LANSING – When offshore wind farms have been discussed along the lakeshore, the debate has centered on how the turbines would look and whether they would kill birds.
Take the same issue to Lansing, and state policymakers are much more concerned about the cost of electricity and the development of wind industry jobs.
Testimony was taken for the first time Tuesday on comprehensive offshore wind turbine legislation, which seems destined to remain in committee as the Michigan Legislature ends its term this week.
Various members of the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council and manufacturers testified in favor of the offshore wind bill before the House Energy and Technology Committee.
A series of state environmental groups voiced support for the offshore wind farm regulations, although some suggested changes to the bill as it was proposed.
The Michigan State Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association opposed the bipartisan legislation in its current form.
Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City, opened the hourlong hearing emphasizing that his committee will not be voting on the offshore wind legislation, making it unlikely the House of Representatives will vote on it before the scheduled adjournment Thursday.
The lame-duck Legislature has plenty on its plate in its final week, including future funding of the Pure Michigan tourism promotion campaign, development of a new bridge between Detroit and Canada and a statewide school anti-bullying policy, among other issues.
Apparently, the complex offshore wind legislation will have to wait until new legislators take office at the first of January, along with Gov.-elect Rick Snyder’s new administration.
“This is a first-time hearing on a 60-page bill,” the Michigan Chamber’s Doug Roberts testified in opposition. “I’m concerned in trying to force this through in the final three days of the session.”
Five Lakes Energy partner Liesl Eichler Clark – a wind energy consultant who had been a key official in the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth – said that if legislation needs to be reintroduced in January, it will take a lot of “education” of the new legislators and administration staff. But she said she was optimistic the offshore wind bill could be adopted early in 2011.
The bill would establish areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes that would be most favorable for wind-farm development and areas that would be strictly off limits. Developers and communities are open to propose other areas.
The proposed legislation, developed through the governor’s Great Lakes Wind Council work of the past two years, would not allow turbines within three miles of shore. Placing turbines from three to six miles from shore would require county board approval. Turbines beyond the six-mile point would be regulated only by the state.
Under the legislation, the state would maintain lease rights to all of Michigan’s Great Lakes bottomlands, with the final say on offshore wind farm permits resting with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Bill co-sponsor Dan Scripps, D-Leland, said the state has no specific regulations for wind farm permitting under current law.
“The project that was proposed in my area was not the right project,” Scripps said of a huge wind farm proposed by Scandia Wind Offshore off the coast of Mason and Oceana counties. “But we had no way to say no under the current law.”
The proposed legislation would mandate public hearings when waters are proposed for development, before state auction of bottomlands, before construction of offshore wind farms and finally when turbines are decommissioned, sponsors said.
Opponents along the lakeshore argued the wind turbines would ruin beach views of Lake Michigan, while some environmentalists were concerned about the effect on bats and birds. Local supporters in last summer’s Scandia debate argued that the economic development potential of wind turbine manufacturing would be bolstered by Lake Michigan wind-farm development.
Job creation was the main argument of supporters before the House Energy Committee, including Kelly Slikkers – head of Energetx Composites, the makers of wind turbine blades in Holland.
“The wind industry is moving forward … it’s under way in other Great Lake States,” testified Arn Boezaart – a member of the Great Lakes Wind Council and director of Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon.
“It’s about economic development,” Boezaart said of the offshore wind bill. “Does Michigan want to participate in becoming part of the wind industry?”
Michigan Chamber and Manufacturers Association spokesmen voiced opposition because the proposed bill does not have “cost containment” provisions as were put into the state’s energy bill in 2008. The worry of business and manufacturers is the potential of high-priced wind-generated electricity increasing electrical bills statewide.
The chamber’s Roberts said that current land-based wind developments have contracts to produce electricity at an acceptable 9.5-cents per kilowatt hour. Recent power contracts for offshore developments in Ontario and on the U.S. East Coast are for 18-plus cents a kilowatt hour, Roberts said.
“Those (offshore wind) prices are uncompetitive,” Roberts testified. “Don’t saddle us with 18-cent power.”
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