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Sovereignty Battle Over the Lakes

Posted to MichiganNow.org on Monday, May 10, 2010

INTRO: Last week, a man went to a meeting about windmills on Lake Michigan. When the public comment period started, he died from a heart attack. The Norwegian wind developer had spoken. So had the group opposing offshore wind. The dead man’s wife later said “he wanted to get some real answers.” The couple was concerned about what windmills would look like from their retirement home near Ludington. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus has this report.

There’s no indication the discussion Thursday night caused the man’s death. But people thought so at first. More than anything else, those trying to stop windmills on the Great Lakes, think they would be ugly. They want laws to keep them far from land.

“If a firm has an option of going 3 miles out or 6 miles out we know that in terms of material and construction cost they’re gonna go 3 miles.”

Tuesday night, Gene O’Connor was among 250 people who came to Muskegon Community College. The Governor’s Great Lakes Wind Council members made their case. The lakes could export electricity to other states. Michigan could save money by importing less coal. Pollution could be cut. A new clean industrial revolution could be born here just like the car industry was 100 years ago. That would mean lots of jobs. Tony Gattos agreed.

“I think you guys did a pretty good job. But you missed a few things. One is, in talking to you, you really don’t know anything about global warming. And that’s really what this is about, the fight against global warming. You should divide the Great Lakes up say in 10 by 10 squares. And have those as leases. This means that you’d have more corporations, different companies. You’re not gonna give the whole Great Lakes to one company. Spread the money around.”

The organizers of the meeting used hand held clickers for the audience to vote on questions. 51% said they would accept wind turbines 6 miles offshore. Tom Thompson said he doesn’t want them at all.

“I will be brief. I’m passionate about the Great Lakes. They’re one of the marvels of the world. Quit comparing fresh water to salt water when you talk about the Baltic Sea. You can’t drink it. You can’t water the crops with it. 97% of the earth’s surface is salt water. 3% of it is fresh. 20% of it is in the Great Lakes. I’m not against wind power, especially on land. However I don’t want to take the great out of it and just call it lakes.”

Thompson implied that cement underwater, metal in the air and oil in the gearboxes would pollute Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie and Superior. Then he talked about cleaning something up.

“We have millions of dollars trying to clean it up. We’re still doing it from past practices we didn’t know about. Let’s not gamble now with them. ” (applause)

At this and other meetings about offshore wind, each side tried to clap and howl louder than the other. Wind energy supporters countered with a political science professor. He’s 6 foot 5 and several hundred pounds. He’s running for a seat in the state house. The sticker on his chest says “Think Big. Vote David Takitaki.”

“We all know that this will impact the visible lake shoreline. But when it comes to making decisions, we have poles along our streets that carry our electricity. And those could be seen as an eyesore. We have windmills in Holland that at one point in time were entirely functional have become iconic. We have to be willing to allow ourselves to be convinced by the burden of evidence whether or not this policy is good or ill. And if it proves out that this council’s work has done its job and can guarantee us renewable energy in a way that is safe and clean and not damaging to our bio diversity then it’s something we must seriously consider as a community.”

Back on the anti-side was Tom Oxonian.

“Wind power is a poor and very expensive way to generate energy. It costs somewhere between 6-10 times more than coal energy.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, The average cost of electricity per kilowatt hour in January was 9.5 cents. After the meeting ended, a Michigan Public Service Commission staffer indicated a new coal plant is estimated to cost 13.3 cents a kilowatt hour, and new on-shore wind is being proposed in Michigan for roughly 10 to 12 cents.

“My question is in section 23, input on Offshore wind energy legislation. It designates the annual lease payment to be $3 an acre. That’s a hard number in there. That equates to about $2,000 per square mile. Yet there are certain unnamed offshore wind developers who are voluntarily offering to pay local counties the equivalent of $20,000 per square mile. That’s 10 times more than the state would be getting. My question is what is the rationale for the $3 per acre? I wish you were my landlord. And why the inordinate amount of state subsidy right off the get go?”

This was the last of the of the public meetings around the state about offshore wind. The chief organizer is Mike Klepinger. He held the microphone for everybody.

“If I could say something Skip. We can not answer every question that you all might have. You understand that I hope. I hope you will reread that section sir. Because I helped write it. I read it and I’m very familiar with it. I think you’re missing a couple pieces. However, I’m not supposed to comment. Next person.”

The Granholm Administration’s point man on this issue and the chair of the council is Skip Pruss. He was allowed to comment.

“I think the legislature, if I were to guess, is probably inclined to establish a hard buffer around the coast line of the Great Lakes. But also to provide a process by which, if a community so chose, to have a deployment close to the shore. That could happen too. That’s where I see this going.”

Crystal Kaufman was one of the last to speak.

“About a month ago I had the privilege of seeing the Stoney Creek Wind farm which is an inland wind farm near Cadilac something that Arn Boezaart was a big part of putting together. Much to my surprise, I know a lot of the issues when it comes to offshore wind farms are the noise, the vibration and the flicker. And it was a bright sunny day. It was windy. I heard no noise. There was no vibration and no flicker. And residents had these right next to their homes. Had I closed my eyes I would never have known I was standing in front of wind turbines. We were taken 6 miles out to see what they look like and even with a green backdrop it’s a lot farther out than you think.”

Both the state house and senate plan to debate legislation to allow offshore wind. Pros and anti’s have already staked out their ground there too. But the Norwegian wind developer who’s been coming and going from Michigan the last six months says: the decisions won’t be made by individuals, local or state government. The banks will decide whether these projects happen or not.

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