Evanston City Council was treated to presentations from two fledgling wind development companies at its Oct. 11 meeting, both promising that they can work with Evanston to create a wind farm in Lake Michigan. After the presentations, it was clear to Council that there is a long way to go and many questions to answer before windmills sprout a few miles off Evanston’s lakefront. Even the formation of a committee to study the proposals is months away.

To much fanfare, the City issued a Request for Information in April seeking information on developing a wind energy facility in the lake. The City received responses from Off Grid Technologies and Mercury Wind Energy, and both brought sizable entourages before Council to present their vision.

Off Grid went first, offering a low-profile magnetic levitation (mag-lev) wind turbine using “rare earth” magnets and frictionless operation to generate far more power than traditional turbines. These turbines do not exist yet, but the 12-employee company believes that with strategic partnerships, particularly with Regenedyne LLC, turbines of the size needed can be built. Off Grid envisions a brand new manufacturing facility in the south side of Chicago that will manufacture mag-lev turbines. To date, neither company has built a wind farm.

According to the Off Grid proposal, the capital requirement to fully construct the Lake Michigan wind farm would be almost $624 million. “We offer ourselves to partner with you,” said Off Grid’s corporate counsel Luke Townsend. “We are suggesting a feasibility study [to be] completed within a one year window.” The study would cost about $1.8 million.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asked whether there are any mag-lev wind farms anywhere in the world. “No, there are not,” said Carl Hansberry, Off Grid’s vice president of business development and marketing. “Not yet.” He added that Great Britain and China had some projects in the works, but on a much smaller scale than the Off Grid Lake Michigan proposal. A large mag-lev system is under testing, on land, in Hawaii, he added.

Mercury Wind Energy followed, with a proposal that would cost an estimated $313 million and could be up and running in about two-and-a-half years, said CEO Lyle Harrison. Mercury contemplates more traditional windmills, similar to those seen along the highways in Indiana, Wisconsin and on the way to Springfield. Mercury has not yet built a wind farm, Mr. Harrison said, but is working hard to do so.

Mr. Harrison brought along representatives from two unions to highlight the job-creation component of his company’s concept. In its response to the RFI, Mercury promises to “replace all the shoddy L-Train bridges in Evanston at a 35-to-50 percent discount…. Mercury Wind is committed to building a brand new engineering and science lab in the high school of every community [in which] it constructs an offshore energy facility.” Mr. Harrison said Mercury would pay for a feasibility study, at about $1.5 million, provided they would be guaranteed the work, if a contract were awarded, after the study. And he promised electricity at 14 cents per kilowatt hour until 2030. Evanston residents now pay about 10.5 cents, but prices are expected to climb past 14 cents between 2018 and 2019.

“I’m just excited that we’ve gotten this far,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, after the presentations. “It’s really great.” The next step recommended by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz was for the Council to form a review committee to study the proposals and report back to Council in January 2011. Staff’s recommendations for the makeup of the board, two each from the City’s Environment Board, Utilities Commission and Citizens for a Greener Evanston, fell flat.

“I would like to have some time to think about the review committee,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She recommended referring the matter to the Council’s Rules Committee to select a review board. The Rules Committee next meets in December. Undaunted by the delay, members of the audience erupted in applause when Council voted to accept the report and meet to select a review committee in three months.