April 2007 News
Renewable energy events draw local crowds
By Kate Alvord
HOUGHTON -- A growing number of Copper Country residents like the idea of renewable power, if turnouts at recent meetings are any indication.
A wind energy talk by Calumet Girl Scouts attracted attention in January. A Hancock forum on solar,
wind and energy conservation drew a larger-than-expected crowd in February, as did a
Small Wind Seminar sponsored by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension in Houghton in March.
Such a long line formed at the registration table for MSUís March 27 Small Wind Seminar at
Michigan Tech's Noblet Forestry Building that the start of the event was delayed. About 60 people showed instead of the 20 or so anticipated.
"Too many people is a good problem," said Mike Schira, local County Extension Director for MSU Extension Service, which hosted the seminar.
"Obviously, itís a hot topic for the area."
The idea of wind energy is popular here for good reason, according to the eveningís speaker, Lynn Hamilton of MSUís Department of Agricultural Economics.
"Youíve got great wind up here in Houghton," she told the crowd.
Lynn Hamilton of Michigan State University's Department of Agricultural
Economics discusses the advantages of small wind energy systems during the Small
Wind Seminar she presented in Michigan Tech's Noblet Forestry Building on March
27, 2007. (Photo © 2007 Michele Anderson)
Hamilton showed maps indicating high wind power potential around the Keweenaw Peninsula. Michigan ranks 14th in the country for wind energy potential but has developed only three megawatts, mainly in two commercial turbines near the Mackinac Bridge and one near Traverse City. A megawatt can power 250 to 300 homes.
Now, said Hamilton, the U.S. Department of Energy is "very interested in Michigan getting more wind power." Desires for energy independence, environmental concerns, cost
factors and easing demand on the power grid have all played into the interest in harnessing wind, she
This wind speed map of Michigan shows the predicted mean wind speed at 30 meters, a typical height for small wind turbines of up to 50KW rated capacity, consistent with on-farm or residential use.
Click on map for larger size posted by the Michigan Energy Office. (Map
Energy Office Web site.)
Hamilton focused her comments on traditional horizontal-axis three-blade wind turbines with a capacity of 100 kilowatts (KW) or less, known as
"small wind" systems, for farms, homes and businesses.
In addition to the wind turbine itself, such systems usually include a tower on which to mount the turbine, an inverter to convert to AC electricity, batteries for power storage, and a safety switch and meters for interfacing with the power grid.
For the systems shown in Hamiltonís slides, installed costs started at $35,000.
"It is expensive up front," she said, explaining that most of wind powerís cost is in purchasing the equipment.
"But after that, the fuel is free. Depending on your situation, that can be a real savings."
This 10 KW wind turbine helps offset electricity needs for the adjacent home, which is also connected to the power grid.
Energy Association and courtesy Lynn Hamilton.)
However, Hamilton said, "itís not possible to sell power back to your utility and make a lot of money in Michigan."
Wind power not without problems
Federal law requires that owners of small renewable energy systems be allowed to interconnect with, and sell electricity to, the power grid. But in Michigan, Hamilton noted, utilities donít make this easy.
"You have to jump through some hoops," she said.
Regulations, economics and zoning affect wind powerís feasibility, Hamilton explained, but the first consideration is the quantity of wind. Around Houghton, she remarked, that shouldnít be a problem.
"Your main problem may be distance to trees or obstructions," she added. Standard wind turbines do better when sited away from the air turbulence created by trees and buildings. At least an acre of land is usually recommended for wind installations, both to avoid turbulence and to keep turbine noise away from homes.
In contrast, vertical-axis wind turbines tolerate turbulence and can be sited near buildings and trees,
noted Frank Underdown and William Bourland of Laurium-based Superior Alternative Energies. Underdown and Bourland, who commented several times from the audience, also said vertical turbines are quieter.
Hancock resident Joe Kaplan asked Hamilton about the problem of birds and bats killed by wind turbines.
"Statistically, you kill more birds with your car, or with plate glass windows, or heaven forbid, you people who have cats who are outdoors," Hamilton responded.
She added that the National Audubon Society endorses wind over fossil fuels due to concerns about
the effects of global warming on bird habitat. But, she said, there are
"some places wind turbines shouldnít be, because they are migratory paths, or places where bats fly."
The seminarís last hour covered Section 9006 loans and grants for farms and rural businesses which install renewable energy systems, part of USDA
(United States Department of Agriculture) Rural Developmentís Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program.
Farmers can also apply to borrow an anemometer to measure wind potential through MSUís Wind Anemometer Loan Program. This yearís applications are due April
More information about both programs can be obtained from Mike Schira at MSU Extension in Hancock, 482-5830 or
email@example.com. Schira can also provide handouts to those who attended the seminar and didnít get them due to the unanticipated large turnout.
Calumet Girl Scouts become wind experts
Calumetís Girl Scout Troop 91 also attracted attention when they gave a public wind power presentation in January. The work was part of community service toward their Gold Award, the highest award available to Girl Scouts.
The troop of three high school juniors at first wanted to help their school install a wind turbine. They researched the issue at the superintendentís suggestion and gave the school board a PowerPoint presentation on wind power. However, the board decided they couldnít afford it.
Members of Girl Scout Troop 91 look over the renewable energy book display at their
Jan. 11, 2007, wind power presentation at the Calumet Public Library. Pictured left to right are
Ariel Taivalkoski, Jessie Oyler and Summer Kanniainen. (Photo © 2007 Brian Taivalkoski.)
At that point, troop members "kind of had to regroup," said Betty Ray Taivalkoski, Troop 91ís leader.
"They changed their focus a little bit to community awareness."
The result was both a Web page and the public presentation. The Girl Scouts provided information on types of wind turbines, as well as feasibility and costs. In the talk, said Taivalkoski, troop members recommended 10 KW wind systems, costing between $50,000 and $75,000, for residential use.
Though Januaryís talk drew a small crowd, Taivalkoski noted Troop 91 has since garnered more interest. Other local groups have asked the troop about the possibility of repeating their
presentation. Anyone interested in seeing Troop 91ís wind power talk can contact Taivalkoski at 337-3544. The Girl Scoutsí wind power
Web site is accessible at www.clk.k12.mi.us
(click on the Wind Power link toward the bottom of that page).
Conservation, solar and wind at February Forum
Yet another renewable energy meeting, the Keweenaw Sustainability Projectís
"Reducing Home Energy Costs," attracted a large crowd in February. About 70 people came to the Hancock forum to hear about energy conservation, solar
electricity and wind power.
Emceed by Mike Schira of MSU Extension and held at Lakeview Manor, the forum first featured Terry McNinch, who has used solar electricity since 1986 at his familyís off-grid home near Houghton. McNinch showed photos and diagrams of this power system, which includes four 35-watt photovoltaic panels that run a water pump, lights, satellite radio, CD and DVD
players and various other electronics. He mentioned that his sons at times have plugged electric guitars and amplifiers into the system.
The McNinch family heats mainly with wood and uses propane for refrigeration, on-demand hot
water and back-up space heat. The family has chosen to forego some appliances.
Since they do not own a washer or dryer, they take laundry in large batches to the
laundromat. They donít have TV or computers in their home either.
"We have computers at work," McNinch said. "Thatís the last thing we need at
The solar electric system is small, he noted, but has met the familyís needs through the years. In November,
December and January, when sunlight runs low, "weíre pretty conservative from a use
perspective," he said.
Winter snow, though, can help. McNinch told a story about seeing this
phenomenon when their system was new.
"One morning, I came down and the amp meter was up to 12 and it should only be 10, and I panicked," he said. He immediately phoned the New Mexico dealer whoíd sold him the system.
"Do you have a lot of snow on the ground?" the dealer asked.
This was January, and the answer was yes.
"Youíre getting more than one full sun," said the dealer -- meaning the panels were receiving light from both the actual sun and
the significant reflection off the snow.
These solar photovoltaic panels provide electricity to the McNinch home near Houghton.
In winter, reflection from snow helps charge the system.
(Photo © 2007 Terry McNinch.)
"We set our whole system up for $3,000," McNinch reported. And they avoided paying the $13,000 UPPCO
(Upper Peninsula Power Co.) had wanted to charge them to connect their home site to the power grid.
Jerry Mitchell, the next speaker, told the forum how he, too, avoids electric bills by living off the grid near Calumet. Mitchellís energy system combines wind power with backup generators to provide electricity for his 4,000-square-foot home.
"We have every amenity that you would have in any other house," Mitchell said.
Mitchell noted he uses the backup generators more often in winter than summer.
"If thereís no wind at all, I spend $5 a day to power my house," he said.
Mitchell, a co-owner of Carmelitaís Restaurant in Calumet, plans to switch soon to a generator that can use biodiesel. He has already started stockpiling the restaurantís used vegetable oil, which can be converted to biodiesel fuel.
"I hope to have that generator going by July, and then I wonít have to be using any fossil fuels whatsoever to power my house," he said.
Melissa Davis, coordinator of New Power Tour, told the forum about that projectís planned traveling exhibits of wind,
solar and biodiesel power. The project aims to give people "touchable familiarity" with renewable energy
"We want to make the physical workings of renewable energy really accessible to people,"
Davis explained. "Up close and personal and fun."
Exhibits are still in the development phase, but those interested can track the project at its web site,
The February forum ended with Houghton builder Dave Bach, who spoke about conservation and energy-efficiency.
"Probably the most important thing is understanding your household habits," Bach said.
"There are good savings in energy around the house if your habits are energy efficient."
After that, Bach said, making a house airtight with caulking and insulation is
"the least expensive conservation method you can use." Efficient appliances and light bulbs help, too, he
Bach reported he has seen increased interest in conservation and renewable power.
During the week leading up to this forum, Bach told the audience, his phone was ringing off the wall
with callers wanting to know what he was going to talk about.
Second Renewable Energy Forum to be Apr. 17
So much interest was generated that the Keweenaw Sustainability Project will host
a second forum.
"Renewable Energy: Reducing Home Energy Costs, Part 2" will be held at
7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, again at Lakeview Manor in Hancock. After talks by Terry Kinzel, Mike Benda, and Dave Bach on solar,
wind and retrofitting older homes, participants will break into discussion groups to learn more.
Community members whose homes are powered with a wide range of alternative and sustainable energy sources will also be on hand to provide examples and experience.
Mike Schira of the Michigan State University Extension Service will be the moderator.
The forum is free and open to the public.
For more information on the forum contact
Michael Moore at
370-0206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: Keweenaw Now guest writer Kate Alvord is a local freelance writer and the author of a book about
transportation reform, Divorce Your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the
Automobile. Read more about Kate (Katie) on her contributor