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In front of Chicagoland news television cameras and a packed City Council chambers, the Evanston City Council voted 9-0 on April 13 to publish a “Request for Information” (RFI) regarding a 40-turbine wind farm approximately 7 miles out into Lake Michigan. The proposal for a mid-Lake wind farm was developed by the Renewable Energy Task Force of the Citizens for a Greener Evanston. As proposed, it would cost about $400 million and provide electricity for about 40,000 homes, according to speakers at the Council meeting. The RFI seeks responses that would require no financial contribution from the City. The power sharing agreement – that is, how much electricity the City would receive and at what cost – would be negotiated.

 A parade of speakers praised the move. Central Street Neighbors head Jeff Smith compared 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 acknowledged that many birders oppose wind farms as killers of birds and bats but went against expectations and supported the proposed farm, saying cleaner power-generation is better for wildlife and that Evanston’s wind farm could “form a model for everybody.”

Aldermen Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, spoke in favor of the proposal. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, added that the Council is “not hiring anybody” but instead “just looking to see what’s out there.”

 Only First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske expressed reservations. “Does Evanston even have jurisdiction [to allow development there]? 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, said she did not have any answers, responding repeatedly that she expected answers to come through the RFI process, within the next several weeks.

 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, an issue advocate who often works with wind developers in siting, permitting, and developing wind farms, said he felt that while the RFI was a good publicity stunt, it 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 four times as much per turbine,” he said, at $10 million per turbine 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.

To date, no wind developer has identified Lake Michigan as a viable spot for wind development. According to a letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative Steering Committee in August, 2009, the Corps would be responsible for permitting and “likely the lead Federal regulatory agency when an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes is proposed.” A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers told the RoundTable he was not aware of any permits filed or in the works for wind farms in the Chicago District. (The district stretches from Lake County through LaPorte County in Indiana.)

Permitting, citing and building a wind farm in the Lake would involve multiple departments within the Army Corps of Engineers, again according to the August 2009 letter, including the Operations and Navigation staff, the Lakes and Rivers Division, the Mississippi River Division and the Great Lakes Districts. Other Federal agencies involved could include “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (endangered species, wildlife and fishery impacts including migratory birds and bats), U.S. Coast Guard (navigation), the Federal Aviation Administration (aircraft safety) and State resource agencies such as the State Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation or Environmental Protection,” and  possibly some state departments, the letter says.

Local news media reported the City’s move throughout the week. Mr. Dinges said he thought a single turbine on the Northwestern Campus, which would provide enough power for 300 to 400 homes, would be a good starting point and could be up and running in less than a year.

The request for information is out. The City now awaits a response from eager developers.

⁗indfall†at Talking Pictures Festival

On May 7 at 7:30 p.m. the Talking Pictures Festival will premiere “Windfall,” a film that presents the effect of a developer’s wind farm on a community in upstate New York.

A wind developer offered to supplement a farm town’s failing economy with 40 industrial wind turbines. Attracted at first to the financial incentives, some of the townspeople become alarmed about side effects they had never anticipated. 

The film’s director, Laura Israel, will attend the screening