Offshore wind energy focus of GLOW meeting

July 20, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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An advisory group appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to make recommendations related to offshore wind energy development has zeroed in on five areas in lakes Michigan, Superior and Huron that it deems “most favorable,” including one area in southern Lake Michigan off Berrien County.

The Michigan Great Lakes Wind, or GLOW, Council, established in February 2009 within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth, will hold an informational meeting Tuesday evening, July 20, at the GVSU Eberhard Center in downtown Grand Rapids. The 6 p.m. meeting is free and open to the public.

In addition to its updated maps on the “most favorable wind resource areas,” the GLOW Council will outline its proposed legislation for the process of leasing Great Lakes bottom lands to wind energy developers. The bottom lands are owned by the adjoining states: Michigan owns the bottom of Lake Michigan halfway across, where Wisconsin ownership begins.

“We drafted some legislation that Patty Birkholtz and company are looking at now,” said Michael Klepinger, staff director for the Council. “We gave them basically a whole package of legislation language. We had to think through everything (and) came up with what we thought would work.”

Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, chairs the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.

In addition to state officials, the GLOW Council also has more than 20 at-large members representing various business groups and organizations, such as Arn Boezaart of the GVSU Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon and Dennis L. Grinold of the Michigan Charter Boat Association.

The GLOW Council must provide a final report on its findings to Gov. Granholm by Nov. 15.

The five offshore wind resource areas the council has deemed “most favorable” are a minimum of six miles out from shore, at depths of 45 meters or less. Klepinger said the council looked at almost two dozen factors revealed by offshore wind generation development in other parts of the world, most notably Europe, where it began in 1991.

“That’s where we got the list” of issues pertaining to things such as fish and wildlife habitat, shipping lanes, the visual impact of turbines and more.

Forty-five meters was selected as the maximum depth for wind turbines in the Great Lakes, he said, “which is about the extent of current fixed-base technology.

The minimum distance of six miles from shore was apparently determined by the council to eliminate objections to the visual impact of wind turbines as seen from shore.

“Everyone imagines that the turbine is going to be in their favorite place, and it’s really not,” he said.

The only other area the GLOW Council has identified in Lake Michigan is off Delta County in the western Upper Peninsula.

The council has been holding public information meetings for several months throughout Michigan.

“Unfortunately, Scandia kind of came along in the middle of the conversation and stirred everything up,” said Klepinger. “But it also helped us, in some ways. It made us real focused. We have had a nice, deliberative process that I think has resulted in a good, solid set of recommendations.”

He was referring to Scandia Wind Offshore, a Minnesota company that has formed a partnership with a Norwegian offshore wind generation development company. Scandia has sparked controversy in some West Michigan communities with its proposals to build large commercial wind farms in Lake Michigan off Mason, Oceana, Muskegon and Ottawa counties. It has subsequently scaled back those tentative proposals, and it should be noted that Scandia has not yet made a decision whether it will apply for formal government permission to undertake extensive and expensive research and testing in the lake to confirm the viability of its electrical generation plans.

Klepinger said Scandia contacted the GLOW Council once.

“After they had public meetings, they came and told us that they were going to have more public meetings. We do not have an official kind of relationship with them. It’s not in our charge to review anything like that, make decisions about sites. … We are here to do a statewide assessment and come up with new policies that the state ought to use when it goes about leasing and permitting” Great Lakes bottom lands for wind turbines, said Klepinger.

He said the federal government would necessarily be involved with Michigan in any leasing/permitting process, because the Army Corps of Engineers is required by federal law to protect navigation on the Great Lakes, and the Clean Water Act also must be enforced.

Klepinger said Michigan has a long history of leasing Great Lakes bottom lands. However, those leasing situations “are very different” compared to an installation of wind turbines, he said.

“These are way offshore,” he said. “Sometimes they may be 30 miles out there, and there is no comparison between that and, let’s say, a dock extension or a marina dredging out a new channel.”

He said existing law for state leasing of bottom lands requires the input of “neighbors” to the project. A marina “has everything to do with the immediate neighborhood, and the wind turbine 30 miles out has nothing to do with the immediate neighborhood,” said Klepinger, adding that would be one of the changes they will recommend in a new state law.

The GLOW Council has been assigned to:

  • Identify the most favorable areas to lease for offshore wind development.

  • Inform, engage and solicit feedback from the people of Michigan on the “most favorable” locations.

  • Provide guidance to legal and technical experts as they develop model lease and solicitation documents.

  • Recommend options for how the public could be compensated for bottomland leasing and wind rights for wind energy systems, and advise on incentives for early investors in wind development.

  • Provide guidance on the implementation of a state outreach and education plan related to offshore wind energy.

  • Provide input on proposed and new Great Lakes wind development legislation and rulemaking as appropriate.

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