Wolverine Power Cooperative

Natural Gas Generation and Robust Transmission Capability Deliver Energy to Northern Michigan

Michigan’s move toward a cleaner portfolio of power generation is triggering a multitude of changes in the state’s energy landscape. The shift from coal plants to renewables and other cleaner sources of energy is changing the nature of power delivery throughout the state. Utilities need more versatility and flexibility in generation and transmission to accommodate the intermittent nature of renewables. 

For Cadillac-based Wolverine Power Cooperative, this changing landscape fostered the need for a new energy source to serve its member distribution cooperatives in western and northern Michigan. 

“We needed clean, cost-effective and versatile generation, so we looked at a number of different technologies and locations throughout northern and western Michigan to find the best overall solution,” said Wolverine President and CEO Eric Baker. 

Wolverine’s load is about 850 megawatts (MW), which the company meets with a combination of power purchase agreements, fractional baseload ownership and owned peaking turbines totaling 1,000 MW. Their portfolio is strong in renewables, which soon will comprise more than 30 percent of its generation resources. The company’s projected future energy requirements for the 280,000 rural customers its members serve, combined with some expiring supply agreements, revealed the need for an additional 400 MW of power, which must be able to respond quickly to changes in load and the variability of renewable generation. 

“We spent three years thoroughly studying our options before firming up a plan for a 440 MW, two-unit natural gas peaking plant to be located west of Gaylord. The location we picked in Elmira Township is right on top of two natural gas lines and near the transmission needed to move the power onto the grid,” said Baker. “The technology gives us the option of converting to combined cycle down the road. This approach perfectly meets our key strategic issues of flexibility and a clean environmental footprint,” he said.

Once the decision was made, work began in earnest. Wolverine faced a tight, 18-month timeline to get the plant built and in service. In addition to quickly securing long lead-time equipment such as turbines and transformers, the company needed a number of transmission upgrades to strengthen the 138 kV portion of the grid in northern Michigan. 

“Because of the unique nature of both Wolverine and ITC, the companies understand each other very well and have worked well together since ITC’s inception in 2003,” Baker said. 

The transmission side of the project included the new Van Tyle (Road) substation near the Alpine Plant, expansion of ITC’s Livingston substation, Wolverine’s upgrade of a 69-kV line to 138 kV, and the expansion and upgrade of 2.8 miles of ITC transmission line to double-circuit, 138 kV constructed to 230 kV specifications. This upgrade was done to be compatible with recent upgrades of other ITC transmission lines in northern Michigan to 230 kV standards. The transmission work had to be completed on a 12-month schedule, putting considerable pressure on the combined Wolverine and ITC project teams.

“It was a huge effort to get the project done on time, and it shows that ITC understands how to serve the customer,” said Baker. “Thanks to everyone’s dedication to the goal, customers will benefit from the enormous reliability this project brings to northern Michigan,” he continued. “It’s the largest and most efficient generator in the northern half of the state, including the Upper Peninsula, and it will be more and more important for northern Michigan to have such robust generation and transmission as our state continues the transition to newer forms of generation."