Funds needed to launch GVSU wind study on Lake Michigan

October 30, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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A large wind turbine proposed for placement in Muskegon Lake has proven too expensive, so GVSU energy research staff in Muskegon is hoping to use the available federal money to study offshore winds on Lake Michigan.

Arn Boezaart, interim director of GVSU's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center on Muskegon Lake, said a 20 percent match to a $1.4 million Congressional earmark arranged by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, is needed before MAREC can proceed with a proposal to put something several miles out in Lake Michigan to record wind conditions year-round for at least a couple of years.

The push to develop commercial wind farms has included proposals for wind turbines out in the Great Lakes, but a report for the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin noted there is no year-round data on wind on Lake Michigan. NOAA has two weather buoys on Lake Michigan, but both are brought in each winter.

Boezaart said MAREC is "exploring the possibility of putting some kind of platform out in the lake." In addition to year-round wind conditions, it might also yield data indicating if a wind turbine could withstand an ice buildup.

It was originally thought the Congressional earmark could be used to pay for an actual wind turbine in Muskegon Lake, but “that proved to be more expensive than realized, and wasn't do-able," said Boezaart. He noted that even on dry land, the purchase and erection of a large turbine can cost a total of $3 million or $4 million. The earmark would have required MAREC to raise a matching $1.4 million for the project.

Eventually, Hoekstra had the earmark allocated through the U.S. Department of Energy, which can grant funds for R&D projects, with only a 20 percent local match.

MAREC staff quickly learned there are other parties interested in an off-shore study. One is Varnum law firm in Grand Rapids, which has a practice focus on alternative energy. Erection of commercial wind turbines entails many legal permits, and even the placement of a platform several miles out in Lake Michigan would require permits from various state and federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Another interested organization is Rockford Construction, which has partnered with a Spanish firm that installs commercial wind turbines.

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