Yesterday’s announcement of a major upgrade to the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant by co-owners Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison, is expected to have a major impact on the northwest Michigan economy. The $800 million maintenance and upgrade project is expected to generate 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 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 in 1973. 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 (MW) 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, thereby making renewable energy more affordable and reliable.
As more wind generation is added in the Midwest region, the Ludington plant can be used to store clean energy at night and during other periods when demand for electricity is low 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 maintenance and efficiency upgrade includes a major contract with Toshiba International Corporation for fabrication and installation of equipment to elevate the efficiency, output and reliability of the Ludington plant’s six 312-MW hydroelectric units. Toshiba, a global leader in electric generator technology, was awarded the contract through a competitive bidding process.
The Ludington plant pumps water during the night uphill 372 feet to its 27 billion gallon reservoir. The Ludington plant has the world’s largest motors when in pumping mode. During day-time periods of peak customer electric demand the water is released 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 necessary maintenance and upgrades planned for the next 10 years will allow the plant to continue to provide efficient, reliable service for many years to come.
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.