Category Archives: Opinion

Change the Approach for Renewable Projects

An Evergreen Approach to Renewable Projects

Since 2008 Michigan has been the developmental area for highly dense wind energy projects. Surrounded by Great Lakes wind, and fueled by a renewable target mandate, the state has been a target for wind energy development particularly in the Thumb region along Saginaw Bay, the shoreline of Lake Huron and in pockets of specific areas near Lake Michigan. This development is usually means that thousands of contiguous acres are targeted with ten’s or hundreds of wind turbines within established agricultural townships. The resulting effects on the rural communities have resulted in deep divides between neighbors and a patchwork of zoning regulations that are still playing out across this region. This approach is unsustainable in that future investment, even within existing wind farms may be impacted by this patchwork of overlay regulation and zoning. It’s clear that a new approach is needed and it must be coordinated to accommodate the general interests of the community while offering ongoing economic and environmental benefit to hosting renewable energy platforms.

The Three Prong Renewable Project Approach; Selective Siting, Engineer for Obsolesce and Invest in Storage Technologies.

Selective Siting for Wind Projects

surveyThe first and most pressing problem is the current “carpet bombing” of wind development within a geographic area. Developers, using wind data from survey towers will target large swaths of land typically consisting in 10-30,000 acres. To complicate matters these areas typically overlay multiple townships which may, or may not, have established zoning regulations. Local zoning consisting of setbacks and other rules of various forms will ultimately drive location selection. The result is a virtual “have” or “have not” patch work of wind lease holders who by mere luck be able to support a turbine development site. The results are deep splits in the project area with some getting a income windfall while others endure a perceived eyesore and get nothing. This scheme needs to be turned on its head to instead “Cherry Pick” specific defined areas whereby all land holders benefit from wind development in various degrees based on if they physically host the development on their land or are impacted as adjoining landowners or other factors. (Such as easement access)  This ensures that all benefit and are part of the renewable energy solution. These “energy zones” could be incentivized by the state in similar fashion to economic zones. Community’s looking for economic opportunity could apply for such a status. This approach turns from a defensive posture today to one that developers know that they are being welcomed by the area.

Engineer Renewables for Replacement

The next element is the physical plant itself. Wind turbines are designed with a 20-25 yearengineering estimated life span as a capital asset. This means at the end of the life that the tower is removed from service or refurbished anew. Again, with the rapid advancement of technology and dropping costs in this sector we are resulting in inefficient and stranded resources as soon as they are built. Clearly what is needed is an engineering approach where it is expected that the generating technology will be updated or replaced several times within its physical lifespan. When this technology replacement occurs the opportunity is opened for the hosting landowner to re-negotiate the lease with new terms and payments. Need-less-to-say this window must also include the potential for removal and restoration of the site.

The Renewable Energy Storage Problem

beaconpowerThe last element of this approach is the most problematic; energy storage technology. Despite showing success with its flywheel approach, the spectacular failure of companies like Beacon Power to bring to market energy storage technology has resulted in ongoing questions of the true long term viability of naturally harnessed power generation. Since renewables can only operate with active wind or sunlight, without a viable energy storage solution there can be no consideration of replacing or offsetting fossil fueled generation. However the bright spot is that if and when this technological hurdle is achieved, renewable energy will then become on the forefront of our solution to fossil fuel dependency and as a check on global warming.

The need for utilization of renewables is clear. However its implementation has been a ham handed approach that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, drove local government expense up with defensive zoning and adversely affected communities. A three prong method of incentivized selective siting, engineering for obsolesce and energy storage will serve to make renewables a more welcome economic option.



Update: Why Pursue Wind Energy Now

There is no question that technologies such as wind turbines are less efficient than continuing to use fossil fuel. So why are we investing so much in renewable in terms of tax breaks and legislation? This video presents a non political outline of the situation that  planet finds itself in. It does not offer any solutions. This was first posted on Thumbwind in 2012. Three years later it resonates even more.

Some may consider it propaganda while others consider it prophetic. It’s required viewing in several classes in colleges throughout Michigan.

Synthetic Reality

An aspiring young author pens a  jolting observation on one of the largest Social Media sites in the world.

Facebook is like a massive party that you were sort of invited to, where you pretty much know everyone. But they are all with friends that you don’t know and are doing their own thing.

You walk around, occasionally giving thumbs up to what someone said only to receive a slight nod or to be blindly ignored. You continue walking around finding things amusing, sometimes even enter a conversation. Then you see friends that you once were very fond of. They are off busy with their own friends. You want to say something; however, you hesitate and keep walking around. They don’t notice you at all. So, you find yourself looking at friends who now have a relationship.

Watching people hang out with their friends. Hearing all the different lives live on all around you. Everyone is smiling. 30+ people thumbs up someone who talks about the snow. Another person does the same, except no one thumbs up or comments on what they said at all. You finally stop and realize. You are alone, walking around, watching everyone enjoy their own lives. You are merely a spectator.

I’m sorry. But seems to me like the most cruel and lonesome party I’ve ever been too.

Ethan HardyEthan Hardy is an aspiring writer and student. He is a wilderness canoe guide in northern Minnesota. His current work “Journey into Pi Tieras” can be found on his blog MarshLandEarth.

A Reflection of Resource

ImageThe drive started, I found myself in a Dodge just outside of Chicago. My car, made in Michigan, with parts from who knows where, I thought as I began my drive towards Detroit. As I head in the direction of the highway there are farms scattered about the landscape. I wonder how many had anything to do with Monsanto or where the food grown there ends up.  Passing through small towns I noticed that there was a pavilion for a Farmers Market, in more than one of them.

I took the on ramp to merge onto the highway.  Very quickly I became one of hundreds of vehicles.  Counting only the cars that I can see with my naked eye I fathom each tank of gas each of these vehicles.  If each tanks size is about ten gallons, which judging by the size of some of these that maybe half the actual size, there are easily one thousand gallons of gas and that are just what’s in my immediate area.

As I continue to drive I can see steam and some sort of gas being spewed into the air. I wonder that was being dumped in the air or what those buildings were making.  When where they build? Was there forest or plains in this area before they were? What materials were used to build the structures? Were these mined? If they were how far where they transported before they found their way to the walls and lighting fixtures? Questions I ask myself seem to grow bigger and more distant.  Almost like a time line of the land and the materials assembled to make the buildings that currently reside on that land.

The longer I drive the size and quality of road varies. However, I have been on the same road for about four hours. There are hundreds of thousands of roads in the United States. How many resources does it take to make these roads? One difference I noticed was that there were toll ways in Illinois but in Michigan there are almost none. In Michigan the roads do not seem to have the same quality.  Perhaps the tolls help maintain quality which would mean it could be sustained for longer periods without pouring more capital into it. Though the oil consumption necessary for transportation will get to a point where these highways may become a luxury only available for the super-rich whom can consume the expensive gas.