Three developers are floating plans to erect hundreds of wind turbines in Lake Michigan as interest in the construction of wind farms surges around the country.
The Lake Michigan plans are all in the very preliminary stages, and how they would be financed is unclear.
The projects are being discussed as several state agencies have launched a study to determine the feasibility of erecting wind turbines on the two Great Lakes that border the state – Superior and Michigan.
Interest in lake-based wind farms comes amid growing demand for renewable energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and calls for more home-grown energy.
There are no offshore, or water-based, wind projects operating in the United States, though there are various such projects operating in the North Sea and Baltic Sea off the coasts of the United Kingdom and Denmark. Several have been proposed on the East Coast, including two off Cape Cod near the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. On the Great Lakes, one proposal calls for building turbines in Ohio’s Lake Erie waters.
There are many hurdles to getting such projects built, including cost and the need to pay for transmission lines to connect turbines to the power grid. Other likely concerns: potential objections from lakefront property owners and worries about the environmental effect of turbines on migratory birds.
Wind energy consultant Robert Owen of Middleton, who has studied the potential of building a wind farm in Lake Michigan, said he considers the portion of the lake east of Sheboygan and Milwaukee to be one of the best spots for offshore wind power on the Great Lakes. That’s because the water is shallower there.
Owen said interest in offshore projects has increased in part because of opposition to land-based wind farms.
Several Wisconsin counties have recently enacted ordinances that restrict development of wind power projects. A bill to require standard siting requirements across the state – and give developers the option of seeking state approval for wind power developments – stalled this year in the Legislature amid protests from town leaders in different parts of the state.
Steve Ugoretz, lead wind energy analyst with the state Department of Natural Resources, agreed there’s heightened interest in offshore wind, but noted that no developers have submitted detailed plans to the state.
The developers are circling with concepts but have not reached the stage of submitting formal, detailed applications, Ugoretz said.
Any lake-based wind farm would require approval from numerous state and federal agencies – an unprecedented process that would likely take years to complete.
One of the Lake Michigan proposals, dubbed Radial Wind, calls for erecting 390 turbines about 18 miles east of Milwaukee.
The location would be an area known as the Mid-Lake Plateau. Similar to a sand bar, the plateau is a section of the lake that is slightly shallower than the area just offshore from Milwaukee. Owen said the depth in the plateau area is 130 to 260 feet, compared with depths of up to 600 feet in other parts of the lake.
William Goldstein, an energy engineer and real estate developer from Northbrook, Ill., said his Radial Wind proposal is on hold because the technology to mount turbines in 200 feet of water hasn’t been fully developed.
Goldstein said he’s been delayed by a bureaucratic hurdle – the completion of a federal review of offshore wind projects by the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. But Ugoretz and Gary Strasburg of the Minerals Management Service said that while the federal agency has jurisdiction over offshore wind power, it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency in reviewing offshore wind proposals for the Great Lakes, said Louise Clemency, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service office in Green Bay.
Two other projects that have been discussed with state environmental regulators would be much closer to the shore: Ewindfarm Inc. of California has discussed putting 610 turbines one to two miles from the shore stretching from Kewaunee to Kenosha, according to documents submitted to the DNR. The project proponent met with DNR and the state’s Office of Energy Independence last summer but hasn’t made contact since, Ugoretz said.
Meanwhile, another unidentified developer has approached state officials with initial plans to build “a couple hundred” turbines in an area that would be located “within a few miles of shore” in east-central Wisconsin, Ugoretz said.
Last month, the Global Warming Task Force appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle recommended that the state conduct a yearlong study of the energy potential of the Great Lakes. The study, by the state Public Service Commission, DNR and the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, was launched this month.
Dan Ebert, chairman of the Public Service Commission, said recently that Wisconsin could see a competitive advantage from generating renewable energy from turbines in the Great Lakes.
“We need to look at what are the economics of that, how feasible is it, what are the environmental issues that are involved. To understand those issues and examine it as an option is something we clearly should do,” Ebert said.
Opposition can be expected from people who are concerned about looking at the towers in the lake.
The nation’s first offshore wind proposal, the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, has generated opposition from Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D-Mass.), in part because that project would be located five to 13 miles offshore and would be visible from the Kennedy family compound on Cape Cod.
Concerns about the effect of wind turbines on migratory birds will also have to be addressed, Clemency said.
Objections to a land wind farm proposal near Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh – and the potential impact on migratory birds – prompted that project to be scaled back and built farther from the marsh than developers initially sought.
By Thomas Content
23 April 2008