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After 90 days of investigation and deliberation, the 21-member committee appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl presented its analysis of two proposals to build a wind farm in Lake Michigan seven to nine miles east of Dawes Park.
Citizens Greener Evanston (CGE) proposed the idea of an offshore wind farm in response to the City’s climate action plan, approved by the City Council in 2008. Last year, in response to a request for information, the City received two responses – one from Mercury Wind Energy and one from Off Grid Technology – detailing how each would construct an off-shore wind farm.
Co-chairs William Sigfriedt and Nicolai Schousboe said both companies provided a lot of information at their own expense. They said the committee’s charge was to analyze the responses and “make the issues clear to City Council.”
The co-chairs thanked Mercury Wind Energy and Off Grid for their work. At a committee meeting in April, however, most committee members said they agreed that overall the responses were “of limited value.”
Not every member of the committee agreed on everything, said Mr. Sigfriedt, but “more people were in favor [of the concept of a wind farm] than were opposed.” He said he was “neutral, but every time I walked out the door to go to a committee meeting, my wife would say, ‘No wind farm in my lake.’”
Committee members Fred Wittenberg and Joe Jaskulski distributed a separate minority report in which they object to an offshore wind farm for economic and practical reasons.
Big Wind Farms
Both Off Grid and Mercury Wind Energy proposed building a “significantly” larger wind farm than CGE had envisioned – 100 (Mercury Wind) or 200 (Off Grid) megawatts, Mr. Sigfriedt reported. These bigger wind farms would require that electricity generated in the lake be transferred from the shoreline connection point (likely at Church Street) via underground cables to the closest substation, located on Church Street in Skokie near the Eden’s expressway
Effect on Evanston
Mr. Schousboe said the effect on Evanston’s electricity rates would likely be tangential. Unless the City were to bundle residential users into an aggregate purchaser of electricity, electricity produced offshore would not heat or light homes and offices here. The City procures about 20 percent of its power from renewable energy – at present from hydro-electric power, Mr. Sigfriedt said at an earlier wind farm committee meeting.
Mr. Schousboe said the state and the federal governments presently favor wind energy, and it is likely that an offshore wind farm will be developed in at least the next decade. Evanston thus has the opportunity to help shape the development of offshore wind energy. “If the City doesn’t take an active role, it loses its chance to influence any proposed project,” he said.
In contrast to the committee members, most residents who spoke at the June 20 meeting said they opposed the wind farm – some because of the financial cost, others because of environmental considerations.
The sole positive comment came from Jonathan Niewsma, who said a wind farm “would displace coal-fueled plants and nuclear power plants. I would rather have a wind farm than tons of mercury and sulphur [blowing through the air].”
Joan Rothenberg said, “As people who live in the Great Lakes, it is our job to protect them. We don’t know about the impact on the ecosystems.”
Carl Bova said, “As a civil engineer, I must voice my objection to any further consideration by the City of this program. An offshore wind farm costs three or four times as much as a wind farm on dry land. … We are not being good stewards of the hard-earned tax dollars if we pursue this project. “
Jeanne Lindwall said, “If we want to be a truly sustainable community, [strategies we use] have to make economic sense. The carbon footprint of building a wind farm is significant.”
Barbara Janes said an offshore wind farm “will not benefit Evanston and will not reduce Evanston’s carbon footprint. It will disrupt the open space at the lakefront when they dig the underground trenches.”
Speaking for Northwestern University, which some committee members had identified as a “key player” in an offshore wind farm, Andrew McGonigle said for economic reasons the University did not wish to participate further in the study of a wind farm. “The economic viability at the present moment is not favoring a wind farm,” Mr. McGonigle told the RoundTable.” This relates to the cost of a kilowatt [created] on water as opposed to the cost of a kilowatt on land – it costs approximately four times more on water as on land. … Based upon the economic viability that we can see, we would not want to be included in a study [for an offshore wind farm].”
The committee recommends that the City proceed on two fronts: on the state level, work with legislators as they create policies and programs for offshore wind development, and, on the local level, educate the residents of Evanston.
A bill as yet unsigned by Governor Pat Quinn would create a Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Council. The City should try to ensure that an Evanstonian has a seat on that council. The City should also “foster education and transparent discussion on the subject and assess public opinion.”
When City Council discusses the report at its July 11 meeting, perhaps Aeolus, the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology, will show up.
Fred Wittenberg and Joe Jaskulski prepared a minority report, giving their reasons for opposing an offshore wind farm: cost and practicality. Mr. Jaskulski said he had contacted “FPL/NextEra, the largest wind developer in the U.S., Iberdrola, the largest wind developer in the world, and Mainstream Power, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind. These three qualified non-respondents all said the cost[s] of the contemplated project are prohibitive with no prospect of recovering the investment made. Further, conventional on-shore wind projects can provide power at one-fifth the cost of off-shore developments.”
The report also said the community could “offer nothing” toward the project. “Our streets and roads, bridge clearance, load capacities, turning areas, etc., cannot handle the support towers, propeller blades, generators, transmissions, shafting, hubs, nacelles (housings), cranes and all other appurtenances that would be conveyed to a dock for barging out on the Lake. … Considering Evanston’s fiscal responsibility to its citizens and the limited resources of staff and even volunteer support the City should proceed with environmental projects which are under its control and have a reasonable probability of success.”
Alliance Online SurveyThe Alliance for the Great Lakes has created a survey, available on its website, for the public to express opinions on the construction of/use of alternative-energy resources in the Great Lakes region.
Many of the questions pertain to the building of windmills o\in the Great Lakes. One question asked is, “”Should the Great Lakes ban the construction of offshore windmills?”” The survey also asks that participants identify their greatest concerns about offshore windmills and what safeguards they believe necessary for the healthy deployment of wind energy.
The Alliance’s website says the survey is “”aimed at gauging public support for the creation of offshore wind-energy facilities.”” The survey is available for completion until Nov. 30; it can be found at www.greatlakes.org.
— By Jessica Baum