Lawmakers want to take the wind out of off-shore turbine sails

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Aesthetic concerns, obstacles for sailing ships and an increase in Michigan jobs are all part of a debate on offshore wind. Photo: Nuon via Flickr.

By MATT WALTERS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Proposed legislation could keep wind turbines out of the Great Lakes, and that’s good — or bad — depending on perspective.

The sponsor, Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, said the intent is to keep potential hazards out of the blue waters of the Great Lakes.

“It’s not environmentally sound to have machines like these on our lakes. They are our greatest asset, and industrialization on them is a hazard to nature and the economy,” Franz said.

The permanent nature of wind turbines and related structures creates problems not only for the environment, but also for ships, he said.

“If the basic structures are permanently fixed to the lake floor, it would be an obstacle for ships to sail around and create more dangers for them to deal with,” Franz said.

Aesthetic concerns are also a problem and a majority of residents in his northwest Lower Peninsula district oppose off-shore wind development, he said.

“My district is home to one of the longest shorelines of any in the state. People don’t want their view blocked by these big structures,” Franz said.

But Hugh McDiarmid, communications director at the Michigan Environmental Council, said the proposed ban would be bad for the economy and environment.

“It’s bad public policy. Renewable energy like this has been one of the only bright spots for Michigan in recent years, and this is the wrong message to send,” McDiarmid said.

He said that wind energy is a growing industry in the state and a ban could stunt that growth.

A recent report by the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago said 120 companies in Michigan were part of the wind industry supply chain as of March.

The report also said there are more than 4,000 jobs tied to the state’s wind industry.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard signed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008, requires that 10 percent of a utility’s electric supply come from renewable energy sources by 2015.

McDiarmid said, “Wind power is one of the primary ways utility companies will reach that goal. This proposal would seriously hinder their efforts.”

A February report from the Public Service Commission said that renewable sources produced 3.6 percent of the states power in 2009, an increase from 2.9 percent in 2007.

The report said that the proportion of renewable energy is expected to “increase significantly,” with almost 93 percent of the anticipated increase coming through wind power.

While wind development isn’t exclusively done on the Great Lakes, McDiarmid said off-shore turbines would create more energy than those on land.

“Lakes are better for capturing wind, which makes off-shore development a lot more lucrative,” McDiarmid said.

However, he acknowledged that off-shore turbines raise concerns different from those on land.

“It’s a bit more expensive to put them off-shore and it’s more dangerous for the people involved and the environment when you’re building in water,” McDiarmid said.

He said that aesthetics are another problem with off-shore wind development but that the legislation wouldn’t be the right solution.

“We are very supportive of wind energy but not in scenic or protected areas. More guidelines are necessary, but to say no wind at all is a very short-sighted solution,” McDiarmid said.

Mark Clevey, manager of the renewable energy program at the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said that off-shore wind development in the state is still in the planning stages.

“There are virtually no off-shore projects as of right now because research still needs to be done,” Clevey said.

According to Clevey, there is not enough information available about wind speed on the Great Lakes, which would help determine where to place wind farms. Also, he said there is uncertainty about how the turbines would be fixed to the floor of the lakes. Floating platforms are being discussed also.

However, Clevey said the chances are still good that wind farms will pop up in the Great Lakes in the near future.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, is in the House Energy and Technology Committee.

9 thoughts on “Lawmakers want to take the wind out of off-shore turbine sails

  1. Re: Charles comment that Ontario has banned offshore windpower in the Great Lakes. Not correct. Delayed, but not banned. Do your homework next time.

    February 11 2011
    On Friday, February 11, 2011, the government of Ontario announced that offshore windpower development will not proceed until necessary scientific research is completed and an adequately informed policy framework is developed. For more information on the government’s decision please see the Ministry of Natural Resources decision notice on the Environmental Registry(the registry number is 011-0907).

    http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/Renewable/index.html

  2. Wind turbines are bad for the lakes? So to produce that power, we should instead burn more coal? Yeah … I always enjoyed seeing that smokestack along the shores of Lake Michigan where I grew up. We need more of those! (insert sarcasm). C’mon people … you don’t want to declare CO2 as a pollutant, you don’t want to admit to climate change, and you don’t even want to limit CO2 emissions and help Michigan’s struggling economy by allowing wind turbines in these very large lakes (so large that I’m also not too worried about boats “bumping into them,” by the way.) And yes, the “bird killer” argument has been totally debunked. There are thousands upon thousands of more birds killed every year by household cats. I’m serious. So, umm … maybe we should ban cats??

  3. Read this and understand it: WIND FARMS ARE COSTLY AND INEFFICIENT (like every other dreamy alternative energy source). Without government subsidies they would fail miserably.

    Isn’t it amazing the the same eco-warriors who deplore oil derricks find acres of spinning blades acceptable (as long as they do not spoil their own view)? The same blades that kill more than 500,000 birds annually–the horror!

    Finally, why does the People’s Republic of Michigan need energy? Granholm & Company have reduced the business population to a record low.

  4. Actually – Canada (Ontario) has already passed a law banning wind farms in the Great Lakes. They passed this in mid Feb, 2011. The ban was put in place for environmental reasons – windmills can (and do) leak, catch fire, lose parts, and fall over. And the sediment in the great lakes off the shore of many industrial areas is dangerous if stirred up. So, Ontario not only banned future projects, but they cancelled all existing applications and they rescinded all existing permits. Nothing in Fresh Water. And, Ontario’s government is left of Center. This was not an political divide.

    Ontario is still pro-wind, with lots of developments on land. And that should be the point here in the US. Being Pro Wind shouldn’t give license to place windmills anywhere. Care should be taken in siting windmills to consider environmental impacts, population density, property values and tax base impact, and many other factors. Right now it’s a free for all and anyone willing to provide rights to build on their land or their lake bed can pretty much do so.

    So, Rep Franz is basically saying that we should think a lot harder before dropping them into a fresh-water ecosystem, which are increasingly scarce. If Canada thinks this is an issue, as a responsible neighbor sharing the same resource, we should be more deliberate and careful about this too.

  5. For goodness sake people , WAKE UP -wind turbines are for the naive and gullible and a symbol of stupidity. A total waste of our money -as a power generation engineer with over forty years experience I can assure you wind turbines are a nightmare to everyone except the parasites who have their greedy hands out for your dollars and subsidies etc.
    Get educated to reality – try http://www.windwatch.org or http://www.windaction.org.

  6. National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Fund, World Wildlife Fund
    Instead of citing examples from groups that have been paid off by the wind industry let’s have a look at some organizations that have not been corrupted.

    “Wind farms can kill birds through collisions with turbines and associated structures, and also harm them through the loss of habitat that birds need for survival.”
    American Bird Conservancy
    http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_policy.html

    “Aquatic habitat in Lake Erie is fragile and under stress…All of these stresses mean that the health of Lake Erie is in a fragile balance. Lakebed development risks tipping this balance in the wrong direction if it is not done with the utmost environmental attentiveness.”
    Great Lakes United
    http://www.glu.org/en/campaigns/energy/lakebeds

    “The Council of Lake Committees has articulated a serious concern with “virtually no information documenting the short-term and long-term impacts to freshwater ecosystems from wind power development”, and makes specific recommendations to protect the Great Lakes fisheries”
    The Great Lakes Fishery Commission
    http://www.glfc.org/staff/resol2010_2.pdf

    “The U.S. Department of Energy projects that wind will generate less than 1 percent of the electric production needs by 2030.”
    Why the rush to turn the world’s greatest freshwater ecosystem into another industrial wasteland? For what 1%?

  7. Offshore developers have never considered the polluted sediments that foundations & transmission lines will dig up nor that millions of people draw their drinking water from the Great Lakes. They’ve pushed their movement based on Baltic Sea studies – duh..no one drinks the water in Europe.

    A law should be passed to prevent large scale industrialization. Industrial polluters have ruined many areas of the lakes. Look at the USEPA Areas of Concern. We have legislation concerning run-off waters but what about the sequestered sediments?

    Windfarms are only lucrative for the developers as long as they get tax credits & subsidies. Eiminate those & no one will invest in turbines.

  8. The “bird kill” issue is a canard.
    The National Academy of Science and other organizations have studied the issue of bird mortality around wind turbines, and found it to be little more than another Fox News talking point.
    Thats why the National Audobon Society, and other groups concerned with wildlife, like the National Wildlife Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund, are strong supporters of wind power.
    They point out that birds are far more threatened, by several orders of magnitude, by activities like coal mining, huge oil spills like last year’s in the Gulf of Mexico, urban sprawl, buildings, wires, and the common house cat, which kills billions of birds per year.
    The real danger to birds, and all species, comes from climate change, which is the overriding challenge of our times.
    for more info, here’s a good video on the issue
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llIbjC49Fjs

  9. I seldom agree with GOP politicians, but, in this case I do. As much as I think we need to develop wind powered energy, I do not want to see our scenic Great lakes and their shorelines cluttered with wind turbines. I have seen single turbines and wind turbine farms in the Dakotas. The single turbines are quickly passed and forgotten, the turbine farms are an eyesore, but, acceptable in that setting.

    Another issue with turbine farms is the killing of birds, which a GLIN NEWS story very recently discussed. Evidence has been found of 10s of thousands of dead birds at just one turbine farm in NY State. I can imagine heavy bird mortality at wind farms on the great lakes. Of course, no one would be able to prove it over a watery grave.

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