Indiana wind farm. Photo by Mayre Press.

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Midwesterners are a hardy lot, and seven members of the Wind Farm Committee and three interested Evanston residents did not let storm clouds darken a field trip planned for May 13.

The group visited one of the windfarms in Northwest Indiana to get its look and its sounds, because the City of Evanston is considering the idea of developing a windfarm in Lake Michigan, seven miles off the Evanston shoreline.

Evanston’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2008, lists more than 200 strategies for reducing the community’s greenhouse gas emission. Supplying some of Evanston’s energy from an offshore windfarm was suggested by the group now known as Citizens Greener Evanston.

In May 2010, City Council issued a Request for Information (RFI) to develop a wind-energy facility in Lake Michigan off the northern shore of Evanston. The intent of the RFI was to identify potential partners, determine the City’s role and establish a process for the development of a renewable energy facility off Evanston’s Lake Michigan shore.

At its March 14 meeting, City Council members approved a 21-person task force, selected by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, to evaluate the two responses the City received to its RFI. The site visit arose from discussions at the committee’s April 27 meeting. The May 13 date was set, and aldermen and others were invited on the trip.

Wind Farm Committee co-chair Bill Siegfriedt said he was “disappointed that none of that group came. … I wanted the decision-makers to get first-hand experience with the aesthetic issue, which is paramount to many citizens. … Although the trip benefitted many committee members and citizens, which is valuable, it will only inform the City Council second-hand.”

Shortly after 3 p.m. on May 13, the group departed from the Civic Center in one City vehicle and one private auto for its mission.

The group hoped to see the wind-farm from seven miles away, to approximate what somone standing on an Evanston or Wilmette beach would see of a windfarm seven miles into Lake Michigan. Rain and overcast conditions prevented that, and visibility was not much better at the five-mile point. At the two-mile mark, outlines of the towering wind turbines and their blinking red lights were evident. The most compelling was the up-close view afforded by traveling two additional miles on a gravel road.

With the damp chilly weather, hooded rain jackets were the gear of the day. As the group stepped out into the mist, one notable aspect was the lack of noise. From a point directly under the whirling blades of a wind turbine, the sound that came to mind was the “swoosh” of waves crashing against a shore.

Mr. Siegfriedt said he agreed with the owner of a nearby farm that he had met on a previous site visit: “…They [wind turbines] are inaudible in light wind [his first visit], but make significant aerodynamic noise in heavy wind [that day’s visit].”

Wind Farm Committee co-chair Nicolai Schousboe, who said this was his first opportunity to walk up close to a wind turbine. “They emit a low-frequency rhythmic sound with the wind. … Even with the poor weather, the turbines’ slight profile was visible on the horizon.”

Joan Rothenberg, expressed some of the concerns others may have about the proposed offshore wind farm on Lake Michigan. “There are a lot of people in Evanston who don’t know that this whole discussion regarding putting wind farms in Lake Michigan is going on,” she said.

The aesthetic impact of dozens of wind turbines off Lake Michigan’s shore is a key issue. Mr. Siegfriedt said, “The wind farm would be starkly visible on clear days and rather indistinct on days with lake mist. … At night, they would be visible only on the clearest of nights.”

“Despite poor weather conditions,” Mr. Schousboe said, “the field trip showed what one may find on a given day along the lake. During the summer, when people use the lakefront most often, many days are hazy, and the turbines would be barely visible.”

Ms. Rothenberg said, “It seems that there are people who do find these wind farms to be visually appealing. Many others do not, and are very concerned that they will seriously deface the natural beauty of one of our most precious resources, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. We don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Mr. Schousboe said, “This project deals with a subjective aspect on the public’s mind.” He said encourages people to make a day trip to an Illinois wind farm. More information is available at www.windforillinois.org. Ms. Hurley said she will post on the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org, detailed directions to the windfarm.

The Committee will make a presentation at a special City Council meeting on June 20. Those members who spent a stormy day in Indiana will bring a unique perspective to their task.