WEST MICHIGAN – When it comes to the critical tourism economy and a push for more alternative sources of energy, offshore wind farms are a wash.
That is the conclusion of a Grand Valley State University study group that has been researching wind development in West Michigan.
In a report released Wednesday focusing on offshore wind development, assistant professor of biology Erik Nordman and the GVSU group studied Europe because there are no offshore wind turbines in North America.
In Europe, existing offshore wind developments offer no evidence that they harm or help the local tourism industry. Surveys show that while some tourists may avoid beaches with a view of offshore wind turbines just as many may seek them out as points of interest.
The GVSU West Michigan Wind Assessment found that an offshore wind farm located six miles off the Lake Michigan shoreline would be visible from shore about 64 percent of the time. Some of the time, haze and fog would obscure the view.
The West Michigan Wind Assessment is a Michigan Sea Grant-funded project that is analyzing the benefits and challenges of wind energy development in coastal West Michigan.
In addition, the study determined that offshore wind turbines – with current technology – would likely need to be located within view of the shore because water depths in Lake Michigan increase rapidly from the beach line. That is especially true directly off the coast from Muskegon, where acceptance of offshore wind development seems to be greater than in other lakeshore communities in West Michigan.
As for sound, the study found the audible and inaudible sound waves created by a spinning wind turbine can be amplified when the turbine is on water rather than on land. However, the researchers found that turbine sounds likely would never be heard on shore if located six miles out on the lake.
Public acceptance of wind turbines is a difficult issue to assess, the report indicates. The researchers found regional public opinion mixed.
The study was conducted during 2010 when the issue was developing in West Michigan. A large public debate ensued in response to a Norwegian company’s proposal to put hundreds of large wind turbines off the coasts of Pentwater and Grand Haven.
Mason and Oceana county commissioners voted down the proposal in the face of public objections but no public action was taken in Muskegon or Ottawa counties. The Scandia Windoff Shore proposal stalled as the state of Michigan dealt with offshore wind regulations.
A Michigan Wind Council report resulted in proposed regulatory legislation in late 2010 but the issue died with a new governor and legislators in 2011. State officials indicate Gov. Rick Snyder will not be taking up the offshore wind issue until later this year at the earliest.
The GVSU wind study also points out some of the advantages of offshore wind versus more traditional onshore wind farms. The offshore advantages include more consistent and stronger winds, the proximity to large cities and energy customers, the ability to build larger wind turbines and locations that are away from residential areas.
But the report also notes the drawbacks exposed during the Scandia debate last year. Offshore wind has major public acceptance issues, is more expensive to build and maintain and can negatively affect people’s connection to the Great Lakes.
GVSU’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center will begin to conduct on-the-water wind tests with a new floating research buoy expected to be deployed on Lake Michigan initially off the shore of Muskegon this fall.
Reporter Eric Gaertner contributed to this story.
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