Looming large in the future

April 12, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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The appearance of large commercial wind turbines in Lake Michigan is probably at least seven years away, but the people who spend a lot of time out there trying to make a living are already giving it a lot of thought.

Although some concerns were raised at first by sport fishing charter captains, “I don’t hear anything too negative” now, said Dennis L. Grinold, the State and Federal Government Affairs officer for the Michigan Charter Boat Association, which represents the sport fishing boats and other types of charter boats on the Great Lakes.

It is an important issue because economic research indicates that commercial and sport fishing on the Great Lakes could have a ripple effect of a billion dollars or more on the state’s economy, according to Grinold.

A study of charter fishing on Lake Michigan in 2002 estimated total sales that year by the charter companies were $10 million, according to Dan O'Keefe of the Michigan Sea Grant office in West Olive. He also noted that in 2008, 80 percent of all charter trips in Michigan waters were on Lake Michigan.

Offshore wind farm proposals are active in several northeastern states. Most would be in the Atlantic Ocean, but the New York Power Authority, a state agency, is trying to facilitate the development of up to 500 megawatts of offshore wind farms in the New York State waters of Lake Erie and/or Lake Ontario.

Lake Michigan, just off West Michigan, also has an offshore proposal.

Scandia Wind Offshore, a Minnesota company that has formed a partnership with a Norwegian offshore wind farm development company, is proposing to build a 1,000 megawatt wind farm in two sections in Lake Michigan. Preliminary proposals call for wind turbines four miles out from Mason and Oceana counties (Aegir I), and another group of turbines six miles out from Muskegon and Ottawa counties (Aegir II). The turbines would be about 1,000 meters or more apart and would occupy a total of about 100 square miles of Lake Michigan.

Meanwhile, the state of Michigan launched the Great Lakes Wind Council last year, created by executive order of Gov. Jennifer Granholm to serve as an advisory body within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.

Also known unofficially as the GLOW Council, it will examine the issues and make recommendations to the governor related to offshore wind development in Michigan. Last September, the council issued a report stating that 20 percent of the 38,000 square miles of state-owned Great Lakes bottomlands, or 7,874 square miles, has a depth of 30 meters or less, which is practicable for offshore wind development. Within this area, 537 square miles are considered to be most favorable to the sustainable development of offshore wind energy. The council’s report also recommends a package of legislative and rule changes to help guide the development of offshore wind energy going forward. Recommended changes would facilitate the permitting, leasing, construction and monitoring of offshore wind projects while protecting natural resources. The council must complete its work by the end of this year.

Arn Boezaart, executive director of the Michigan Alternative & Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon, is a member of the GLOW Council. He said he understands that it will probably be a minimum of seven to 10 years before any wind turbines are built in Lake Michigan, although he noted that Scandia Wind is “aggressively” pursuing its proposed development, and Scandia’s estimate is a period of at least five years before any turbines could be built there.

Representatives from about 21 groups and organizations serve on the GLOW Council, including Grinold, on behalf of the charter boat association.

Grinold, who captains the Fish N Grin charter boat out of Grand Haven, said a few members of the association were initially opposed to the idea of commercial wind farms in Lake Michigan because it was thought that federal Homeland Security would have to protect them, forcing all vessels to navigate around the wind farms.

Fishermen initially thought the security restrictions would block off “huge areas of fishing,” said Grinold, “but that’s not the case.”

Although Homeland Security clearly does have an interest in protecting some major power plants, Grinold said it was pointed out to the fishermen that a wind farm is not a major component of the power grid, and effectively destroying a privately owned commercial wind farm spread out over 100 square miles of water would be a tremendous undertaking for any group of terrorists, so it’s not likely Homeland Security would be too concerned.

Grinold said the fishermen have also considered whether or not offshore wind turbines would somehow have a negative impact on fish populations, through noise, mechanical vibrations in the water or the proximity of high-voltage electricity.

“There are some concerns about that,” he said, but “all of the information that we have available indicates that there is nothing to support that.”

Grinold said he has been told that in Scandinavia, where wind farms have been located offshore for at least 15 years, people fish around the wind turbines.

“And nobody runs into ’em,” he added.

“If you’re a fisherman, no one really has to tell you what structure means to fish,” he said, adding that in many cases in Lake Michigan, fish are known to congregate around a large buoy that has just a single anchor line to the bottom.

“I’m sure this would be sort of like a mini-reef,” he said of offshore wind farms, indicating they would attract fish. He said a study done in Denmark in 2006 indicates that offshore wind turbines support mussel and zooplankton populations.

“Forage fish seem to gravitate to those and, of course, when that happens, game fish come right along with it,” he said.

Grinold said he has heard that some of the wind turbines proposed off the East Coast will be fitted with devices that allow fishing boats to tie up on them, and fish the bottom around the turbines.

The Michigan GLOW Council will hold a public meeting at Muskegon Community College on the evening of May 4, one of three such major public meetings held around the state. One already took place in Saginaw in March and another is set for Escanaba April 14.

For more information about the May 4 GLOW meeting in Muskegon, visit www.michiganglowcouncil.org

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