Lawmakers want to take wind out of offshore turbine sales

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LANSING — Proposed legislation could keep wind turbines out of the Great Lakes, and that’s good — or bad — depending on perspective.

The sponsor, Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, said the intent is to keep potential hazards out of the blue waters of the Great Lakes.

“It’s not environmentally sound to have machines like these on our lakes. They are our greatest asset, and industrialization on them is a hazard to nature and the economy,” Franz said.

The permanent nature of wind turbines and related structures creates problems not only for the environment, but also for ships, he said.

“If the basic structures are permanently fixed to the lake floor, it would be an obstacle for ships to sail around and create more dangers for them to deal with,” Franz said.

Aesthetic concerns are also a problem and a majority of residents in his northwest Lower Peninsula district oppose offshore wind development, he said.

“My district is home to one of the longest shorelines of any in the state. People don’t want their view blocked by these big structures,” Franz said.

But Hugh McDiarmid, communications director at the Michigan Environmental Council, said the proposed ban would be bad for the economy and environment.

“It’s bad public policy. Renewable energy like this has been one of the only bright spots for Michigan in recent years, and this is the wrong message to send,” McDiarmid said.

He said that wind energy is a growing industry in the state and a ban could stunt that growth.

A recent report by the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago said 120 companies in Michigan were part of the wind industry supply chain as of March.

The report also said there are more than 4,000 jobs tied to the state’s wind industry.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard signed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008 requires that 10 percent of a utility’s electric supply come from renewable energy sources by 2015.

“Wind power is one of the primary ways utility companies will reach that goal,” McDiarmid said. “This proposal would seriously hinder their efforts.”

A February report from the Public Service Commission said that renewable sources produced 3.6 percent of the state’s power in 2009, an increase from 2.9 percent in 2007.

The report said that the proportion of renewable energy is expected to “increase significantly,” with almost 93 percent of the anticipated increase coming through wind power.

While wind development isn’t exclusively done on the Great Lakes, McDiarmid said offshore turbines would create more energy than those on land.

“Lakes are better for capturing wind, which makes offshore development a lot more lucrative,” McDiarmid said.

However, he acknowledged that offshore turbines raise concerns different from those on land.

“It’s a bit more ex pensive to put them offshore and it’s more dangerous for the people involved and the environment when you’re building in water,” McDiarmid said.

He acknowledged that aesthetics are another problem with offshore wind development, but said that the legislation wouldn’t be the right solution.

“We are very supportive of wind energy but not in scenic or protected areas. More guidelines are necessary, but to say no wind at all is a very short-sighted solution,” McDiarmid said.

Mark Clevey, manager of the renewable energy program at the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said that offshore wind development in the state is still in the planning stages.

“There are virtually no offshore projects as of right now because research still needs to be done,” Clevey said.

According to Clevey, there is not enough information available about wind speed on the Great Lakes, which would help determine where to place wind farms. Also, he said there is uncertainty about how the turbines would be fixed to the floor of the lakes. Floating platforms are being discussed as well.

Regardless, Clevey said the chances are still good that wind farms will pop up in the Great Lakes in the near future.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, is in the House Energy and Technology Committee.

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