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.