A wind turbine project in Marquette County is up in the air.
Tom Baldwin, the owner of the Granot Loma farm in Powell Township, built a turbine on his property. He wants to utilize alternative energy and eliminate his $20,000 yearly electric bill. Baldwin is also looking to sell the excess electricity generated back to his power company, Alger-Delta Electric.
But after three years of construction, the turbine isn't spinning yet. It needs to be connected to electricity in order to run.
To connect with Alger-Delta, the co-op is requiring that Baldwin install a $50,000 protective device called a recloser. A legal battle is now brewing over who will pay for that piece of equipment and whether it is actually necessary.
"Alger-Delta is requiring me to put in a protective device that's unnecessary in my opinion and my engineer's opinion and the opinion of every other utility in the country," explained Baldwin.
According to Baldwin, there are 23 identical projects with 18 different utilities in 18 states that have the same design as his turbine. None of them have the recloser that Alger-Delta engineers are requiring. Tom Harrell, the general manager of Alger-Delta, explained why their engineers are requiring it.
"It's there to protect our system and our members from possible electrical damage that could be introduced onto the system," said Harrell.
The turbine stands on a high granite out-cropping and would produce about 150,000 kilowatt hours a year.
"Mr. Baldwin's generator is between 10 and 50 times larger than any other generator like that on our system," Harrell said.
Harrell said there are four other reclosers on the Alger-Delta line that runs from Marquette to Big Bay. All were paid for by Rio Tinto when power lines to the Eagle Mine were reconstructed in August 2010.
Insisting that the recloser is not necessary, Baldwin filed a lawsuit with the Michigan Public Service Commission at the end of December.
"As a member myself of Alger-Delta, the question is why would Alger-Delta spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to stop a renewable energy project," Baldwin said.
"The only legal fees that we're incurring are those that we've incurred in defending ourselves against lawsuits. This is the second time that Mr. Baldwin has sued us over the same issue," Harrell stated.
The settlement agreement from that lawsuit says the Granot Loma turbine has to follow public service commission regulations. Those rules state that the Alger-Delta engineers have the right to make final decisions on design plans.
"The bottom line is that the only thing that's holding up this project is the recloser," Harrell said.
"I've asked them if they have one example of my design not working, and they can't do it, so it got to the point of...I had to sue them," Baldwin said.
Baldwin said his legal fees will be less than the price tag of the recloser.
"I have four protective devices already in the system," he said. "This isn't a nuclear power plant."
Baldwin estimated it could be six to nine months before the Michigan Public Service Commission holds a hearing on the lawsuit. They will decide if the recloser is required and who will be footing the bill.??