Studies Lift Hopes for Great Lakes Wind Turbine Farms

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

CHICAGO -- Picture 100,000 wind turbines rising from the Great Lakes off Michigan's shores, casting spinning shadows on the water and producing electricity for the entire Upper Midwest.

This surreal image is conjured by a study released last Tuesday by the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute. It analyzed wind potential in the Great Lakes and found that 100,000 turbines off Michigan's coasts could produce 321,000 megawatts of energy.

That scenario, however, is highly unlikely because of the cost and environmental and other considerations. But wind power advocates hope it is a starting point for development of the world's first freshwater, offshore wind farms -- in the Great Lakes.

Although Michigan borders four Great Lakes and has the most offshore wind potential, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is likely to beat it to the punch with a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie several miles from Cleveland.

Last week a task force chaired by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor released an installment in an ongoing $1 million feasibility study giving the project a green light on geologic and wind-potential grounds. If the study continues to yield positive findings, construction of two to 10 wind turbines and a research station could start in about two years.

"We believe we are in a race to be first in the Great Lakes, and by doing so, the pilot project will blaze a trail for economic opportunities for the area," said Ryan Miday, spokesman for the task force. "This is about making this area a hub for wind energy that brings in other supply-chain component manufacturers. It's a vision of creating a new industry in this area centered around wind."

Meanwhile, Wisconsin is exploring three offshore wind projects, with public comment periods in progress, according to the state Public Service Commission.

Offshore wind projects have been developed in European countries such as Germany, Denmark and Great Britain.

Although U.S. projects are in development in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, none are operating. The proposed 130-turbine Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound has drawn heated opposition from residents who say it will mar views and harm birds.

The proposed Great Lakes offshore wind projects have not drawn significant opposition, although even proponents acknowledge they could affect views, lake ecology and recreation.

The Ohio project proposes sinking foundations for 260-foot-tall wind turbines into bedrock and laying electrical cable below the Great Lakes floor. The construction could have ramifications for fish breeding and lake-floor ecology in general, including the effects of electromagnetism, noise and vibrations. But the Ohio study says that in Europe, wind turbine foundations on the sea floor have become habitats for fish.

"Anytime you're trying to put something in the water, it raises a whole host of questions that I don't think any state has adequately examined," said Joel Brammeier, vice president for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "We're certainly not at the point we should be permitting projects. We're at the point those questions should be asked in a public forum and responded to -- everything from aesthetics to actual impacts on the bottom and fish habitat. What we don't want is the Cape Wind of the Midwest."

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