Muskegon city commissioners support Lake Michigan research buoy for offshore wind turbine development
MUSKEGON – When the head of the Grand Valley State University alternative energy center asked for the city of Muskegon’s help in establishing an offshore wind research buoy in Lake Michigan, there was no controversy.
Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center Director Arn Boezaart asked the Muskegon City Commission for the city to be a co-applicant on state and federal environmental permit applications.
Commissioners quickly voted the city’s support and heaped praise on Boezaart for the activities of the energy center in downtown Muskegon.
Anyone who sat through last year’s hearings on offshore Lake Michigan wind farms proposed by Scandia would be hard-pressed to see the Ludington City Council or the Pentwater Village Council taking such quick action.
The offshore wind turbine issue simply is not as controversial in Muskegon County as it has been in Oceana and Mason counties. County boards in both Oceana and Mason voted against the Scandia proposal, while Muskegon officials remained relatively supportive.
So when Boezaart approached the city of Muskegon this week for a hand on a $3.7 million offshore wind research buoy project, no one asked if the wind testing effort would eventually lead to huge wind turbines being placed on Lake Michigan off the coast of Muskegon.
There was no debate about turbine blades killing birds or about low-frequency turbine noise – topics that would have likely been part of the conversation with Muskegon’s northern neighbors.
“Muskegon has had a willingness to look at offshore wind,” Boezaart told The Chronicle after receiving the city’s support on the research buoy project. “It goes right back to what we saw with the Scandia issue. In Muskegon, offshore wind is viewed as a potential source of jobs and represents new business for the region.”
Boezaart told city commissioners that the offshore wind buoy project is progressing but still has several hurdles to clear before a unit can be placed in Lake Michigan, maybe as soon as this summer.
Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, secured an initial $1.4 million federal “earmark” from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore offshore wind on the lakes. GVSU has received further financial support from the Michigan Public Service Commission, the public utility Wisconsin Energy and the University of Michigan’s Phoenix Energy Institute.
As the research project grew and evolved, the group is now seeking to place a floating buoy with sophisticated wind measuring devices in various locations in Lake Michigan from April through December. GVSU also is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to place the research buoy.
To get federal and state approval to put the 5-by-18-foot anchored platform in Lake Michigan, a permit is needed, including a co-applicant with riparian rights to the lake. The city of Muskegon has extensive park property on the lake, giving it riparian rights.
The city has agreed to be a co-applicant with GVSU to win approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. The buoy project also needs the approval of the U.S. Coast Guard, Boezaart said.
The city’s involvement is that of co-applicant and will not cost the city any money and minimal staff time, City Manager Bryon Mazade said. The city has a longstanding partnership with GVSU to locate the college’s energy center in a business park on the city’s Muskegon Lake waterfront.
“The city being on board with this project puts out a strong message for the community and the region,” Boezaart said of the city’s willingness to explore offshore wind development.
GVSU and its research partners are working on final negotiations with a potential vendor of the buoy and test equipment. Much work needs to be done to get a buoy placed yet this year, Boezaart said.
Muskegon city commissioners quickly gave their approval and credited Boezaart with creating positive activity at MAREC since he was appointed to head the energy center in 2009.
“MAREC is a valuable thing,” Commissioner Clara Shepherd said. “I want to commend MAREC for the great job being done.”
Vice Mayor Steve Gawron told Boezaart that the city stands as a partner with GVSU on energy issues and would like to see as much develop from the energy center as possible.
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