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Wind Farm Committee starts exploring options

Evanston is taking the next steps to determine whether a wind farm is feasible off the city’s shores.

At the first meeting of the 25-member Evanston Wind Farm Committee on Thursday night, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl invited Evanston legislator State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-18th, to discuss legislation Gabel is sponsoring which seeks to create a Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Council.

Under the legislation, the council would be established as a separate entity under the Department of Natural Resources, and would examine topics related to offshore wind energy facilities in Lake Michigan.

The new group would then report its findings to the legislature and governor by the end of the year.

The legislation seeks to address concerns at the state level that any building of wind farms “be done in a very responsible way,” said Gabel, noting that Lake Michigan’s lake bed is the property of the state.

Tisdahl said it is important to get the legislation in place, assuring support locally as the city moves forward on the proposal.

In another move, Tisdahl disclosed that the city is linking up with the city of Waukegan intended to “remove barriers” to creating wind farm energy in the lake.

Tisdahl said the venture grew out of a discussion she had with Waukegan Mayor Robert Sabonjian at a recent conference for mayors representing Great Lake communities. The College of Lake County would also be a partner.

The actions come as a citizens committee, the city’s Wind Farm Committee, held its initial discussion.

Evanston officials began studying a citizens initiative several years ago, proposing Lake Michigan seven miles off Evanston’s shore would be an ideal place for a wind farm.

The original concept called for 40 turbines. Initial estimates projected turbines would produce enough power to generate electricity for between 59,000 and 82,000 homes.

Some residents have raised concerns about the environment posed by the 100-foot high turbines, and esthetics.

In establishing the Wind Farm Committee, council members set as their purpose “to review and evaluate the information proposals submitted by two firms last years,

The mayor’s committee includes a number of members with direct experience developing wind farms.

It also includes some members, including a Northwestern University professor, with a technical background on some of the complex issues; a Commonwealth Edison employee with experience transferring power – including wind energy – to the system grid; as well as a smattering of members drawn because of interest in sustainable energy.

Committee members spent some time identifying issues they hoped to address, including where to site facilities, whether the Lake Michigan spot would generate sufficient wind; how power would be transferred from the turbines to homes; the need for public education on the issue.

Members also added critiques on the two proposals the city had received from firms expressing interest in the project.

Barbara Janes, a resident sitting in on the discussion, challenged whether the committee was going beyond its scope.

“It seemed from your comments we’re going to do this,” she told chairman William Siegfriedt, “(not) how we’re going to do this.”

Siegfriedt acknowledged the group’s charge was to review the proposals the city received in the first round soliciting interest from companies in a wind farm project.

At the same time, “I think this will be a little more than commenting on it,” he said, noting factual errors and misinformation in the proposals the city has received.

Nathan Kipnis, a member the citizens group which first raised the idea of wind farms in Evanston, spoke of the potential to reduce the city’s carbon footprint at cost savings to the city.

He said Evanston was one of the few sites, stretching from Waukegan to the Indiana border, which offer such potential.

The wind generating capacity of the lake has already been established, he said. A football shaped area right off Northwestern produces “very good wind,” he maintained.