Wind farm in the Great Lakes? Big potential meets big opposition.
The windswept Great Lakes hold huge promise for wind power, experts say. But a plan for an offshore wind farm in Lake Michigan is raising local ire.
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Several hurdles stand in the way of large-scale power production on the Great Lakes, experts caution. The region has little capacity to manufacture the massive turbines used for offshore wind. In many states, the permitting process is unclear. And the cost of installing turbines in water is high. (Monitor Report: "Amid economic crisis, wind power spins more slowly")Skip to next paragraph
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And although wind farms have aroused scant opposition on the sparsely populated Great Plains, it's been a different story in the Great Lakes region and on the East Coast.
"It's almost worse with offshore," says Liesl Clark, deputy director of Michigan's Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. "People have a passion about water."
No doubt, the dimensions of the proposed wind farm off Pentwater have created a stir. In December, the company involved, Scandia Wind Offshore, presented plans for as many as 200 turbines with a combined generating capacity of 1,000 megawatts – enough to power 300,000 households. Perched on massive concrete bases, the turbines would rise as high as 569 feet above the water. Under this proposal, the nearest turbines would stand between 1-1/2 and four miles from shore, with others farther out.
Michigan's Great Lakes Wind Council has recommended a buffer of six miles. But this distance poses problems for Lake Michigan and other parts of the Great Lakes, where the depths often exceed the capacity of technology now used in Europe to support offshore turbines.
"You can engineer them at any depth you want," says Steve Warner, Scandia's CEO. "But it's too expensive."
Mr. Warner says his company chose the Pentwater site for the quality of the wind, the structure of the lake bottom, and the proximity to areas of high demand, among other reasons. "From a technological point of view, you cannot find a better spot," he says.
But opposition arose soon after Scandia revealed its plans. On Feb. 8, the Village Council passed a resolution against the proposal. Debra Flood, a teacher's aide who grew up in Pentwater, is one of the dissenters. "I know a lot of people will be upset," she says, but she's willing to accept the project "if it helps to bring jobs."
More typical is Mike Myaard, owner of the Channel Lane Inn and chairman of the local chamber of commerce. The wind farm, he says, would mar Pentwater's chief attraction. "People come here for the serenity and the beautiful lakeshore," says Mr. Myaard. But he adds, "If they didn't have to see the turbines, most people would accept it."
The strong feelings against the wind farm aren't limited to people who would look at it on a daily basis. The feelings arise even among the landlocked.
"I like the thought of the wind project," says Thomas Youngstrom, a third-generation farmer who grows corn, soybeans, and asparagus several miles inland. "I don't know if I want them out on my beautiful lake. I'd rather have them on land."
After meeting with local officials, Scandia revised its plans in mid-February, saying it would cut the number of turbines in half and put them no closer than four miles from shore.
But the changes are small, says Ms. Pierman, the village president. "I can't say where people are going to like that any better," she says.
Scandia officials say they won't go ahead with the project if local people don't want it. But their proposal has awakened Pentwater and other communities to the real possibility of wind farms on the Great Lakes.
"If you have the wind sitting outside your window in the Great Lakes, why not use it?" asks Arnold Boezaart, director of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center at Grand Valley State University in Muskegon. "It's an open question."