By Nick Mordowanec
Nov. 29, 2009
A university intends to measure Lake Michigan’s potential for offshore wind power with a $1.4 million federal grant.
The original plan by Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., was to place wind turbines in the Great Lakes. But that’s changed.
“We are not putting wind turbines out there,” said Arn Boezaart, interim director of the university’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. “Funding has not allowed for that to happen. We are developing an offshore project to develop wind data on Lake Michigan, as well as other research information on top of that.”
No start date has been announced.
Development of offshore projects on the Great Lakes is promoted by the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council. The council was created in January to help the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth analyze offshore wind development. The center is aided by the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, an organization that promotes alternative energy.
“The development of the project is predicated on winds and how predictable they are,” said Greg Northrup, president of the alliance, based in Grand Rapids.
How such development will occur remains uncertain.
Boezaart said, “Nobody knows how to construct such a project. We’re looking at a variety of sources and proposals and figuring out the best strategy. It will most likely be a mono-pole structure in the lake bottom.”
The purpose of the project is to measure wind speeds and other wind-related data on a year-round basis because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pulls its buoys from the water from November through March.
“Nobody has ever done this before,” said John Sarver, supervisor of technical assistance in DELEG’s Bureau of Energy Systems and chair of the Michigan Wind Working Group.
“Grand Valley State University could provide major contributions as no actual data of wind speeds in lakes are taken because the buoys are not tall enough in height.”
The project itself will be no easy feat, Sarver said.
Focusing on offshore wind rather than placing turbines far from the shore would benefit both environment and nearby communities, Sarver said.
“There are many things to consider,” Sarver said of the original idea to place turbines in the lakes. “Fish, migratory birds, navigation in terms of shipping channels and disturbing lake bottoms are just some of them.
“And then there are view-shed issues. Do people want to look out at a sunset over the lake and see these large turbines?”
An offshore wind project could study more than just wind data.
“There’s a real interest in developing information on bird migration patterns, bat behavior patterns and climate interests,” Boezaart said. “We could even do ice studies and see how it impacts the lake.”
Boezaart said development of the center’s offshore wind project has been met with little to no criticism and lots of encouragement. “People want to develop wind energy.”
And Northrup said the project is intended to create a more alternative energy-friendly environment without harming the essence of Michigan’s Great Lakes.
“Turbines could have presented long-term liabilities — both aesthetic and environmental,” Northrup said. “We want to protect Michigan’s beautiful shoreline.”
Nick Mordowanec reports for Capital News Service
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