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Dirty Energy & FuelPolicies & Politics

Great Lakes Offshore Wind Aesthetics

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While public opinion remains divided about the risks and benefits of installing wind farms in the Great Lakes, several of the eight states with Great Lakes water are racing to be first to approve projects capturing energy from frequently strong offshore winds. It remains to be seen whether a public generally supportive of developing wind energy will support turbines in the Lakes for the first time. Opposition to the proposed Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound because of aesthetic impacts has slowed that saltwater proposal.

Eager to revive faltering manufacturing economies while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin are all in various stages of reforming policies to facilitate the first large-scale Great Lakes offshore wind projects in U.S. waters. While the standard issues of impacts on fish and wildlife and effects on other water users have been explored in many of the state-backed studies, less attention has been given to one of the potentially most explosive issues — aesthetics.

Roopali Phadke. an assistant professor of environmental politics and policy in the Environmental Studies Department at Macalester College, warns that social acceptance of wind power, including its aesthetic impacts,is critical. She has served as project investigator on a National Science Foundation-supported study on visual impacts and public perceptions of wind energy in the United States. But as the Cleveland Plain Dealer observed last spring, “Despite evidence that aesthetics of wind farms truly matter to the public, advocates of green energy are already suggesting ways in which federal rules could be toughened to minimize the importance of local aesthetic objections.” A recent Michigan offshore wind report also recommends amending state law to make it easier to override local concerns.

The stakes are high for the budding Great Lakes offshore wind industry. A 2008 Michigan State University report estimated that with a shoreline distance of six miles is maintained and an installation depth of up to 30 meters at that distance, the state could add 9,481 MW to its power generating capacity. The state
now has 12,331 MW of capacity annually.

Photo credit:  U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative.




6 comments
  1. Pam Erickson

    I agree with comments made by Sherri and Barry.By heavily investing in wind turbines in the Great lake we are inviting disaster. Millions of people depend on the fresh water from our lakes for drinkingwater.
    These industrial turbines are subject to dripping oil. When decomissioned the tops are cut off and the cemment foundations left where after a few years they will crack open exposing the lake to rusty rebars. They have the potential both in their construction and operation to stir sediment on the lake bottom which has already been contaminated with toxic chemicals. What ever gains are made in providing power the price will be too high if we further contaminate our precious drinking water.

  2. Barry

    I can’t see for the life of me how wind turbines are going to generate enough electricity to make any real difference. The amount of energy produced by the wind turbines is huge, if you believe the wind energy proponents, but the fact is that we would be lucky to achieve 20% of what the proponents claim. There is certainly a lot of hype provided by the proponents and I’m beginning to feel that the wind energy proponents believe their own hype. This usually does not end well,for anybody.

  3. Sherri

    Wind turbines are the least plausible of our energy solutions. To place them in one of the world’s largest fresh water supplies is ludicrous. Turbines are from petro chemicals and mired in cement, which causes 17% of the world’s CO2. They do not become carbon neutral for some 20 years, while most are decomissioned after 10-15 years. Hardly green! And then to tamper with the delicate eco-systems of the Great Lakes…wow. More human arrogance. Leave the Great Lakes alone! And BTW, turn out all those high rise lights at night…Chicago, Toronto at night? Ridiculous.

  4. Aix

    This is a great idea and i have always wondered why they have not done it yet because so much wind energy can be captured over large bodies of water. and if there does happen to be a 100-200 year storm than i think that these wind turbines should be the least of our concerns.

  5. Eric

    You’re suggesting they shouldn’t build turbines in the Great Lakes because of hurricane concerns? I don’t know that the Great Lakes have ever had a storm severe enough to completely incapacitate a string of wind turbines…

  6. Bob Henry

    I always hear about offshore wind turbines but I never hear about what happens when a storm happens. Isn’t it really expensive to build a wind turbine that can withstand a hurricane?

    What will happen if they build a long line of these off shore wind turbines and here comes a 100 or 200 year storm?

    How long will it take to rebuild? If the answer is a very long time then how can this energy source be anything but a tertiary energy source?

    A large portion of the great lakes energy can’t rely on unreliable energy.

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