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Tech Tour Day One: A Look At Michigan’s Biggest Wind Farm

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GLITR's Matt Roush (center) with ITC's Gary Singh (right) and Tom Vitez (left) at ITC's new Redstone substation near Breckenridge

GLITR’s Matt Roush (center) with ITC’s Gary Singh (right) and Tom Vitez (left) at ITC’s new Redstone substation near Breckenridge

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Matt Roush visits with some of the folks from Novi-based ITC who are building the new electric infrastructure for Michigan’s major new wind farms

Out on the billiard-table-flat farm fields of mid-Michigan, where Gratiot, Isabella and Midland counties come together, there’s a new harvest.

It’s electricity, free from the wind.

As far as the eye can see, dozens, if not hundreds, of towering wind turbines are rising. With a decent breeze, each will produce upwards of a megawatt of electricity.

Somebody’s got to get that power back to the big city. Thursday, on the first day of the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report’s 2011 Fall Tech tour, I visited one new substation that will do just that.

The substation lies along a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere near Breckenridge. Novi-based ITC Holdings is the deveoper — more precisely, its subsidiary, Michigan Electric Transmission Co.

METC is building two new substations and making other system upgrades, including new 138,000-volt transmission lines, to connect a Gratiot County wind farm to the grid. The substation I visited, called Redstone, in Midland County’s Porter Township, is a key to the effort.

The Redstone substation will be ready to accept new power being generated by the Gratiot County wind farm by late October. In a second phase, to be built by the end of 2012, METC will build a second substation just off US-127 between Alma and St. Louis and build a new double 138-kv line.

When complete, the project will transmit about 200 megawatts of energy from the wind farm, enough to power an estimated 54,000 homes. The Gratiot Wind Farm is being built by Chicago-based Invenergy and its power will go to Detroit-based DTE Energy.

Since its 2003 inception in Michigan, ITC has invested nearly $1.5 billion in the state’s electric transmission infrastructure, including $137.7 million in 2010 and $66 million in the first half of 2011.

I met Joe Kirik, ITC senior communications specialist, Gary Singh, project engineer and Tom Vitez, vice president for planning, at the substation. Vitez said ITC’s spinout as an independent manager of the power grid gives the company a single-minded focus on building a reliable transmission network that a utility that also owned the lines would find hard to match — there’s no competition for capital with power generation, for example.

Friday, the Tech Tour will continue with interviews at Michigan Technological University in Houghton.

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