Power source: Attorney says Michigan can play a prime role in harnessing the wind


 By Debra Talcott

Legal News
The 42nd annual Earth Day may have come and gone, but the quest for sustainable, clean energy continues, with Michigan playing an important role.  The methods of delivering our electricity are experiencing significant change as the industry transitions from almost total reliance on non-renewable resources to heavier reliance on wind energy and other renewable resources.
Called by many an “expert” in renewable energy, attorney Rodger Kershner of Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC is no stranger to this and other environmental issues.
“I really can’t remember when I was not interested in the environment,” says Kershner. “I first helped a client invest in wind energy in 1995, and ever since then I have helped land owners, project developers, construction companies, and local governments interested in wind power.”
Kershner’s legal practice is all about energy. From Howard & Howard’s Royal Oak office, he advises clients on power plant development, construction and operation. He helps clients understand the issues surrounding oil and gas as well as every aspect of buying or selling energy projects.
A native of Michigan, Kershner studied business administration at Wayne State University before earning his J.D. at Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University College of Law). His diverse legal career has prepared him well for the area in which he now specializes.
“After short stints with the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s office, I went to work for American Natural Resources, which owned pipeline companies and utilities.  Later I moved to CMS Energy as senior vice president and general counsel.  CMS owns Consumers Energy and, at that time, owned power projects and pipelines around the world.  I joined H&H in 2003.”
 Kershner says factors that will drive increased energy development in Michigan include government incentives, government regulations, and cost.  Combined, these three factors will contribute to the protection of our environment for future generations.
“There is no question that government programs have helped kick start the renewable energy business and get it through its infancy. The federal government has made tax incentives available, and the state of Michigan and many other states have established renewable portfolio standards that require electric companies to include a minimum of renewable power in the power they sell.  In Michigan, utilities are required to include at least 10 percent renewable power in what they sell by the end of 2015, and there is a movement to increase that to 20 percent.”
The final consideration in moving from nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal to wind power and other renewable resources is, of course, market driven.
“Since 2008 the cost of wind power bought by utilities under long-term contract has dropped by nearly half and compares favorably to the cost of other new power generation alternatives,” says Kershner.  “One nice thing about wind power is there is no fuel cost and, therefore, there are no nasty surprises down the road when the cost of gas or oil or coal might suddenly increase, as gasoline has at times in the past.”
Kershner says several regions around Michigan offer prime opportunities for wind energy harvest.
“The number one region is in Huron, Tuscola, and Sanilac counties in the Thumb area.  Not only is that area plenty windy, but a big new transmission system is under construction there to collect the power generated and move it to the places with the greatest need for power.  The areas around the Lake Michigan shoreline are also promising, as are the north central Lower Peninsula and certain parts of the Upper Peninsula.”
Even some farmers in the rural communities surrounding Detroit have installed a single wind turbine on their properties. Kershner says wind generators can cost $5,000 and more but that they can still be profitable for such owners.
“If the company you buy power from has relatively higher rates, you can make less power of your own and still be ahead,” he says.  “Also, new rules make it easier to break even.  Many small installations operate under rules that allow you to sell any power you make but don’t use for yourself back to the power company at the same price you would pay.  That makes the system more affordable. In addition, some places give tax breaks or provide other incentives.”
A realist, Kershner concedes that some citizens may object to the thought of seeing wind turbines in their towns or along Michigan’s lakeshores.
“You hear a variety of objections.  Some people say they are blight. Some say having them around hurts property values.  Some say that people living close to the wind farms suffer because of the perceived noise, flicker, adverse effects of electromagnetism, and bird and bat mortality. In 2009 the state Public Service Commission was directed by law to investigate all of these concerns and make recommendations to the legislature for new laws if they found good reason,” explains Kershner.  “But most people I talk to find the turbines pleasing to watch, and there seems to be little hard evidence for any of the other concerns. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plays an active role in minimizing harm to birds or other wildlife.”
The Public Service Commission held a series of hearings and reported no need for new laws to protect the public.  The PSC’s findings can be reviewed at www.michigan.gov/documents/mpsc/werzb_rpt_01-2010_309001_7.pdf.
“Also, a visit to an operating wind farm reassures many people,” says Kershner.  “Personally, I can’t hear the turbines when the wind is blowing.”
Since wind power produces electricity only when Mother Nature cooperates, it would be naive to think of wind power as a panacea.  Yet, many experts believe we can take advantage of more renewable power than the projected 10 percent.
“As technology improves to better permit us to store electricity produced when it is windy and use it at other times, for example, that number could be much larger,” says Kershner.
Kershner believes Michigan’s current administration and legislature seem to be taking a more cautious approach to wind power than was the attitude a few years ago.
“Recent hearings on the effects of the renewable portfolio standard in the state Senate did not conclude with a recommendation that the 10 percent renewable target be increased, but neither was there any strong sentiment expressed that it should be abandoned.  Proponents of a constitutional amendment to raise the standard to 20 percent are hoping to see the proposition on this fall’s election ballot.”
Always looking toward the future, Kershner and his wife Mary look forward to one day retiring to their 50 acres of forestland on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, taking their two dogs and one cat with them. In true canine fashion, the dogs love their Up North environment; the cat, says Kershner, is indifferent.
“Mary and I appreciate nature and wildlife, and we understand the connection between energy and the environment. That is why we intend to install our own turbine when we retire to Keweenaw County. The U.P. is a good example of a place where there is wind, not too many people who might object to what you do, and where utility prices are high.  And, if gas goes to $5 a gallon and you had an electric car, wouldn’t it be nice to drive for free by filling up at your own wind turbine?”


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