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The members of the Mayor’s windfarm committee who attended the committee’s May 19 meeting appeared to agree that they had fulfilled the task appointed them by City Council: evaluating two responses to the City’s request for information about developing an off-shore windfarm. Those responses raised additional questions about the feasibility, cost and practicality of a windfarm – questions that most of the committee members feel should be pursued.
Responses by Mercury and Off Grid
In October of last year, City Council received responses from two companies, Off Grid and Mercury, who each proposed to develop an offshore wind farm. At that time, neither had developed a windfarm.
Off Grid offered a “low-profile magnetic levitation (mag-lev) wind turbine” using “rare earth” magnets and frictionless operation, which could generate more power than traditional turbines.
No such turbines existed at that time, but representatives of the 12-employee company said they believed that with the help of “stategic partnerships,” turbines of the size needed can be built.
The Off Grid proposal would require about $624 million in capital, and Off Grid suggested that the City fund a feasibility study for about $1.8 million and then be a partner in developing the wind farm.
In response to an aldermanic question, Carl Hansberry, Off Grid’s vice president of business development and marketing, said last October that at that time there were no mag-lev wind farms anywhere in the world. He said, though, that some smaller-scale farms were “in the works” offshore in Great Britain and China and that one system was being tested on land in Hawaii.
Mercury Wind’s $313 million proposal would have traditional wind turbines, such as are seen on the windfarms in Indiana (see sidebar). Mercury Wind said it could have an offshore windfarm “up and running in about two-and-a-half years,” As of October, however, Mercury had not yet built a wind farm, said CEO Lyle Harrison said, but was “working hard to do so,”
Mercury promises to “replace all the shoddy el-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.”
Comments by Committee Members
The subcommittee reports will be finalized at the committee’s June 7 meeting but are available on the City’s website, www.cityofevanston.org. When Nicolai Schousboe, the committee chair, asked each committee member present for comments on any of the reports and on the project, most agreed that the proposed projects were not feasible for Evanston. Comments were divided on the merits of the City’s further pursuing an offshore wind farm, but most said they continued to favor the City’s pursuing renewable energy
William Wagner said, “We are all seeing benefits of technology’s producing clean energy.”
Joel Freeman said he thought the City should continue to continue considering an off-shore wind farm “despite the responses we have received.”
Nate Kipnis said, “The two responses are clearly not the kind of partners we would want.”
Joe Jaskulski said the responses showed “no experienced, qualified wind farm developer … [and] neither has shown any financial ability to operate the wind farm.”
Tom Cushing said that, although “the value of the responses is limited,” we haven’t seen any red flags about the project.”
Victoria Hutchen said an offshore wind farm “seems like something worth continuing to explore.”
Cost, safety and collateral damage were considerations for committee members weighing in against the wind farm.
Richard Lanyon said, “Efforts to increase renewable energy usage should not be undertaken if they increase costs for Evanston businesses.”
Fred Wittenberg expressed concerns about safety and maintenance operations, as well as about materials that would be used in the turbines.
Mr. Jaskulski said, “The law of unintended consequences has not been repealed. We may be lowering the bar for other development in Lake Michigan. I hope our land reserve does not become Peotone [an airport].” The land reserve to which he referred may be the result of efforts by State Senator Jeff Schoenberg and State Representative Robyn Gabel to push legislation that would allow the City to develop a wind farm in the lake.
Comments from residents were pro and con. Jonathan Newsome said and offshore wind farm with “three or four times larger turbines [than those on land] would produce increased energy.” He also said that, since there is more wind – and thus there would be more energy production – during the day, this would “be a better match to the demand of current on-shore energy consumers.”
Barbara Sykes said she objected to the offshore wind farm because of potential cost and pollution. “Who’s’ going to foot the bill” when there are problems with the wind turbines, she asked. “This is our drinking water,” she said, adding that the next war will be fought over water.
“What is Evanston getting out of this process?” asked Andrew McGonigle. “If we expend money on a study, how do we recoup it?” He also said he felt that the energy-transfer process would pose several problems: First, he said, the plan is to bring the energy ashore at Church Street could be on a collision path with the plan to develop an entertainment complex there. He said the City should conduct an environmental impact statement about the wind farm’s impact in the lake and on land. He also said the cost of removing damaged or obsolete turbines should be figured into the cost of the wind farm.
Jeanne Lindwall said, “I continue to have question s about how the power is going to get form the beach to the grid. Whether it’s underground cables or overhead wires, the Illinois Commerce Commission has to gran approval for transmission lines? Can the City trump the ICC? … Can the City trump the ICC? …What protections to the residents of Evanston have that the State won’t take over the process?”
Mr. McGonigle added, “There is considerable research about the electromagnetic fields surrounding transmission lines – underground and above ground. This country has not taken that as seriously as has Europe. … But consider the possible objections from residents for high-voltage lines running anywhere through the City of Evanston.”
Kevin Glynn said there would be many layers of bureaucracy for an offshore wind farm. “Just about every agency imaginable gets a shot at the thing. … It could be vetoed by any one [of them]. … You have to trust the process.
City Council is scheduled to hear their report at its June 20 meeting.