Michigan utilities upgrade pumped storage plant ahead of renewable push
he Ludington Pumped Storage Plant along Lake Michigan could play a bigger role on the grid as utilities use more variable renewables.
Concealed under a grassy slope, water pours through a set of massive chutes, pummeling a bank of underground turbines before spilling into Lake Michigan.
When electricity demand drops off, the turbines will reverse, pushing water back up the embankment into a massive reservoir overlooking the lake.
This is the never-ending cycle for the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, which serves as a sort of giant battery for Michigan’s electric grid. When power is in demand, it can generate nearly 1,900 megawatts for the grid. When electricity is cheap, it uses grid power to refill its two-and-a-half-mile long reservoir.
The facility is among the oldest and largest of its kind in the U.S., and Michigan utilities are betting it will play an even bigger role as more variable renewables are added to the grid. The plant is in the midst of an $800 million upgrade that will boost capacity and extend its life another 40 years.
The Ludington overhaul was needed due to aging and faltering components at the 45-year-old plant, but it comes amid an industry’s shift toward more renewables and storage that could ultimately increase the value of the plant.
“It’s going to be a balancing resource when we have more renewables,” said Douglas Jester, a consultant with Lansing-based 5 Lakes Energy.
Consumers Energy plans to have a 40 percent renewable portfolio by 2040. In its first long-term integrated resource plan filed in June, Consumers said it expects to add 5,000 megawatts of solar to its portfolio in that time.
“If we as a society want to transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy, we need battery efficiency in pumped storage,” said Consumers’ project manager Matthew Ray. “As we go to more renewables, pumped hydro will be an even more critical asset.”
Time for an overhaul
Ludington is one of 40 pumped storage projects in the U.S. Officials in California announced plans this summer for a potential $3 billion pumped storage project at the Hoover Dam to complement the region’s renewables. However, the function of pumped storage in California — with large amounts of solar generation in the daytime — is much different than in Michigan.