Windmills threaten access and enjoyment of waterways


“Motor vessel Special Kay, this is the Coast Guard,” said the voice over my radio. “Be advised you are entering a ‘no-nav’ restricted zone and you are ordered to alter course immediately. You must navigate around the 25-square-mile turbine farm ahead of you. You cannot enter it, fish there or even pass through it!”

I didn’t really get that radio call, of course. But it’s a real possibility in the future. Boating interests need to stay aware of what’s happening with wind farms proposed for coastal and Great Lakes waters, and the impacts these could have on boating.

What triggered this blog is a magazine ad I saw yesterday by the German conglomerate, Siemens. The picture in the ad shows rows of wind turbines in water as far as the eye can see. It’s not a pretty picture. And, that brought to mind a recent drive in Indiana where I passed a series of farms with big turbine towers stretching out to the horizon on either side of I-65. “What if we were looking at that in the Gulf of Mexico (where we boat now) or on Lake Erie,” (where we boated for 38 years) I asked to my wife, Kay. “I just can’t imagine that,” she said, head shaking.

It’s closer than we think. Earlier this month, federal approval was granted to construct the first offshore wind project in the U.S. in the center of environmentally sensitive Nantucket Sound at Horseshoe Shoal, a major fishing area. Despite the strident objections of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a 24-square-mile area just five miles off some Cape Cod beaches has now been zoned for the erection of 130 turbines.

To get the picture -- each turbine’s hub will be 285 feet high and the top blade tip height will reach 440 feet above the waters surface. They will be spaced about 1,800 feet apart. Should be a great view from boat or shore! Navigational restrictions are unknown at this time.

It’s not just coastal waters in play. The Great Lakes are particularly targeted by advocates for offshore wind farms. There are proposed wind farms for Lake Michigan, for Lake Ontario near the Niagara River, and off Buffalo and offshore of downtown Cleveland on Lake Erie, among others. But the opposition there is strong and it should be. In fact, in Michigan, which borders on four of the five Great Lakes, lawmakers are considering a bill to ban offshore wind farms in Michigan waters. Unlike coastal areas, the eight Great Lakes states and Ontario control the lakes. And similar opposition in Canada has reportedly caused Ontario to delay any plans for offshore wind farms.

It’s one thing to build a wind farm on open farm land where the land owner chooses to accept the turbines in return for a monthly check. That essentially impacts only the farmer. Most people don’t go to their local farm to watch a sunset anyway!

But to locate giant windmills in our lakes, bays and oceans is one of the most objectionable routes to renewable energy sources. Besides destroying the beauty of our waters, the economics make little sense except that hundreds of million of dollars are being poured into wind energy companies by the government. In fact, the cost of the Nantucket Sound farm will exceed $2.5 billion, much higher than locating the same number of turbines on land. Moreover, it’s believed the turbines will only last about five years – probably less in salt water. No one knows what maintenance costs to anticipate offshore. Then, on the Great Lakes, there’s the matter of ice and its impact on every turbine. The cost-benefit of windmills in water escapes me!

In light of these and other considerations, offshore wind farms really don’t make much sense. But good sense is not what could prevail if boaters, and concerned others, fail to respond to such proposals. If you’re near our coasts or Great Lakes, beware -- zoning and other restrictions could be in your future.


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