 commissioner Bob Scolnik asked if the turbines would be produced in the U.S.  This was not guaranteed by Howard & Howard, saying that the requirement of U.S.-made turbines was not part of the original request for proposals.

How many jobs the farm could create was not specified at the time of the meeting.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst