BENTON COUNTY, Ind. (WZZM) -- Michigan's goal is to get 10% of the state's power from alternative sources by 2015. Wind energy is sure to be a large part of that equation.
But what is the potential for wind energy in Michigan? And what impact will wind turbines have on the surroundings, the workers, and the economy?
There has been so much controversy about the possibility of installing wind turbines in Lake Michigan. It's easy to see why companies are focusing on offshore wind potential when you looking at a map of the wind speeds in Michigan. The highest winds are off the Michigan shores in Lake Michigan.
But the state also has significant wind power on land in some areas. Other states are already harnessing the wind's energy and profits. Can Michigan do the same?
It's not a new concept. Farmers have been using windmills to harness the wind's energy for generations.
Over the last few years, hundreds of wind turbines have been installed in Benton and White Counties in Western Indiana.
Farmer Leon Cyr says, "We're harvesting the wind, wind energy."
Cyr has three turbines on his 200-acre Indiana farm. He says, "You can be sitting out here on a very calm day. And you'll hear the whooshing of the wind off the blades."
Initially skeptical, Cyr is now happy to have the turbines on his land and cash in his pocket. He explains, "They guarantee us five thousand." That's $5,000 per windmill every year, and more depending on how much energy is produced.
Cyr is also a county commissioner. He says, "We should have $5 million or $6 million a year in income to the county, from these wind towers."
That doesn't include the money spent on the initial construction. Connie Neininger is the Economic Development Director for White County, Indiana. She says, "The total project will exceed more than $1.25 billion in capital investment in our community."
Just one turbine can produce enough electricity to power more than 500 homes.
It's difficult to realize just how huge these wind turbines are until you really see one up close like this. And realize that this one blade is 129 feet long.
It takes a lot to install these towers, which stand more than 370-feet high to the tip of the blade.
Joe Alt is with White Construction out of Indiana, which is building some of the turbines. He says, "There's 325 yards of concrete. There is 32 tons of steel, reinforcement in the concrete."
Aristeo Construction, based in Livonia, Michigan, is one of the contractors building the Indiana turbines. Aristeo ventured into the wind industry four years ago after decades of building auto plants.
Project Manager Cheryl Parks of Aristeo says, "That's been our bread and butter over the last 30 years is building auto plants and some of that work is starting to thin up and so he wanted to diversify and do some different things."
Parks would love to do more work closer to home. She says, "Our wind energy team is working constantly trying to land projects in Michigan because it's starting to really pick up."
Todd Green would also like to see wind turbines installed in Michigan. He grew up on the family farm in Allegan County. He and other area farmers have had contracts with wind energy developers for almost six years now.
Green says, "There's lot of permitting and things to go on. So, we're just sitting here waiting to see what they come up with."
Monterey Supervisor Chris Reinhart says the township is rewriting an ordinance to deal with where turbines could be located.
Allegan County is one of two primary wind zones designated by the Michigan Public Service Commission.
"Allegan County had a capacity of between 250 and 450 megawatts for new wind," according to Tom Vitez of the International Transmission Company.
Vitez says while Allegan County has good wind potential, its strength lies is these transmission lines. He says, "These types of lines are used to move large amounts of power relatively long distances."
Michigan finds itself in much the same position as Indiana, with moderate to good wind potential, not nearly as windy as states like North Dakota.
Jimmy Bricker is the Benton County, Indiana, Extension Agent. He says, "We could put it on the grid and get it to places like Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Places that really need the electricity."
Bricker talks about wind energy with people from around the U.S. and the world. And in Michigan, Bricker says, "We speak about the highest and best use of land. We talk about the fact that tourism and recreation is also very important."
Which may mean the best place for wind energy may be down on the farm.
According to information from the American Wind Energy Association, Michigan ranks 14th among the states for wind energy potential. However, we only rank 26th when it comes to installed wind energy capabilities.
One of the questions people often ask is, what do those wind turbines sound like? When we were up close, we heard them as a quiet whooshing in the background. We were there on a relatively calm day. The people who live near these turbines in Indiana say on a really windy day, you can't even hear the turbines because the wind itself is louder than the turning blades.