Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison, co-owners of the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, Monday announced a major maintenance and upgrade project that will mean significant investment in northwest Michigan, 100 construction jobs per year and increase the plant’s power generation by 16 percent. 

Each utility will invest approximately $40 million per year over 10 years. The Ludington plant has been providing Michigan families and electric customers with reliable, low-cost electricity since 1973.

The Ludington plant uses electricity — at night, when demand is low — to pump water uphill 372 feet to its 27 billion gallon reservoir. The Ludington plant has the world’s largest motors when in pumping mode.  During daytime periods of peak customer electric demand, the water is allowed to fall back into Lake Michigan, flowing through turbines to generate electricity. 

The plant currently produces enough to power a community of 1.4 million people. The upgrade will enable the facility to meet the electric demand of a community of 1.65 million, while the increased water pumping efficiency will further decrease the plant’s operating costs.

The upgrade project will begin in 2013 and is scheduled through 2019. It will be one of the largest construction projects in northwest Michigan since the Ludington plant was first constructed. The project will provide significant economic benefits for the Mason County area, and will create an additional 100 construction building trades jobs per year, employing electricians, welders, crane operators, pipefitters, millwrights and carpenters. 

The maintenance and efficiency upgrade will increase the generating capacity of the plant from its current level of 1,872 megawatts to approximately 2,172 MW. The Ludington plant plays an increasingly important role as a storage facility for renewable energy produced during off-peak periods, making renewable energy more affordable and reliable. 

As more wind generation is added in the Midwest region, the Ludington plant can be used at night and during other periods when demand for electricity is low to “store” the clean energy until it’s needed by electric customers.  The Ludington plant addresses a key challenge of wind energy which is produced intermittently and cannot be stored, with the exception of special facilities like Ludington. 

“The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant has proven its value over several decades of service, providing millions of Michigan electric customers with outstanding performance and dependable reliability,” said Consumers Energy president and CEO John Russell. “This major investment is a sign of our commitment to Michigan’s economic development and points to the state’s future growth.”

Added Detroit Edison vice president Steve Kurmas: “The upgrades will improve its efficiency, increase its role in support of clean-energy sources for Michigan, create jobs and ensure that the plant will continue to contribute to the economy of the Ludington area and Michigan for many more decades.  This kind of long-term investment would not have been possible without the comprehensive energy legislation adopted by the state legislature in 2008.”  

The American Society of Engineers honored the Ludington plant as the Outstanding Engineering Achievement of 1973. Separately, the plant was named one of Michigan’s Top 10 civil engineering projects for the 20th century by the Michigan section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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