Gratiot County sits smack in the middle of Michigan’s famed “oven mitt,” tucked into a sparsely populated region of small towns and rolling farmland that rises to an elevation of nearly 900 feet at its peak. Like many parts of the rural Midwest, the weather tends to get windy, making it an ideal location for wind turbines used to generate electricity. It’s no surprise that Michigan’s largest group of wind turbines is located in Gratiot County, including a new project that will add dozens more to the landscape.
That project, known as the Gratiot Farms Wind Project, cost about $260 million to build and will generate up to 150 megawatts of wind energy upon completion, which was expected in late 2020. It is being completed by Consumers Energy, a Michigan-based utility that bought the project from Enel Green Power North America. Gratiot Farms Wind includes 60 wind turbines and is located in the townships of North Shade and New Haven.
The project adds yet another source of clean, renewable energy to the Wolverine State, which has aggressively amped up its wind-power efforts in recent years. Much of that work has been concentrated in Gratiot County, which boasts a perfect mixture of characteristics to produce wind power: steady winds, a comparatively high elevation, proximity to transmission lines, compatible land use, and a commitment to environmental suitability.
The Gratiot Farms Wind Project arrives on the heels of another recently completed wind project in the county: DTE Energy’s Polaris Wind park, which became operational in April 2020. Polaris Wind features 68 turbines that generate 168 megawatts of wind energy – enough to power more than 64,000 homes. It is expected to offset more than 355,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, according to DTE. That’s the greenhouse gas (GHG) equivalent of taking more than 76,000 cars off the road for a year. The park represents a big step in DTE’s goal to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. An important part of that effort will be reducing the company’s reliance on coal plants and other fossil fuels.
The completion of Polaris Wind followed the previous year’s completion of Pine River wind farm in Gratiot and Isabella counties. Pine River consists of 65 wind turbines that produce 161 megawatts of power, enough to power about 54,000 homes.
Meanwhile, the Gratiot Farms Wind Project — which spans 24,000 acres — is expected to have benefits beyond simply providing renewable energy. It will preserve farmland in the area and also give a financial boost to more than 240 landowners through yearly lease payments. Proponents of these types of wind farms are quick to tout the economic benefits as well as the environmental ones.
As Consumer Energy notes on its website, Gratiot Farms added roughly 150 construction jobs during the building phase and will provide 13 permanent jobs when it becomes commercially operational. Permanent employees will work from an operations and maintenance facility in Middleton that’s due for completion in early 2021.
“The wind farm has increased the overall tax base, providing new revenue for local education and critical basic services at a time when the cash-strapped state government is reducing funding to local governments,” the Consumer Energy website added.
Greater Gratiot Development Inc., an Ithaca-based economic development agency, reports that between 2012 and 2018, Gratiot County received nearly $43 million in tax revenue from its wind parks.
As for its environmental impact: the Gratiot Farms Wind Project was “designed to comply with, and in many cases exceed, the requirements of local wind zoning ordinances,” Consumer Energy stated. “Numerous studies were conducted to show the project will not impact public health, safety, or welfare and will have minimal environmental and local wildlife impacts.”
Those studies were mainly conducted by Enel Green Power, a multinational renewable energy company that manages more than 1,200 plants in 28 countries worldwide.
Wind power and other renewable energy sources have become increasingly important to large corporations in Michigan. General Motors announced last spring that it expects all of its facilities in southeast Michigan to run on clean and renewable energy within three years.
The automaker has already purchased 500,000-megawatt-hours of solar energy from DTE Energy’s MIGreenPower program. That investment is expected to deliver enough clean energy to run a number of GM facilities, including its global headquarters in Detroit’s Renaissance Center; the GM Global Technical Center in Warren, Mich.; the Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Mich.; and a pair of assembly plants in Orion and Detroit-Hamtramck.