State’s largest utility wanted just one consultant to give both sides
Michigan’s largest electric utility, DTE Energy, declined to participate in a public forum about wind farm development in Bay County’s Beaver Township this week, citing concerns that the meeting wouldn’t be balanced.
An estimated 250 people showed up Tuesday night for a debate on the impact of increasing the number of wind turbines, according to Beaver Township Supervisor Steve Gray.
The meeting was called by the township, which in August enacted an 18-month moratorium on erecting wind turbines and towers. The township halted consideration of wind farm proposals so it could modify a zoning ordinance to address residents’ concerns. Gray said there wasn’t one word on wind turbines in the current zoning ordinance.
Gray invited DTE to participate in a meeting with a debate format, so those for and against wind farm expansion could have an equal opportunity to present their views. He said DTE asked that instead of two speakers, the format have one speaker discuss the pros and cons of wind energy, and that this speaker be Alan Bean of the Spicer Group, an engineering consulting group.
Gray said he told DTE that the format would be two speakers, with a coin toss to determine who spoke first.
DTE then sent letters last week to Beaver Township and landowners say it would not participate.
“DTE Energy had engaged in discussions with Beaver Township prior to Tuesday's meeting," DTE said in a statement. "DTE decided not to participate in the Beaver Township public meeting on Sept. 5 because we did not believe the format would provide a balanced discussion on the development of wind parks. The forum offered did not provide the proper opportunity to have a constructive dialogue around all aspects of wind park development." (Click HERE to see DTE's full response.)
The company added: "We plan to host public engagements with the residents of Beaver Township and surrounding municipalities in the near future. Our preliminary discussions with landowners in Beaver Township and the surroundings communities indicate that there is interest in a potential wind project that will provide jobs, tax revenue and other economic benefits, along with clean energy for Michigan residents."
Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Larkin Twp., attended the meeting and said he saw a pattern from DTE of not showing up for debates on wind energy. Glenn said DTE has repeatedly refused invitations to appear before the House Energy Policy Committee for debate-type events.
“I don’t know how they could question the fairness of the meeting at Beaver Township because both sides were offered 20 minutes to make their case," Glenn said.
Kevon Martis, an opponent of wind energy and activist who has fought wind developments across the state, was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
"But the truth is that turning entire townships into 50-story-tall power plants is not an easy sell even when the majority of folks in the targeted township are unaware of the proposal,” Martis said in an email. “But once the local citizens are aware of the project and informed of their statutory rights under Michigan zoning law to regulate land use at the local level, the odds of the project being approved plummet. In my humble opinion that’s the real reason [DTE] fled. Wind energy cannot withstand the scrutiny of an informed populace.”
DTE has announced plans to add an additional 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity to 1,000 megawatts it has already installed since 2009, when a new state law mandating renewables went into effect. To put that figure in perspective, a new wind turbine has a capacity of around 2 megawatts. So it would take 2,000 wind turbines to get 4,000 megawatts if wind was the sole source of production. DTE has said they will meet the 4,000 megawatts through wind and solar. There are currently 887 wind turbines working in Michigan.
Editor's note: DTE has revised the amount of renewable energy capacity it plans to add to 4,000 megawatts. That new figure is reflected in the story.