Wind energy is the largest source of renewable energy both in the United States and in Michigan. In 2020, wind was used to generate over 5% of Michigan’s electricity. Wind turbines, which transform the kinetic energy of the wind into electricity, were first deployed commercially in the US in California in the 1980s. Since then, wind energy deployment has expanded considerably. At last count, the US Wind Turbine Database lists 58,000 wind turbines installed in the US, with the majority of those turbines having been deployed in the Plains States. Texas currently leads the nation with 10,700 turbines installed, while here in Michigan approximately 1,500 turbines have been installed.
Nearly all of the wind turbines installed in the US are known as “horizontal-axis wind turbines,” or turbines that spin around a horizontal axis. These turbines are typically installed on tall towers, some featuring hub heights of nearly 500 feet. The generating capacity of turbines has increased considerably since their earliest development. The types of turbines being installed currently in Michigan can now generate nearly 2.5 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for nearly 1000 homes, offsetting thousands of tons of CO2 emissions.
While wind turbines have become increasingly powerful, their development has become controversial in some areas. While some communities have embraced wind energy as an economic development opportunity, a source of reliable income for farmers, and an effective means of producing low-cost, carbon-free electricity, other communities and residents have urged wind turbines are unsightly, noisy, and can fundamentally alter the aesthetics of their rural community.