INTRO: The State of Michigan is trying to set guideposts for an alternative energy economy. Because every home and business cannot make electricity for itself, someone and someplace will be needed to make electricity for others. That’s been done for decades by coal and nuclear plants. Now, a few hamlets along Lake Michigan are being asked to host windmills on the water. And it appears to be tearing them apart. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports from Oceana County.
Harald Dirdal has been coming and going from his native Norway a lot lately. Monday night he was on a stage in the Shelby High School gym.
“This is the ideal position when you combine the grid, the wind, water depths, distance to consumption.”
Dirdal’s company is called Havgul Clean Energy. ‘Who are we?’ On their website shows Dirdal and four other men. They want to invest $3 to $4 billion to build dozens of square miles of windmills. They’ll run from below Ludington to Silver Lake. That’s about 20 miles north and south. They could be as close as a mile and a half from the shore.
“There will be built a lot of wind power in Michigan, somewhere. The challenge is how to turn that into an industry. And there, at least for offshore, we believe in the importance of first mover.”
Dirdal means the early bird gets the worm. He says Oceana and Mason Counties are the best places in North America for offshore wind power. The project wouldn’t start until 2015. Then a few years after that, it could light up a million homes. Dirdal showed a picture of what the towers would like from shore.
“And this is from Silver Lake State Park, how it looks today.”
He says he’s responding to The Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. DLEG wants net metering, feed in tariffs and offshore wind to create a new economy. And it was the administrators from both counties who organized the meetings this week, so residents could hear Dirdal speak.
“If it’s a thumbs down we will not move forward.”
Math and science can refute arguments about noise, any flicker of light reflecting off the blades, maintenance, bird, bat and fish kills and real estate devaluation. But if someone thinks windmills are ugly, that’s a feeling not a fact. Jeff Hoenle read a statement he had passed out to the audience.
“Indisputably, our region’s most precious resource the coastline is not the location for a guinea pig project to build turbines offshore. We support smart wind energy solutions and this project is not a smart approach. Scandia Wind makes no guarantees of jobs because they cannot. They are simply developers trying to sell this project as quickly as possible.”
Scandia Wind LLC is the business Harald Dirdal’s group created to handle the Lake Michigan project. On Jeff Hoenle’s statement, he’s called President of POWER, Protect Our Water Economy and Natural Resources. POWER was formed in reaction to a public meeting last month in Ludington where Dirdal spoke.
“I would say we’re not rushing anything.”
700 people filled the gym Monday night in Shelby.
“What you’re proposing, if I can sum it up here, is somewhere between 100 and 200 windmills, a factory, not a farm and a factory, out in the middle of our lake that will use millions of tax payer dollars, our dollars it will destroy the view of the waterfront will no jobs for the foreseeable five years.”
Nay sayers had the numbers and the noise.
“In the middle of January when many many landowners who don’t happen to be here have chosen to come tonight to send you a message: thumbs down. Thumbs down!” (applause)
One man said new condos along the lake have destroyed the view a lot more than windmills will. Amanda Putnam is from Montague. She chided vacation homeowners.
“We are so in need of an opportunity like this to get out of this late ‘80’s early ‘90’s rustbelt cesspit that we’re in right now. It’s ridiculous that so many of you people can stand here or sit and come up from your beautiful Chicago homes and defend your wonderful Lake Michigan lake front homes. Those of you that might not agree probably don’t have family or friends that are starving.”
Scandia Wind LLC is promising 3,500 man-years of work during construction. And 100 permanent jobs, once the turbines are set up.
“You seem so dedicated to the idea of making this farm in Ludington and would you consider if you were met with such open faced hostility to moving it somewhere else on the west Michigan lakefront where you might be more welcome say, to the south, Muskegon County (applause) or perhaps even further, Benton Harbor, where you don’t have so many people concerned about that vain shoreline.”
Harald Dirdal didn’t jump at Amanda Putnam’s offer. But she’s not the only one making it. There’s a Facebook page called ‘Muskegon will take the $3 billion wind project off your hands.’ As of Tuesday night the page had 1,800 members.
“But what if they say no? Look at these people. They hate you,” she said.
Some of the same vacation homeowners came to Lansing Tuesday. And they came with a lawyer. They addressed The Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council. That’s the working group of government and business people who are recommending rules to the legislature. They’re surprised at how quickly the Norwegians are engaging the public. The homeowners said they wouldn’t be fighting the project if the turbines were anchored 6, 12 or 15 miles offshore.
Fred Gerow is a mechanical engineer and consultant who spoke at Shelby High School in support of the project. But before the meeting ended he drove back to his 130-year-old farmhouse nearby.
“I mean those people were totally uninformed. I mean if they’re worried about property values going down the bankers already ripped them off. They saw a bigger dive in property taxes because of the bankers than they’re ever gonna see from this. I think this may be a curiosity and people are gonna come to see it.”
Gerow told the audience that coal, gas, oil and nuclear companies have been heavily subsidized for as long as 100 years. Why not end subsidies for every energy company. Then the renewables will win out.
“What I heard tonight was a lot of nay sayers who were more used to the old way and rejected change. I’d rather have a few windmills in my view than the acid rain and the CO2 from a coal fired plant destroying my environment so I can’t live here any longer.”
After Ludington middle school gets out, a couple 14 year olds walk on icebergs near the beach. Jack Willoughby is ready for windmills on the water.
“That’s a good idea actually.”
And John Henderson?
“It does save energy. How do you know that? ‘Cuz it’s just using wind to create electricity.”
But won’t they look ugly?
“I don’t think they will. They will be cool looking just to have them in Ludington. Yeah you see them all around….in Tennessee or other places. It would look cool here. They have them. They all look cool in the lakes. I’ve seen them out there before. So I think they’d look cool out here. Why do you think old people think they look bad and you guys are young and want them to look cool? ‘Cuz they’ve been here longer than us and they don’t want it to look different. They don’t want it to change.”
NOTE: This text reflects the longer 8:30 version that was first edited for radio. The audio on this page is 7:36