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Climate@Noon hosts seminar on Baraga County project

Mason Sorenson, senior development manager with the United Kingdom-based Renewable Energy Systems, talks about the proposed Summit Lake Wind Project. The project would be located four miles east of L’Anse. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — The company involved in the proposed Summit Lake Wind Project in Baraga County is taking steps to avoid adverse impacts on wildlife.

Mason Sorenson, senior development manager with the United Kingdom-based Renewable Energy Systems, spoke about the project Friday at Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University. The presentation was part of the Northern Climate Network’s Climate@Noon Seminar Series.

Sorenson, who works in Minnesota, said the price of wind is coming down.

“Technology continues to make progress,” Sorenson said. “Just getting better wind turbines.”

He compared that with the price of coal delivered to Michigan utilities, which rose 78 percent between 2006 and 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration.

RES is proposing the Summit Lake Wind Project, a 130-megawatt project located four miles east of L’Anse on Weyerhaeuser property used for timber harvesting.

Summit Lake, he said, would involve 35 to 55 wind turbines with an approximate 25-mile overhead transmission line needed to get back to the grid because of the remote location.

“This part of the country is going through some changes electrically with the coal, natural gas, higher price of electricity here, so it seemed like an interesting opportunity to partner with Weyerhaeuser on this,” Sorenson said.

RES is currently studying the wind at the proposed site now, with three towers collecting data like wind speed, he said.

The overall permanent impact concerning roads, and around turbines and substations, is a maximum of 100 acres, Sorenson said.

What concerns many people, however, is the fact that wind turbines have been responsible for many bird deaths. The American Bird Conservancy noted the annual loss of birds from turbines was estimated as high as 573,000 in 2012, and that number is expected to increase dramatically as more turbines become operational.

RES has had meetings with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Michigan Departments of Natural Resources and Environmental Quality, Sorenson said, so the company can be in compliance with what those agencies want in terms of required bird studies over multiple years and migratory seasons.

To that end, he said RES sends out third-party biologists to look for and count raptor nests, and discover what birds travel through the area and at what times, for example.

Monitoring equipment also has been set up to look for bats, he said.

“Bats are being impacted more than birds,” Sorenson said. “The bird side of things, we’ve learned a lot. We don’t have lattice towers anymore that birds can perch on, that they had in the ’80s in California, for example. That was some of the bad ideas that were originally started in the wind industry.”

Since then, the industry has learned where and where not to put turbines, said Sorenson, who acknowledged that although turbines kill avian life, things like cars and cats kill many more birds.

He also pointed out that RES discovered through one of its projects in Ohio that bats tend not to fly in high winds, so turbines are turned off at a lower wind speed.

Economic benefits of Summit Lake, Sorenson said, include an infusion of $34 million in taxes to the community over 25 years and the creation of six to eight full-time jobs over the life of the project. About 300 construction jobs also would be created

He also noted that if it goes forward, the project would roughly produce enough energy for 54,000 Michigan homes.

He believes the environmental benefits are obvious.

“We’re not spewing poison,” Sorenson said. “We’re not dealing with nuclear waste. We’re not dealing with some of that stuff. We’re not using water. We’re not flooding things with hydropower.”

Sorenson stressed, however, that RES has no plans to put wind turbines in Marquette County.

He said the company, which was studying the area several years ago, “blanketed the area” while filing for 131 potential wind turbines with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Its lease with Weyerhaeuser, he explained, doesn’t go into Marquette County.

An open house on the Summit Lake Wind Project is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the American Legion in L’Anse.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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