One of the biggest challenges wind generated energy faces is its distance from the load to be served: Wind energy is primarily generated in rural areas, while demand for the electricity is typically located many miles away in large urban areas. New transmission lines are often necessary to connect the source with the demand.
That reality is in the process of playing out in the Thumb of Michigan’s lower peninsula. While some of the best inland wind resource is along the northern shore of the Thumb, existing transmission can not support the wind energy that can be generated there, which is estimated to be between roughly 3,400 – 4,500 Megawatts. Consequently, ITCTransmission, a privately operated company which owns the transmission facilities in Michigan, has sought the Michigan Public Service Commission’s approval to construct a 140 mile long, 345 kV double circuit transmission line which would permit the wind energy potential of the Thumb to be unleashed.
Unfortunately, landowners focused on leasing their property to wind developers don’t typically think of the transmission lines that may soon follow and the conflicts that can be created. For example, while the footprint for turbines is relatively small (2 – 3 acres, including supporting area for things like access roads), transmission lines pose the threat of new poles in fields and overhead conductors which might interfere with farming operations. Turbines and overhead lines might also compete for the same land — a farmer or rancher that leased property expecting a turbine to be placed might actually find that the same land is necessary for a transmission line, and that the land might even be taken in a condemnation proceeding. While these issues aren’t considered fatal by those who wish to lease their land for wind development purposes, it’s best to think about the issues that may follow before they are actually encountered.
These and many other farming-related issues have been the subject of extensive debate in ITC’s Michigan proceeding. The question of where a line is best sited is now before the Michigan Public Service Commission. Howard & Howard represented many landowners in the regulatory proceeding; the goal of the effort was to minimize the impact that a new transmission line would have on farming in the area.
Testimony submitted by one farmer concerned about transmission line impacts can be viewed here. The Initial Brief and Reply Brief of the Affected Landowners are available by following the links, and other documents filed in the proceeding can be read here (some are large files — please be patient with the downloads).