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    Landmark wind turbine retired

    August 5, 2022 - Sheri McWhirter -


      A wind turbine that for 26 years served as a clean energy symbol and geographic marker recently came down near Traverse City.

      This week saw the retirement of the M-72 wind turbine west of Traverse City, a structure that when first built in 1996 was the United States’ tallest and largest energy-

      producing wind turbine, plus Michigan’s first owned by a municipal electric utility. The site will be redeveloped for more renewable energy generation — part of a coming two-megawatt solar field expansion.

      The large wind turbine just outside Traverse City served as a long-running — and very tall — emblem of renewable power in the community along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

      The infrastructure change is a major shift to the landscape, a change that brings up emotions, particularly among renewable energy proponents.

      “I would say maybe bittersweet. You know, it’s kind of in its own way a landmark,” said Tony Chartrand, supervisory engineer for municipal utility Traverse City Light & Power.

      “I think that’s kind of sad to see that go, but at the same point, it’s from 1996.”

      The engineer said replacement parts for the old wind turbine are no longer available, and standard turbine units by today’s standards dwarf that early model. The public utility built the turbine and then in 2014 sold the structure to Heritage Sustainable Energy.

      For more than 25 years, the wind turbine stood 160 feet tall with rotating blades 144 feet across and served as something of a mile marker between Traverse City and the popular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

      “We love the turbine. It’s a beautiful turbine. It’s historic ... but given its location, being close to Traverse City and housing and whatnot, that location is probably better suited for solar,” said Bart Hautala, operations manager for Heritage.

      The planned solar expansion on the old turbine’s footprint will generate 700 kilowatts, which he said is beyond the 660 kilowatts for which the turbine was rated.

      Local township planners on June 28 approved the company’s request to expand its solar panel installations where the wind turbine has long stood, along with a larger area across the road. Heritage first built a solar array near the wind turbine in 2017, followed by an expansion two years later.

      “It seems like solar is kind of the way forward, at least in the current moment in time. So, it’s kind of like passing of the torch from wind to solar power,” Chartrand said.


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