LANSING, MI – Governor Granholm's administration has sent state lawmakers the first draft of legislation that would regulate wind turbines in the Great Lakes. It's the next step in the process of allowing offshore wind generators that could one day dot the Great Lakes shorelines.
Michigan's law governing what can be put in the bottomlands of the Great Lakes was written with docks and seawalls in mind - not multi-ton structures that can tower hundreds of feet into the sky with a potential effect on fishing, bird migration, and the view from the shoreline.
That's why Governor Granholm named the Great Lakes Wind Council to make recommendations and draft a new proposed law to regulate offshore turbines.
"This is an opportunity for Michigan to diversify its economy, secure new investment and, most importantly, create jobs," says Skip Pruss.
Pruss is the director of the state Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. And he chairs the council.
"These are huge opportunities for Michigan. How huge? It's estimated the world is going to be spending $45 trillion -- trillion dollars with a t' - in the next 45 years on clean energy implementations," Pruss says.
Pruss says Michigan is competing with New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin - even Canada -- in developing windswept portions of the Great Lakes. He says the projects will create opportunities for manufacturing the thousands of parts that go into wind generators, and constructing and maintaining the turbines.
The wind council has already identified five spots in Lake Michigan off the shorelines of the Upper and the Lower Peninsulas, in Lake Erie and the Saginaw Bay as potential locations for clusters of turbines. Under the council's plan, the state or developers could identify more locations in the future. Developers would bid first for the right to conduct a feasibility study and then, if a project is approved, to build turbines.
The draft legislation would require environmental studies, public input, and plans for decommissioning obsolete generators. But it does not say how far offshore the wind turbines must be located. The wind council recommended putting turbines at least six miles offshore. But the legislation only says a wind farm cannot disturb an area's "scenic vistas."
"If we say it's just some ambiguous standard in terms of scenic vistas,' that means something different to every single person, and I think we need some hard and fast lines," says State Representative Dan Scripps.
Scripps represents a district on the shoreline of Lake Michigan in the northwest Lower Peninsula, where some residents are already fighting an offshore wind farm proposal.
"If you don't have clear standards, you're leaving too many open questions as we're trying to do this the right way," Scripps says.
State Senator Patricia Birkholz also represents a shoreline district and chairs the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee. She says pushing wind turbines at least six miles offshore might put every prospective wind farm into water that's too deep.
"I think given the technology today, if you said six miles out, in all probability in most of the Great Lakes that are surrounding Michigan, that would be too far out to even consider, for a company to even consider putting a wind turbine in," Birkholz says.
"I've heard it said that they are kinetic sculptures. I've heard it said they are poetry in motion," Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth Director Skip Pruss says. "But many people don't react that way. They see them as being impairments of their visual landscape, and you really can't change a person's aesthetic opinion."
Pruss says technological innovation may solve some of the problems - for example, developing large turbines that sit lower in the water. He says there's still time -- it will be at least five years from start to finish before windmills go up on the Great Lakes shoreline.