HOLLAND – The controversial idea of putting huge wind turbines in Lake Michigan will take a summer vacation.
But in the fall, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration will be ready to resurrect the issue of utility-scale wind turbines on Michigan’s Great Lakes waters, according to Patricia Birkholz – the director of Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes.
Meanwhile, Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon continues to work with a group of partners to put a temporary wind testing platform in Lake Michigan this fall.
After last summer’s huge public debate over a Norwegian company’s plan for a $4 billion development of utility-scale wind turbines off the coasts of Pentwater and Grand Haven, the issue died when Mason and Oceana county commissioners voted down the plan.
The state policy concerning siting wind turbines in Michigan’s Great Lakes waters was introduced last November in the waning days of the Michigan Legislature’s and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s terms of office. The proposed offshore wind turbine regulations never received a legislative vote.
And now Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature are deep into Michigan business tax policy changes, budget deficit reduction plans affecting public education and various reforms of state and local governments. But offshore wind regulations haven’t been forgotten, said Birkholz – who as a Republican state senator from Saugatuck last year introduced the offshore wind legislation.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources are making further reviews of the potential legislation concerning fish and wildlife, Birkholz told The Chronicle. She participated Wednesday in Snyder’s round-table discussion with alternative energy business executives from around the state at wind-blade manufacturer Energetx Composites in Holland.
Birkholz said Snyder is open to exploring legislation to allow wind turbines in Michigan’s Great Lakes waters. As director of the the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of the Great Lakes, Birkholz is seen as a key staffer for Snyder on the offshore wind issue, industry observers said.
“He sees it as a piece of the pie in getting us off foreign oil,” Birkholz said of Snyder’s view of offshore and onshore wind projects in Michigan. “Home-grown energy in this state is always better than foreign-grown energy.”
In the meantime, two West Michigan members of the Michigan House of Representatives have introduced legislation banning wind turbines in the state’s Great Lakes. The anti-offshore wind bill was introduced in March by Reps. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo and Ray Frantz, R-Onekama but it has yet to receive a hearing in the House Energy and Technology Committee.
Snyder did not address the offshore wind issue directly during the meeting with clean-energy business leaders.
But when asked about the state’s regulatory stance on wind energy projects, the governor returned to statements he made during his campaign for office last year.
Snyder was pressed on the wind issue by Rockford Berge’s Mike VanGessel. Grand Rapid’s Rockford Construction Co. has formed a venture with Berge Energy Logistics – a Spanish company – to provide services to the wind energy sector in Michigan and across the country.
Snyder said the state’s regulation of business has been too burdensome and the rules have been applied badly. He repeated his philosophical stance that state government must get out of the way and allow people and businesses to succeed.
But wind energy advocates are frustrated that alternative energy apparently is not even near top of the new governor’s agenda. Having the anti-offshore wind bill introduced while Snyder is still formulating his energy policies is bad for the state’s wind businesses, according to MAREC Director Arn Boezaart.
“The situation right now does not encourage business development,” Boezaart said. “And for the next six months, everything will be on hold.”
As for GVSU’s wind-assessment buoy, the manufacturing of the test platform is under way by AXYS Technologies of British Columbia. The $3.7 million project has been supported by GVSU, the University of Michigan’s Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, the Michigan Public Service Commission, Wisconsin Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Boezaart said the floating platform should arrive in Muskegon in the early fall to be tested in the Lake Michigan waters off Muskegon for several weeks before winter. The platform has high-tech wind measuring devices to provide the best assessment to date of the quality of Lake Michigan winds for the generation of electricity.
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