It Would Take 600 Wind Turbines to Replace One Closing U.P. Coal Plant

Natural gas the real replacement, but new Michigan wind mandate means more turbine towers coming, too

Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette

The coal-fired Presque Isle Power Plant is scheduled to be shut down by 2020 if regulators approve. The plant is located on 65 acres set back from the Lake Superior shore in Marquette.

The plan is to replace the plant’s generating capacity with two natural gas plants. It still must be approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission, according to Cathy Schulze, spokeswoman for Wisconsin Energy, which runs the Presque Isle facility.

The Sierra Club’s Michigan chapter didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. But in 2012, it said that Wisconsin Energy should dump coal and instead invest in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

There are 883 wind turbines operating in Michigan, and the number is expected to rise. That’s because a new law passed at the end of 2016 increased an existing mandate that utilities get 10 percent of their power from renewable sources to 14 percent.

It would take about 600 wind turbines to generate the same 359 megawatts the Presque Isle plant can produce.

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But wind turbines only produce power intermittently — when the wind blows. In contrast, coal plants operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When periodic maintenance and other temporary shutdowns are included, a coal plant such as Presque Isle actually operates 80-90 percent of the time. That’s according to Jason Hayes, the director of environmental policy at Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy who also says that wind power needs a backup plan.

“In the very best locations, wind turbines only produce electricity 35 percent of the time. So we still wouldn’t have actually replaced the original plant,” Hayes said in an email. “In fact, we would need to keep that old plant, or build a new natural gas or nuclear plant to provide energy during the 65 percent of the time that wind can’t.”

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