They’re often called unattractive, noisy and deadly for birds. Some have blades as long as a football field and there are predictions future blades could grow stout enough to put a 35-foot cruiser inside. The Department of Energy budgeted a record $79 million for them last year, and literally billions of private sector dollars are being spent on them.
We’re talking about wind-powered turbines and, no longer relegated to hillsides or farm land, they could soon be coming to a waterway near you. So says the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. that held an information presentation for area boaters at the Lakeside Yacht Club in downtown Cleveland last week.
Clearly an effort to get ahead of possible objections to wind turbine towers protruding from the waters of Lake Erie, LEEDCO indicated it hopes to have at least seven towers up and running around 2013, with an undetermined number of additional towers to follow.
“Their presentation was impressive,” said Warren Dempster, commander of the Great Cleveland Boating Association. “They gave us a lot of information, like where they want to place the towers offshore, about seven or so miles northeast of Cleveland. They even contend the towers will be good fishing attractors and they’re considering cleats on the bases so anglers could tie up to fish." GCBA, which has some 9,000 members in 44 boat clubs, so far has not established a formal position on the turbines in the lake.
Overall, the whole subject of energy from the wind is still evolving. The wind industry appears to believe bigger is better. For example, Vestas, an industry leader, is developing an offshore turbine of epic proportions, the mega V-164, a seven-megawatt giant that will measure more than 600 feet from its base to the blade tip. Vestas has already delivered 578 smaller turbines to five European countries including the 100-turbine Thanet Offshore Wind Farm in Britain.
Here in the U.S., interest in wind farms in waterways trails Europe. However, plans like LEEDCO’s should rapidly elevate the discussion for all boating interests. “We have concerns about possible blight, access restrictions, navigation and safety, to name some, and we’re going to examine the subject at our next board meeting in October," says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
Similarly, MRAA’s retiring president Phil Keeter says: “Generally speaking, we aren’t opposed to alternative energy. However, the idea of big wind farms placed in navigable waterways may be where we must draw a line. We’re certainly studying the issue."
In at least one way, the development of wind farms on water is remindful of the ethanol experience. Ethanol development gained so much early momentum, especially politically, even the eventual acknowledgement that ethanol is an abject failure couldn’t stop it. Because we’re boaters, we have to sense that seeing potentially hundreds of wind mills out on our waterways give rise to an uneasy feeling, to say the least.
So, looking forward, what, if any, policy should our industry have concerning offshore wind farms?