ISHPEMING - Many community, Ishpeming City Council and Ishpeming Housing Commission members sat in on a presentation Monday with Clean Green Energy LLC to clear the air about current and future plans for a controversial and long-delayed wind turbine at Pioneer Bluffs Apartments.
The presentation began with the housing commission's chairman, Rudy Kemppainen, making a statement about the commission's involvement with the wind turbine. Kemppainen said all of the the board members are honorable citizens of Ishpeming and wish the best for the community.
"When the turbine project was introduced to the housing commission, it was introduced as a prototype that was going to be replicated in the Upper Peninsula," Kemppainen said. "We did not understand it to be an experimental turbine, which it obviously ended up being."
Kemppainen said the housing commission was presented with the turbine project and did not seek it out. He said they decided to take on the project because of potentially significant electricity bill savings and the prospect of being able to sell excess electricity to the U.P. Power Company.
But the original wind turbine turned out to be too expensive to run and it was determined the unit's blades would most likely fail.
Bryan Zaplitny, president and CEO of Clean Green Energy, said his presentation was an attempt to clear the air. He explained why replacement of the current wind turbine with a new one had taken so long. He said McKenzie Bay International, the company that created the original design, ran out of money for the project, lost their management team and then got caught in a legal morass.
The current wind turbine can be seen from all over the city of Ishpeming and is not in use. It will be taken down as soon as the new Wind-e20 turbine is ready for installation. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"I challenged the board of directors and they came back and said they had no mobility to go forward, they were in trouble at that point, the company could possibly go into bankruptcy and they had no mobility to finish the wind turbine," Zaplitny said. "At that point I made a personal commitment to this board that looks out for this housing commission and to (housing commission director) Evelyn (Valente-Heikkila) personally ... and the people of Ishpeming that I would see this through."
Zaplitny said he used his own money to see the project through. He signed a contract with McKenzie Bay asking that no one would interfere, stating the project would be completed, that he would have the marketing rights to the project and own the wind turbine, that he would finance it.
"I've been in business now for almost 27 years and I have never not completed a job," Zaplitny said.
According to Zaplitny, after the contract had been signed a Native American casino group tried to take over the publically traded company, which resulted in a lawsuit and canceled his contract and all of his stock.
"In conversation at dinner with (McKenzie Bay) folks I came to understand that the company was going to go out of business," Zaplitny said. "So I filed a federal lawsuit to stop what they were doing at my own expense."
After filing the lawsuit and going through litigation, Zaplitny said he had $8 million invested in saving the project and saving the companies.
"In the public eye I've been beat up pretty good and I've kept my mouth closed about it for six years," Zaplitny said. "But these battles I've taken on the chin on behalf of all of you, and I'm going to say it that way because I gave my word and commitment to all of these folks here and to Evelyn and to all the city people I've talked with and I said I wouldn't stop until I saw this project complete, because that's how I was raised."
Now that all the lawsuits are over and patents have been filed, Zaplitny said he can begin production on a new turbine, the Wind-e20 model, at the start of next year. The new turbine does not need a crane to be put up; it erects itself hydraulically and will fold its blades in during high winds.
The new turbine is expected to be functional by the end of 2013. As an added bonus, Zaplitny said, the Ishpeming Housing Commission will not have to pay electric bills for five years due to a Wind for a Better Community grant that was awarded by CGE, who will pay for all of the electricity the Wind-e20 Turbine produces in those five years.
"I didn't realize that we were going to get that five year waived fees," said Valente-Heikkila. "I was excited about that because we don't have to pay any electric bills for five years."
A typical electric bill at the housing commission run about $1,400 to $1,500 a month, she said.
Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-486-4401.