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Evanston postpones wind farm decision

After an exploratory committee urged Evanston City Council on Monday to continue researching the feasibility of a wind farm on Lake Michigan – and a stream of disgruntled residents urged the opposite – the council postponed its decision until July 11.

Committee co-chairs William Siegfriedt and Nicolai Schousboe concluded 90 days of deliberation by encouraging the city to examine potential funding for wind power and collaborate with possible partners, including Northwestern, on further research. Two local developers responded to Evanston’s 2010 request for information from potential wind farm contractors, but the data they provided did not answer all the committee’s questions, Siegfriedt said.

One farm is unlikely to change the cost of power in Evanston, Siegfriedt said, so a chief consideration for the council is whether promoting green energy is worth windmills’ aesthetic and financial costs.

“Those who have a strong green inclination think it’s the most beautiful thing there is, and others don’t,” Siegfriedt said of wind farms.

Several of those “others” spoke during the citizen comment segment of the meeting.

Former middle school science teacher Barbara Janes said for years, she told her students anything that promoted American energy independence was good. But research on the environmental impact of building offshore wind farms has changed her mind. The wind farms would disrupt green space along the lake and require miles of trenches.

The city should stop researching wind power and instead focus on tactics such as reducing building emissions and helping homeowners buy more efficient appliances, she said.

“These steps are not sexy or headline-grabbing, but they would achieve important goals,” Janes said.

Andrew McGonigle, manager of construction projects for the University, said based on responses to the request for information, NU could not find economic justification for joining the wind farm project.

And Carl Bova, a civil engineer, said leasing the lake bottom from the State of Illinois would lead to liability exposure for the city without generating jobs or lowering power costs for city residents. In his experience, building on water costs three to four times as much as building on land, and putting a wind farm on the lake is not worth the price, he said.

“We are not being good stewards of the hard-earned and scarce tax dollars that we have if we continue in pursuit of this project,” Bova said.

Siegfriedt acknowledged the points raised by residents require serious consideration.

“It’s a real issue,” he said. “It’s not as cheap as building them in the cornfields.”

But someone will eventually build a wind farm in Lake Michigan, and if Evanston does not take an active role now, it will have no chance to influence the project later, Siegfriedt said.

A bill to create a Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Council passed the Illinois state legislature in May and is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature. The council would include two seats for representatives of local governments, and Evanston should try to claim one of them, the wind farm committee said.

Due to time constraints, the council postponed voting on whether to continue wind farm research. But because the city will likely face competition from Waukegan, North Chicago and other local communities if it does campaign for a seat on the offshore wind energy council, the aldermen unanimously voted to make a decision at their July 11 meeting.