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2010-03-31 / Front Page

Off-shore wind park near county?

Sanilac County one of five possible sites
By Carol Seifferlein Features Editor

The Great Lakes Wind Council has selected five areas they think would be suitable for offshore wind energy development, including Lake Huron off Sanilac County. The Great Lakes Wind Council has selected five areas they think would be suitable for offshore wind energy development, including Lake Huron off Sanilac County. A section of Lake Huron, bordering Sanilac County, is being considered for wind energy development. However, local officials contacted by the News were not aware of it.

According to the Great Lakes Wind Council's Web site, the five largest areas that are best suited for off-shore wind parks are Lake Huron near Sanilac County, southern Lake Michigan near Berrien County, northern Lake Michigan near Delta and Mackinac Counties, and outer Saginaw Bay.

The council, which was established last September is an advisory body within the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. The council is in the preliminary stages of examining issues related to offshore wind development in Michigan and make recommendations to the governor and legislature.

The 25-member council was appointed by Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and includes members of state agencies, as well as business people and representatives of interested organizations such as the Michigan Charter Boat Association and Michigan Environmental Council.

Last week, the council held a meeting about offshore wind development at Saginaw Valley State University, and more meetings are planned in Escanaba and Muskegon. Since last fall, the council has held four meetings in Lansing to hear from experts, and to define and discuss issues related to the executive order establishing it.The council also accepted public comment at all of its meetings.

Despite the council's recommendation that "involvement from communities and Tribes near a proposed project (for example, all coastal jurisdictions within the nearest two or three counties) will be essential and should be solicited early and often", some key local officials have not informed about the ongoing study, nor were they notified of the March 25 meeting in Saginaw.

Neither County Administrator John Males, nor the Lexington Business Manager Jon Kosht or Port Sanilac Council President Andy Fabian had been notified this area of the lake is being considered for off shore wind energy development, until they were contacted by the News last week.

"I didn't know about it until you told me I don't know enough about it to make an intelligent comment," stated Males.

"The village is certainly interested in investigating this," stated Kosht.

According to the Web site, in the next six months the council's goal is to:

*Further refine the list of potential lease areas based on more rigorous analysis and input from the public. Prepare to offer areas for lease when new legislation is adopted. Currently Michigan has no law covering the permit process for off shore wind energy development.

*Provide direction to a multidisciplinary team on the development of a public opinion and engagement research plan related to offshore wind development, as well as land-based wind energy development in coastal areas.

*Support and provide guidance to the State Wind Outreach Team in developing an outreach and education plan related to offshore wind energy.

According to the Web site, the council is not only recommending critieria for areas that are the most favorable for wind turbine placement, they also suggested what areas should be excluded. They have blocked out areas around navigational aids and channels, military airspace, coastal airports, submerged utility lines, etc.

In addition, the council recommends turbines be at least six miles offshore and avoid shipping lanes, high concentrations of birds or bats, sensitive fish and wildlife habitats, the shipwreck preserve, and so forth.

Among public comment in the minutes of a January 19 meeting in Lansing, people suggested turbines be sited out of sight rather than a specific distance from shore.

According to the Web site, as new technologies emerge, such as deep water anchoring systems or floating platforms, the council believes limits on where turbines can be located may change. Approximately 20 percent of Michigan’s 38,000 square miles of bottomlands occur at a depth of 30 meters or less, a practical depth limit for placement of wind turbines based on readily available technology.

Of the 7,874 square miles of shallow water (30 meters or less), 356 square miles are in areas the council would exclude; 537 square miles are in the most favorable areas; and 6,981 square miles are in conditional areas. The most favorable and conditional areas combined represent about 95 percent of Michigan’s waters 30 meters or less. If deep-water technology limitations can be overcome, 44 percent of the water under state jurisdiction is in the most favorable areas.

According to the Web site, the council thinks the permitting and leasing process should strike a balance between resource protection and development. In addition to the recommendation to direct some of the leasing revenue toward support for the regulatory program, they think a portion of royalties should be directed to offset the impacts of offshore wind development (for example, supporting programs for offshore fisheries habitat; developing recreation opportunities; protecting and managing bottomlands, including shipwreck management; and/or contributing to additional energy efficiency advancements within the state).

Although the council started from scratch with off shore wind development in Michigan, they are using lessons learned from similar developments in other states and across the world.

In the report on the Web site, they emphasize two key recommendations to advance the development of offshore wind in Michigan: the creation of a onestop clearinghouse to facilitate timely permitting, effective information dissemination, and overall coordination of government activities; and the identification of some of the larger contiguous geographic areas that are most favorable to offshore wind development.

The council thinks implementation of these two recommendations will help focus Michigan’s public policy and make the state more competitive compared to the other places around the world where investment in offshore wind is being considered.

Although, the council was not directed to examine the economic or financial viability of offshore wind in the Great Lakes, they recommend that the Michigan Public Service Commission work with stakeholders and experts on an economic analysis of the costs and benefits.

The information in this article came from the web site www.michiganglowcouncil.org.

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