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Oceana County planners emphatic: No wind turbines on Lake Michigan

HART – An attack by the Oceana County Planning Commission on an offshore wind farm developer can be seen as a pre-emptive strike, even if it came well after the issue seemed settled.

Nearly 16 months after the Oceana County Board of Commissioners rejected further action on a proposal for an industrial-scale wind farm on the waters of Lake Michigan, the county’s planning commission released a report Tuesday that says the plan was “not feasible.”

Planning Commission Chairwoman Anne Soles issued a press release declaring that an “in-depth” investigation of Scandia Wind LLC’s proposal for 100-200 offshore wind turbines on the near-shore waters of Lake Michigan off the coast from Ludington to Pentwater found “major flaws.”

The concern seems to be that the Scandia plan will resurface with state officials and the local voice on the issue will be lost, commissioners indicate. The Ludington Pumped Storage Facility – a Consumers Energy and DTE power-storing and -generating facility just south of Ludington – offers a unique opportunity to store offshore wind power that will draw Scandia and other wind developers to the shores off Oceana County, Soles said.

“We need to put a punctuation point on this issue … not in Lake Michigan,” Soles told The Chronicle. “We are responsible for the lake that has so many threats.”

The planning commission’s conclusion is that only through local government “vigilance” did problems with the Scandia plan actual surface.

The Oceana County board voted 4-2 Aug. 12, 2010, to reject further efforts on the Scandia project, as did the Mason County Board of Commissioners earlier that summer. The Oceana County Planning Commission earlier had voted 7-2 to recommend that the county board walk away from the offshore wind plan.

At issue is whether the construction of proposed concrete wind turbine foundations would generate employment locally for up to 2 million worker hours, as the developer told Oceana County officials. It is technically not feasible for those labor-intensive foundations to be constructed in West Michigan, the planning commission concluded.

The planning commission statement quotes Scandia CEO Steve Warner as saying the cement wind turbine foundations and all of the labor their production would bring would not be done in West Michigan waters.

Instead, Warner told Soles in a June 13 written statement that such production would be “north of North Manitou Island.” The Manitou Islands are in northern Lake Michigan off the coast of the Leelanau Peninsula, 90 miles north of Pentwater.

That is the same statement that Scandia Project Manager Harald Dirdal gave at an Aug. 4, 2010, public form on the offshore wind proposal when asked where the turbine foundations would be manufactured.

Thus, the jobs promised the local community were never really possible, the Oceana County planners concluded. Even with job creation and local investments from an offshore wind farm, a majority of county commissioners in Oceana and Mason counties concluded that the huge wind turbines would, among other things, spoil Lake Michigan views, hurt tourism, devalue lakefront property and ecologically threaten the lake.

“It is not clear whether Scandia just did not do their research or they were not being factual with the commission and the public,” Oceana County Planning Commissioner David Roseman said. “Regardless, it took this local government to make that determination where most others involved overlooked this fundamental flaw.”

The whole Scandia experience and the newness of the offshore wind issue left the county, which suffers from high unemployment, feeling “violated,” Soles said.

The Oceana County Planning Commission voted this past summer to formulate Tuesday’s press release, which has been developed over the past months, county officials said. Planners worked with Beacon Public Relations’ Dan Conley in making the public release.

The planning commission news release went on to say that Scandia – now involved with Spanish wind developer Gamesa in a proposed land-based wind farm at the Muskegon County Wastewater Management System – still has hopes of reviving its Lake Michigan plans. However, Soles said Oceana planners are not opposed to land-based wind farms.

“Since the Scandia Wind project was formally voted down by both Oceana and Mason counties, we have learned that this corporation plans to appeal directly to the state,” Soles said.

The Chronicle was unable to reach Scandia officials for comment.

The Oceana and Mason county experience shows that local control of issues such as offshore wind is important in the face of potential legislation and regulation of offshore wind developments expected from state government, the planning commissioners conclude.

The planning commission news release not only took aim at Scandia but also a host of other agencies working on the offshore wind issue and the news media. Local citizens and public officials were the ones who took the time to “understand the subtleties of the proposal,” the news release says.

“This and other problems were not uncovered by the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council, the (Department of Natural Resources and Environment) or Grand Valley State University and its (Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center) facility in spite of heavy taxpayer support of these institutions,” the planners’ news release states of the “known” inability of the offshore wind developers to provide the promised job creation.

Arn Boezaart – a member of the state’s former Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council and director of GVSU’s alternative energy center in Muskegon – was unavailable to react to the Oceana planners’ statements.

“This and other problems were not uncovered by the media,” according to the news release. “These points underscore the importance that local input should remain an important part of the permitting process.”