If wind power is to become a reality off the shores of Lake Michigan, state officials must develop a carefully balanced regulatory system to protect the lake’s precious natural resources, a citizens group said in a report last week.
Members of the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Committee, in a report prepared for the state Department of Natural Resources, issued the 56-page report, the first to outline the multitude of impacts that will have to be considered in drawing up guidelines for establishing wind turbines in the lake.
State Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-18th, sought legislation to create the citizens group last year as Evanston began seriously considering a plan to establish wind turbine power at a site seven to nine miles off shore, directly across from Northwestern University’s campus.
Members of the diverse group included Kwame Raoul, president of the Illinois Senate; Gabel; Mayors Nancy Rotering and Robert Sabonjian of Highland Park and Waukegan, respectively; representatives of the fishing and boating industries; conservation groups; and more.
In the report, council members balanced support for wind power as a renewable energy source and possible generator of revenue and jobs against the need to minimize impact on the lake’s natural resources.
Illinois and Lake Michigan are well positioned for wind power, the report found.
“The wind blowing over the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan, produces some of the most powerful and consistent concentrations of energy in the United States,” the report said.
“Few places in the United States have so large a renewable energy resource positioned so accessibly close to metropolitan population centers.”
Wind power also offers a source of power-generation, “free from emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide and the need for any fossil fuel by-product waste disposal,” committee members found.
For those reasons, “Illinois is well-positioned, because of its industrial base and transportation network,” they said, “to leverage the supply chain of the wind energy industry for significant economic development, if it takes steps now.”
Before authorizing offshore wind development, though, the state “must comprehensively evaluate impacts from projects or activities that could diminish established ecological functions or harm long-term sustainable commercial or recreational uses of Lake Michigan.”
The group considered impacts on shorelines, the fishing and boating industry, migratory birds and bats, even shipwrecks in its more than six months study of issues.
Members of Evanston’s Bird Conservation Network answered an emphatic “yes” to the question of whether bird refuges should be established away from turbines if the state moves forward with wind power.
If leases are granted, the group said, the state should establish “appropriate stipulations based on the best available knowledge of bird collisions,” group members said in a letter appended to the report.
Those stipulations would include “appropriate use of navigation lighting to prevent migrating birds from becoming confused and or attracted to the turbines’ light source; the operational ability for developers to be able to promptly turn off wind turbines during major migration events, especially those accompanied by a cloud cover or low ceiling; a requirement that turbine operators assess bird mortality around the turbines on a continuing basis.”
The council recommended that the state establish a careful regulatory system as it moves forward on the issue.
The state should develop “a regulatory system that begins with the development of statutory standards and includes agency rule making designed to provide the necessary flexibility to address the rapid advance of technological change, economic conditions and an understanding of the natural resource impacts from off-shore wind power,” group members said in their report.