Houghton County Memorial Airport Industrial Air Park – Franklin Township, Houghton County

Park Info

The Houghton County Memorial Airport Industrial Park is 201.55 acres in size and is roughly 89% developed, 59% occupied. Sizes of lots varies from 3 acres to 23 acres, and the price of land per acre is roughly $4,000 average. US Highway 41 is less than 1 mile away, and the Houghton County Memorial Airport (CMX) is onsite. No rail is onsite or in the area.

Utilities for the park include Natural Gas (SEMCO), Water and Sewer (Houghton County), Electricity (Ontonagon REA), Broadband (Charter), Merit Fiber (select portions).


Environmental Info

According to FEMA, the park site is not within any floodplains. The National Wetland Inventory shows that several lots are located within a wetland, and new construction (for energy generation facilities) in those areas would likely require a permit. The Michigan Natural Features Inventory provides a listing of rare and endangered species by County. Houghton County has 33 different plant and animal species listed under the MNFI. Because of the sensitivity of specific locations of these species, the MNFI has created the Biological Rarity Index, which provides a ranking (high, moderate, low) of finding a rare or endangered species in a certain location by Public Land Survey System (PLSS) Sections. No PLSS sections in or around the Houghton County site are identified in the BRI.

The EPA’s ERMA (Environmental Response Management Application) provides data on sensitive habitats and species. Data from 1994 suggests several sensitive species in the area, primarily on Torch Lake, well east of the Houghton County site. According to the Michigan DEQ, no sites of environmental contamination (PA201 sites) are present within the park or the immediate area. Two (2) sites within the park boundary have underground storage tanks that have either been removed or closed.


General Info

Population (U.S. Census, 2010):  4,634 (City of Hancock); 36,628 (Houghton County)

Unemployment Rate: 7.6% (Houghton County – MI BLM, 2014)

% of population high school graduate or higher: 91.5

% of population bachelor degree or higher: 9.7

% of population with a disability: 12.0

% of population that are veterans: 8.2

Zoning/Development Info

Franklin Township has no zoning ordinance, and Houghton County does not have county-wide zoning. However, the Houghton County Memorial Airport Industrial Park has its own covenants, which include regulations governing height and use. Buildings located on same site must be separated by 20 feet. Buildings and structures must not cover more than 40% of the total lot area. The Park’s own covenants require a site plan approved by the Airport Committee. Plans must include construction materials, color scheme, grading, drainage; landscape and parking areas.

The Airport Clear Zone has a building height restriction of 50ft (exceptions may be made), however the Houghton Industrial Park is outside this zone.  FAA height restrictions for tall structures apply to most of the Park and essentially prohibit the installation of any commercial size wind generation.

The high cost of electricity at the Houghton County Airport Industrial Park is a serious issue, which affects current tenants and future economic growth.  Any electrical energy intensive business would have the Park on the bottom of their list of potential locations.

Energy Efficiency Retrofits

Energy Efficiency Retrofits need to be accomplished by individual businesses.  Generally, the older the business (in the same location) the greater the opportunities for energy efficiency retrofits.  Within the Park, within the last year all the street lighting was replaced with high efficiency LED lighting.  For the smaller companies in the Park energy efficiency improvements are the most viable solution for lower energy costs.  Changing to high efficiency lighting, replacing electric water heaters with gas heaters, and upgrading heating and cooling systems to newer high efficiency appliances will result in lower monthly energy bills.

MTU’s Keweenaw Research Center has been in the Park since 1953.  KRC has taken advantage of the energy optimization program offered through their local electrical supplier and upgraded most of their shop lighting.  High bay areas which previously had 400-watt halogen lights were converted to high efficiency florescent lighting (T-8).  Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) were added to large motors in order to provide soft starts (avoid high startup loads) and allow equipment to operate at lower speeds and consume less energy.

MTU moved their Advanced Powertrain Systems Research Center into a former manufacturing facility in the Park in 2012.  One of the first building modifications undertaken was the installation of new switchgear for electrical distribution in the building.  With a revenue grade power meter, individual metering of six feeder circuits, and sophisticated Building Monitoring System; electrical consumption is clearly understood and actions have been taken to reduce load and demand. Understanding a building’s energy consumption is the first step in developing an energy efficiency program. For the large electricity consumers in the Park (Warm Rain, DA Glass, and to a lesser extent Goodwill Industries and Bay Engineering) energy efficiency improvements will be difficult to implement without major expenditures.  Where energy costs are driven by processing equipment, often the only way to improve efficiency is replacing an expensive piece of equipment.

Natural Gas

Natural Gas is available to virtually all tenants in the Park.  The current low price for natural gas has driven changes.  When needing to replace an old electric hot water heater, virtually everyone is moving to natural gas.  At KRC’s winter vehicle testing buildings, where vehicles need to be thoroughly washed prior to entering the pristine snow test areas, on-demand, natural gas water heaters have significantly reduced costs and improved customer satisfaction when washing many vehicles.

The limited supply of firm demand natural gas is a concern to Park management and planners.  Potential new tenants or expansion of existing tenants may not happen without firm demand.  The current supply is adequate to provide firm demand to all heating requirements.  New large manufacturing processes or the installation of a NG Generator to offset electrical costs may be prohibited with the current supply.  The supply capacity is only limited during the winter heating months, but it will be difficult to find businesses who would consider a 7-month firm demand acceptable.


In Houghton County, MTU researchers have shown that solar makes sense, even in an area with so much snow.  The reason solar makes sense is because the cost of electricity is so high and therefore any generation offsets the high supply costs and results in a good Return On Investment.

The Return On Investment for solar recently suffered a huge setback when the local utility, Ontonagon County Rural Electric Association, changed their net-metering agreement to pay less than the wholesale price for excess generation.  This change in the price paid for excess generation will likely prevent any OCREA customer from installing a large renewable energy system.  Any new solar systems are likely to be small and behind the meter, with no excess generation.

Currently, the Keweenaw Research Center has about 20KW of solar installed at its Main Engineering Building.  With a 20KW system the solar energy produced is sufficient to meet most of the energy needs during unoccupied daylight hours (Saturday and Sunday at 2pm in the summer).  The KRC has virtually no excess solar energy to ever send back to the grid.

Seeing the size of KRC’s 20KW system makes businesses realize that meeting all your electrical needs with solar requires significant space and investment.  With an unknown future for net-metering rates, the incentive for large systems will be further diminished.  However, small systems which can satisfy some of the baseload will continue to be a viable option for every business (new terminology refers to these small systems as “negative loads”).


Although the wind forecast maps show the Keweenaw Peninsula with high average wind speeds and an excellent location wind generation; the proximity of the industrial Park to a commercial airport essentially prevents any viable wind generation.  The economics of wind generation are based on size, with taller wind turbines being more efficient and productive.  Federal Aviation Association (FAA) height restrictions prevent any commercial size wind system.


Geothermal heating and cooling has potential in the Park, but the high cost of electricity makes geothermal heating more expensive than natural gas heating.  The Keweenaw Research Center installed geothermal heat pumps when they built their new engineering center in 2012.  Utilizing an abandoned mineshaft on their property, which had filled with water since closing decades earlier, KRC had access to massive quantities of 53oF  water.  With 18 heat pumps in the KRC Engineering Center, room temperatures can be controlled as needed.  The computer server room always needs cooling and that heat can be moved via the heat pumps to other locations.  Unfortunately, because of the high cost of electricity, it is cheaper to heat the facility with a high efficiency natural gas boiler.

The flooded mine that KRC utilizes is not available to any of the other Park tenants.  The distance from the mine to their buildings makes the plumbing costs unaffordable.


On the Keweenaw Peninsula, the only biomass facility is the L’Anse Warden Plant, which is a former coal operation that converted to biomass.  Part of the reason this plant remains viable is because it is a Combined Heat and Power system.  The electricity goes on the grid as an alternative energy supplier (AES) and the heat is utilized by the neighboring Celotex plant.  The facility is currently undergoing a renewal of its operation permit and concerned citizens have voiced concerns about the plant’s emissions.

In the Houghton County Industrial Park, the most likely candidate for a biomass system would be Goodwill Industries.  Goodwill Industries does a fair amount of wood processing (sawing, planning) and generates woody biomass waste that could be utilized in an energy system.  Currently their wood waste is sold as bedding materials for farm animals.

New regulations by the EPA on wood burning equipment could have a significant impact on the biomass industry.  Effective January 2016 all wood burning equipment must be emissions certified.

For the other tenants in the Park, biomass is not currently a viable option.  The greatest hurdle for biomass in the Keweenaw is transportation cost.  No trucker wants to haul a high volume, low weight product for a low price.  Even though the region is rich in biomass material, no market has as yet developed.

Industrial Waste Heat Recapture

From an overall Park standpoint, recovery of heat from the sewer system was explored as an option in the past.  The local sewer was adamantly against any heat extraction.  With the sewer treatment plant located several miles away in Lake Linden, a great concern exists with the sewer piping freezing during the long hard winters.

On an individual basis, companies are already looking at waste heat recovery.  The Keweenaw Research Center has water chilled heat exchangers on its large (100+HP) hydraulic test machines.  Currently the extracted heat is returned to the mineshaft used for the geothermal heat pumps.  As the supply water temperature in mineshaft increases, the performance of the heat pump increase.  KRC is looking into changes in the system that would send this waste heat directly into building’s heating loop.

Two companies make use of waste heat recapture in its most fundamental aspect.  DA Glass and Warm Rain Industries both utilize manufacturing processes that require significant heat.  The waste process heat ends up providing much of the heat necessary to heat the building during the winter months.  Unfortunately, there is no viable option for utilizing most of this heat during the warm months.  At best, the waste heat could be used for domestic water heating.  Historically low natural gas heaters, combined with high cost of electricity and capital cost in equipment upgrades to such heaters does not make this a viable option.