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The 231-acre Great Lakes Tech Park site has undergone advanced site preparation

FREE LAND! Great Lakes Tech Park is Saginaw Future's Bid for Growth

Solar and Wind Power Projects Forseen Driving Local Economic Development

September 8, 2013       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Free land!

It sounds like a 19th century promotion for a new town, doesn't it?

In a way, it is similar, since vast areas of Michigan are being revitalized through entrepreneurship and economic development schemes the scope of which not been seen for a century since lumbering faded.

Highly-touted solar and wind energy project, however, have not reached critical mass. Suniva, a Georgia company, is still a fond hope for a new solar park in Thomas Township, Saginaw County.

Such developments depend heavily on federal and state grants that may be here today, in the headlines at least, and gone tomorrow when political winds shift.

The 231-acre Great Lakes Tech Park site has undergone advanced site preparation and is being offered at no cost in support of new investment and continued business growth in Saginaw County, says the advertisement.

"Saginaw Future Inc., Saginaw County's economic development organization, is committed to businesses' success, which is why they facilitated the preparation of the Great Lakes Tech Park and are offering it at no cost for new light industrial development, R&D projects and other high tech uses."

The agency last year announced a $7.5 million investment in site preparation including installation of new water, sanitary and storm sewer systems, and new Class A, all-season roads, as well as grading and landscaping.

Because of the advanced site preparation, accelerated permitting is available, and the results of wetland, archaeological, environmental and engineering assessments support the site as a prime location for immediate construction.

The purpose of the Great Lakes Tech Overlay Zone in Thomas Township is to provide an environment where high tech uses and functions such as engineering, design, research and development, manufacture photonics/optics, computer assisted design, robotics, numerical control equipment, prototype development and limited manufacturing, biotechnology, lasers, medical research, materials testing, telecommunications and related storage and assembly operations associated with principal permitted uses can be located.

The Thomas Township Great Lakes Tech Park is within one mile of Hemlock Semiconductor, a Dow Corning affiliated company.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a charitable organization, says 'Michigan is building on its historic auto manufacturing strengths to grow its renewable energy industry, providing new employment for the state's highly skilled workforce. Michigan's clean economy is helping power the state's recovery, employing more than 76,000 workers.

"As Michigan expands its clean energy production, the renewable energy industry could support nearly 21,000 jobs in manufacturing alone by 2020, if the industry sources components from local manufacturers.

"Clean, renewable energy is also providing reliable, inexpensive power for consumers and businesses: electricity generated from wind is nearly one-third cheaper than that generated from new coal power plants."

Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), adopted in 2008, is helping the state transition to a clean energy economy. The RPS requires electric utilities to generate at least 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources, or to negotiate the equivalent using tradeable renewable energy certificates, by 2015, and all but three of Michigan's 72 utilities are on track to meet the target.

There's enough offshore wind energy in Michigan to power more than 9 million homes, states NRDC.

Michigan is a strong global player in the wind power industry. The state is home to 121 companies that supply wind components, employing 4,000 workers. Many of these companies retooled existing factories to supply parts to the wind industry, creating new jobs and hiring former auto industry workers.

Astraeus Wind, founded in 2007, manufactures wind turbine components for domestic and international wind farms, and employs more than 30 highly skilled technicians in some of the highest-paying jobs in Eaton Rapids. Other wind power component manufacturers and developers, such as Ventower, Danotek, and EnergetX, are also injecting money and labor into Michigan's economy.

Michigan vaulted from a capacity of 2.4 megawatts (MW) of wind power in 2007 to 287 MW in 2011, enough to power more than 120,000 homes.[9] The state has 26 additional projects announced or under development, which will amount to an additional 3,000 MW if all projects come to fruition.

With strong gales whipping off the shores of Lake Michigan and Huron, Michigan could economically generate at least 22,000 megawatts of offshore wind power.[11] That could nearly double the state's electricity consumption, and power more than 9 million homes.

Michigan's solar power industry grew at a nearly 16 percent annual rate between 2003 and 2010. Today, 121 companies in Michigan manufacture components for the solar market, employing 6,300 workers. Former auto workers founded Applied Energy Technologies in 2009, and the company has already grown from grown from two to nearly 50 employees.

At the end of 2009, Michigan had 1,041 kilowatt's worth of installed solar photovoltaic systems. There's still room for growth, however. Researchers estimate the state's total solar resource potential is 3,500 gigawatts.

Cellulosic ethanol, which is made from crop waste left over after harvest, helps protect the environment and food supplies while improving the economic welfare of workers and communities.

Crops grown specifically to produce cellulosic ethanol, such as switchgrass, willow and hybrid poplar, all grow nicely in Michigan's climate and soils -- and make Michigan's biomass potential even greater.

The state could be producing 4 million dry tons of sustainable feedstock (existing rotation crop growth that doesn't provide food or soil cover) annually for bioenergy, which means more than 50 million gallons of ethanol, or enough fuel to power more than 80,000 cars each year.

Michigan ranks among the top 10 states for potential biogas production from dairy operations.

Biodigesters on Michigan's dairy farms are producing nearly 17,000 megawatt-hours of power annually. Potentially, Michigan could produce 246,000 megawatt-hours of power, which puts Michigan in the top 10 states for potential biogas production from dairy operations.

Michigan's dairy operations produce more than 26 million tons of methane emissions each year from livestock waste. Turning some of that gas into electricity would reduce waste and be profitable for at least 107 of the state's dairies, according to the EPA's AgStar program.

By capturing manure, biogas recovery systems can drastically reduce or eliminate untreated waste runoff from factory farms. But in the end, strong environmental protections and government oversight of feedlot operations are needed to ensure that the risks of polluted runoff are mitigated.

Biogas can also be produced from other organic waste. In Fremont, Michigan, NOVI Energy is developing a community digester that will produce 3 megawatts of electricity from agricultural and food wastes.


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
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