Not-so-hidden but deep in Missaukee County cornfield country, two 350-foot-tall wind turbines spin their giant arms in the north wind. The man behind them is local energy mogul Marty Lagina, whose company, Terra Energy, perfected the tricky extraction of natural gas from Northern Michigan Antrim shale in the 1990’s. Five years ago—after he’d sold Terra to CMS Energy for $58 million—Lagina turned his attention to wind. His new company, Heritage Sustainable Energy, plans 60 turbines at the Missaukee site, a megawatt capacity that would make the site the biggest wind-energy producer in Michigan. We caught up with Lagina at his Traverse City office this fall:
We have to get off of fossil fuels sometime soon—I am sure of it because I’ve spent my life in this business. Oil and gas won’t run out, they will never run out, but as wells decline and each barrel is harder and harder to get they are going to get wildly expensive. We have a huge energy problem in this country, but you know we can solve it. It’s exciting.
I’ve always viewed myself as in the energy business. I believe wind power is like the Antrim shale was in 1984. There are some technical issues with it, just like there were with those wells back then. It looks like really skinny economics right now—until we get better at it.
(Laughs). Money out of people’s savings, that’s how it got financed. This is just a group of Michigan businessmen—half from Traverse City and half from Mount Pleasant—who took the risk and paid cash.
With current technology we could get around 20 to 25 percent of our power from wind. There are a lot of spots in Michigan that will be commercial for wind and should be. When the grid gets smarter you could probably push it up to 50 percent.—E.E.