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State designates wind-energy zones in Thumb area, west Michigan

State regulators have designated a region in the Thumb area of Michigan and a west Michigan region as those likely to be most productive for wind energy.

In designating the “wind energy resource zones,” the Michigan Public Service Commission said the primary zone is a region that includes parts of Bay, Huron, Saginaw, Sanilac and Tuscola counties. The additional wind energy zone is a region that includes parts of Allegan County.

The PSC considered the findings of a state board that issued an October report looking at commercial or utility-scale wind energy projects on land, and the commission also evaluated projected costs, benefits and other factors.

The zone designation is expected to facilitate the planning, siting and construction of transmission lines to connect wind energy systems to the power grid.

In the Thumb region, Novi-based transmission company ITC Holdings Corp. said in a November report that “significant backbone transmission system enhancements would be required.”

Depending on options pursued, approximate costs could range from $390 million to $740 million. However, some options on the lower cost end would not support the minimum and maximum wind capacity identified by the state board, as would $510 million and $740 million options, the report indicated.

The order issued Wednesday by the PSC gives parties 21 days to reach agreement on a voluntary cost allocation method for transmission upgrade projects needed in the Thumb region.

Concurrent with the order, the PSC also submitted a report to the Legislature on the impact of setback requirements and noise limitations in wind zones.

The PSC recommended that decisions about appropriate setback distances and noise levels continue to be made by local planning and zoning authorities.