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Three Michigan companies help keep state pushing forward in alternative energies

Dustin Denkins of Suburb Solar showcases a panel that helps produce energy

UPPCO Hoist Dam, renewable energy

UPPCO Hoist Dam, renewable energy

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 Traverse City has made a name for itself as the cherry capital of the world. But in the alternative energy community, Traverse City-based Tellurex is the star of Northwest Michigan.

Elsewhere in the state, Troy-based Toggled and Houghton-based Upper Peninsula Power Company are also becoming drivers of alternative energy.

It's because of these and other Michigan-based companies that the state was ranked No. 3 in the country by Business Facilities magazine as "Alternative Energy Leaders" in 2010. The magazine says anyone surprised by the selection of the Wolverine state hasn't been paying attention, citing the groundbreaking of an advanced battery plant in Holland and commercialization of solar shingles in Midland as concrete examples of Michigan's deservedness of their praise.

State agencies are also taking notice with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. awarding Dow Chemical Co. in Midland $61.3 million in tax credits over 15 years for their work in solar and alternative battery power projects, creating 2,500 direct jobs and 4,400 indirectly. Here, everybody wins.

Incentives are the key to success. In order to maintain and even improve on the state's ranking, Michigan must continue to support growth in alternative energy. The end result is a sustainable environment and workforce. What more can you ask for?

Recently, Second Wave caught up with three leading alternative energy companies in Michigan to talk about the growth of their field.

Tellurex--Traverse City

Peter Schmitz, sales manager at Tellurex, says the company has established itself as a leader in the field of thermoelectric technology and engineering design, integrating their activities from the laboratory through the production line, and from basic earth elements through finished thermoelectric modules and systems. "Tellurex has the manufacturing capacity and global sourcing, experience and resources, to originate and perfect new uses of our proprietary materials and methods," he adds.

Tellurex's growing list of research partners include Pacific Northwestern National Laboratory, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Michigan Technological University and University of Michigan, all responding to the increased demand for applied thermoelectric science. Schmitz says Tellurex has a broad customer base, including medical equipment, military, industrial enclosures, automotive, consumer products, aerospace, and laser applications.

"In addition, we have developed our new micro power generation line of products named tPOD, or thermoelectric power on demand," he explains. "This is part of our new strategic direction to pursue product development and new applications." The goal is to expand to new markets, including off-grid power devices, emergency response and preparedness, outdoors equipment, and developing nation and support agencies.

Schmitz says taking the initiative to expand into these new markets is the key to Tellurex's success; taking large growth opportunities, while continuing to expand in existing markets.

"Our renewed focus on applications development to solve specific temperature or waste heat recovery challenges is critical to our growth strategy," says Schmitz.

Upper Peninsula Power Company--Houghton

Based in Green Bay, UPPCO provides electric service to the western and northern portions of the Upper Peninsula, working with about 50 customers on solar and wind power generation.
    
"All of these customers are in the net metering program and choose to generate electricity with the hope of reducing their need for grid-powered electricity," explains Kevin Pitts, account management consultant at UPPCO. "On average, UPPCO will have 10 to 15 customers a year choose to hook up renewable energy generation."

Pitt emphasizes the need for incentives in order to continue encouraging renewable energy growth. "Currently, there are no state incentives for residential or commercial customers who want to install wind or solar," he says. "But there are federal tax incentives that help with making this decision. In the last 24 months, the price of solar products has gone down 25 percent, and this makes solar an attractive choice in the U.P."

Given Michigan's already favorable standing in the alternative energy market nationwide, imagine what state incentives could do for encouraging alternative energy methods among residents. This is the kind of forward thinking energy providers hope for in order to continue and improve upon Michigan's success in alternative energy.

Meantime, Pitts has a suggestion for those looking to go green in the U.P.--purchase the NatureWise program at UPPCO.

"NatureWise is a sound way to bring environmentally friendly electricity to UPPCO customers," he explains. "NatureWise energy supports local generation of renewable electricity from wind [50 percent] and biogas [50 percent]." The biogas fuels large generators to provide clean energy while reducing the impact of greenhouse gas.

After all, there's no better way to honor the environmental beauty of the Upper Peninsula than to make a commitment to going green.

Toggled--Troy

Recently rebranded from Ilumisys, Troy-based Toggled is focused on next-generation solid-state lighting technology, typically seen in vehicle lights, traffic lights, and parking lot lights.

President of Toggled, David Simon, says they're committed to ensuring Michigan is a global leader in solid-state lighting research, development and manufacturing. And thanks to decreased payback periods, Simon believes Toggled is launching their manufacturing plant at the perfect time to support a high volume of implementation, adding the importance of state support.

"Utility rebates can be significant, and we are very fortunate to have programs, such as DTE Energy's Energy Efficiency Program for Business here in the state," he says.

As such, Simon believes the future of solid-state lighting technology is (pun intended) bright.

"The future of the lighting market will see a much broader implementation of LED lighting with very significant improvements in price, performance, and consistency of quality," he says. "The solid-state lighting industry is emerging from its early-adopter phase and into a period of rapid growth as it becomes the new standard for lighting systems."

In all, it's about putting Michiganders back to work.

"We are very excited to be at the forefront of a resurgence in Michigan manufacturing," says Simon.

Joe Baur is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cleveland. He's also the Sections Editor of hiVelocity. You can contact him at joebaur.com.
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