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Learn the Business of Community Wind

Blog Archive | May 13, 2010 | By Tom Karas

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On May 19 and 20 an expert will explain how to get started on “community wind”--locally owned wind turbines that keep jobs, investment dollars, and profits closer to home.

My understanding of how best to grow renewable energy in Michigan-and across the country-keeps me climbing up some pretty steep learning curves. Katy has to listen to me complain, but I’m slowly getting the big picture.

One thing I’ve figured out: A very good way to really learn and understand the mechanics of installing renewables is to jump in with both feet at the local level and see the process from ground level. My work in Benzie County over the last year has been all about public education, helping to get the local public school involved, and supporting the effort by Benzie County’s planning commissioners to create and, last fall, actually adopt a new wind zoning ordinance.

Those were great, instructive experiences, but it was setting up a meteorological tower on property next to Benzie Central High School that’s owned by local film maker Rich Brauer that got me into the nuts and bolts of the game. That effort, which stretched over the last 12 months, helped me jump over the two largest hurdles any aspiring community wind developer faces.

First, with the help of Tom Gallery, of North Wind Measurement, we’ve collected wind speed and directional data on that property for an entire year. And, second, it appears we will be getting support via a U.S. Department of Agriculture business feasibility grant to analyze that data.

These two steps are crucial for determining if you continue down the road of many steps toward eventually delivering clean, renewable energy to the grid, or if you pack your bags, go to another site, and start over.

Wind energy is a business, after all. If you can’t make a business case for an investment-i.e., if there’s just not enough wind blowing over that property over a year’s time-don’t waste anyone’s time or money. But in order to know that, steps one and two really do have to happen.  And we are very close to have that answer for our proposed Brauer Energy Farm, in Benzie County.

And we are now also close enough to start talking to the public about the process: Who does what, when they do it, and how local folks might get involved.

In other words, it is important to understand the process of renewable energy development as a community if we want to attract that business activity to our region.

And we have great opportunities coming up on May 19 and 20 to better understand the business of wind.

In Benzie County, on May 19, Mary Templeton, of Wind Energy Consulting and Construction, will speak at the Best Western motel between Beulah and Honor on U.S. 31. The event starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. She has a unique background in the business and knows all the steps for getting from a big idea about wind power to turning it into a profitable enterprise.

I’ll be updating folks on some other local renewable efforts, policy opportunities that are in the pipeline, and other information that can help folks make up their own minds on how they might want to support renewable energy in our neck of the woods.

The following night we move our show to the Michigan Land Use Institute’s offices on Front Street, in downtown Traverse City. That one starts promptly at 6:30 p.m., too, and because space is limited, please call the office at 231-941-6584, ext. 25, and let Shauna Fite know you’re coming. Or email her at shauna@mlui.org.

We’ll have coffee and cookies at both places to help keep you awake. Seriously, though, we hope the subject will not only do that, but also invigorate and inspire you to get more involved as we move forward together with a clean energy vision for our region.

Tom Karas founded the Michigan Energy Alternatives Project and collaborates frequently with the Michigan Land Use Institute on coal and clean energy issues. Reach him at logman39@hotmail.com.

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