WEST MICHIGAN – A bipartisan group of state legislators hopes to adopt a bill regulating offshore wind farms in Michigan before the end of the year.
The initial legislative language was introduced last week by Rep. Dan Scripps, D-Leland, to set up the process in which Michigan would entertain, investigate, manage and decommission wind turbines in the state’s Great Lake waters.
The bill offers local control for projects proposed within six miles of shore and eliminates any wind farms closer than three miles, according to the legislation.
The 60-page piece of legislation is based on the recommendations of the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council and its final report. A group of legislators, wind developers and those interested in the issue have been working behind the scenes since mid-year to craft the bi-partisan proposal.
The legislation introduced by Scripps is supported by Rep. Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City and by West Michigan Sens. Patty Birkholtz, R-Saugatuck, and Jerry Van Woerkom, R-Norton Shores. The four lawmakers hope to move the offshore wind legislation through both chambers by the end of the year.
“If we fail to act before the end of the year, Michigan will miss its opportunity to retain and attract high-quality businesses in the wind energy industry and bring thousands of jobs to our state,” Birkholtz said in a prepared statement late last week when the bill was introduced in the House. “Time is of the essence. I am asking my colleagues to support this common-sense, bipartisan plan.
“At this point in time, Michigan has the opportunity to be on the cutting-edge of the emerging wind energy industry,” Birkholtz said.
Birkholtz, Van Woerkom and Mayes are leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. Only Scripps will return to his 101st District House seat come January when the entire state government turns over with a new governor and majority of legislators.
The offshore wind turbine issue has been emotional in the Lake Michigan communities of West Michigan. Scandia Wind Offshore launched the public debate last December with an initial proposal for 100 to 200 turbines in Lake Michigan 41/2 miles off the shores between Ludington and Pentwater.
Public outrage at the Scandia proposal ended with resolutions of opposition from the Mason and Oceana county boards of commissioners. Scandia redirected its plans to waters six miles offshore from Grand Haven and southern Muskegon County.
The Minnesota and Norwegian-based company has stepped back from its Lake Michigan proposal as the new legislation has developed. Scandia also is exploring a land-based utility-scale wind farm on the Muskegon County Wastewater Management System.
Many state officials found the Scandia plans premature and unhelpful as opposition organized in West Michigan.
“(Scandia) also accentuated the need for new laws to clarify state offshore wind development requirements,” the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council stated in its final report to the governor.
The public reaction and debate on the Scandia project seems to have helped shape the proposed legislation. The bipartisan bill requires at least four public hearings on proposed offshore wind farm projects by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, private developers or Michigan counties.
The proposed law prohibits wind turbines within six miles of shore without the consent of the county board. It eliminates all plans for wind farms within three miles of shore.
The largest objection regionally to offshore wind farms has involved views and aesthetics.
“Because of the importance of our Great Lakes to our economy and our way of life here in Michigan, it’s critical that we develop a common-sense strategy that encourages economic growth without compromising our natural treasurers or lakeshore communities,” Van Woerkom said in supporting the proposed law. “This plan gives our residents a seat at the table to make sure the projects that move forward are the best for our workers, our economy, our Great Lakes and our communities.”
Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council member Arn Boezaart said the proposed law would direct the Michigan MDNRE to launch the process of siting wind turbines on the Great Lakes within 180 days of passage. Boezaart is the director of Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon.
“The careful deliberations of the 29-member GLOW council produced a clear path to responsible offshore wind development,” Boezaart said. “When signed, the new law will make Michigan the first state in the nation to comprehensively address the issues and opportunities presented by offshore wind development.”
No hearings have been scheduled on House Bill 6567 so far but those following the issue say the move last week by the four legislators is a good omen for passage yet this year. The House and the Senate currently have sessions scheduled through Dec. 9.
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