Location of the proposed windfarm in Lake Michigan. Courtesy of Nate Kipnis.

Before television cameras and a packed City Council chambers, the Evanston City Council voted 9-0 last night to publish a “Request for Information” regarding a 40-turbine wind farm approximately 7 miles out into Lake Michigan. The proposal for the wind farm was developed by the Renewable Energy Task Force of the Citizens for Greener Evanston. As proposed, it would cost about $400 million and provide electricity for about 40,000 homes according to last night’s speakers. The RFI seeks responses that would require no financial contribution from the City. 

A parade of speakers praised the move. Central Street Neighbors head Jeff Smith went so far as to compare the Council’s vote to Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, saying that Evanston seeks “energy emancipation” that lets our “values resonate.” Libby Hill of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club went against expectations by acknowledging that many birders oppose wind farms as killers of birds and bats but then supporting the proposed farm. She urged the Council to take bird habitat and migration patterns into consideration, but added that Evanston’s wind farm could “form a model for everybody. 

Aldermen Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, spoke in favor, with Alderman Ann Rainey adding that the Council is “not hiring anybody” but instead “just looking to see what’s out there. 

Alderman Judy Fiske, however, expressed reservations. “Does Evanston even have jurisdiction [over the part of the Lake in which the wind farm is proposed to be located]? Who leases the land? Is private development in the lake a good idea?” were among the questions she asked. The City’s Sustainability Coordinator, Carolyn Collopy, did not have any answers, responding repeatedly that she expected answers to come through the RFI process. Responding to a question from Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, Ms. Collopy said that the RFI will issue “within the next week or so” with responses coming within “the next couple of months.” 

Only one citizen spoke against the proposal. Bill Schwimmer said, “There should be no development of the lakefront or in the lake,” calling wind turbines “an artificial intrusion into the last natural environment we have in these parts.” 

Barnaby Dinges, a former mayoral candidate and an issue advocate who often works with wind developers in siting, permitting, and developing wind farms, said that he felt the RFI was not realistic. Asked to comment after the meeting, Mr. Dinges said, “An RFI — fine, you can always request information. I’ll be surprised if any serious business replies… I favor a much more strategic and realistic approach to renewable energy.” Siting wind turbines in the lake “costs 4 times as much per turbine,” he said, and $10 million rather than $2.5 million grounded. “If [a wind farm in Lake Michigan] made sense, then developers would be knocking on the door… companies know where they want to build turbines,” he added. Updated 4/15/10