No wind power on our waterways

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Let’s build a wind farm. We’ll put windmills just offshore of a major city and disfigure the view of a beautiful lake. We’ll see if winter’s ice will knock them over; if they’ll interfere with established commercial shipping lanes. We’ll count the birds getting whacked in the blades. We’ll see if they endanger pleasure boaters and disrupt prime fishing habitat and confirm what’s already clear — the cost of any power generated will be at least three times higher than current power costs.

It makes no sense, you say? I’m with you, but if you’re in Cleveland, you could be looking at just such blight if a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie moves forward.

Forget about the arguments that wind power is inherently intermittent and unpredictable. Look past the unsubstantiated claim that wind power reduces our demand for oil. Ignore that wind power has low economic value. What’s important is that it gets funds funneled to “green energy” companies authorized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill) so it must offer some sort of economic salvation.

The Cleveland project is touted to be a pilot study for the Great Lakes Wind Energy Center. It would be a large 20 megawatt farm just three miles offshore. But let’s be clear about what’s really going on: It is expected to provide solutions to any technical challenges (like ice, transmission corridors, etc) and further the expansion to even larger-scale wind farm development in Lake Erie and more spinning windmills in the other Great Lakes.

Not in Michigan

Michigan borders four of the five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie). So it’s no surprise this state, known for looking out for its waterways (note recent emergency dredging funding or the random boarding prohibition) now has a bill in the legislature that will end any discussion of windmills spinning in Michigan waters.

State representative Ray Franz, whose northwest district includes some spectacular areas along Lake Michigan’s shores, is sponsoring HB 4778 that would prevent the state from entering into a lease or deed to site and build any offshore wind research structures or any wind turbines on submerged lands. I hope other states follow, but it won’t be easy.

In many ways, the states are driving the wind energy idea, seemingly without thinking, by having passed legislation called a “Renewable Portfolio Standard.” It’s really a mandate that utilities generate or buy a percent of their electricity from so-called “renewable” sources. (Ah, shades of the federal Renewable Fuel Standards and the ethanol debacle?)

Further, the standard sets specific targets. For example, Michigan mandates 10 percent plus 1,100 megawatts from renewables by 2015; Ohio calls for 25 percent by 2025. No surprise, then, that these policies are credited by wind energy proponents as the most important non-federal push for wind development.

Striving toward more renewable energy sources is, generally, a good thing. Specifically, the expansion of wind farms on land, when appropriately located and accepted by host communities, is fitting. However, what’s blatantly missing is any recognition of critical “landscape values.” In the case of our waterways, there needs to be an understanding that the view of unencumbered oceans, lakes, rivers and bays has an extraordinary and unique “landscape value.” Destroying that hits our industry and our customers in an inordinate way.

As a water-dependent industry, it’s time to examine every state’s current laws, if any, regarding the Renewable Portfolio Standards and, like Michigan, take measures now, before it’s too late, to protect the precious “landscape value” of our waters.

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