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City Council has a duty to get more information about the feasibility of developing an offshore wind farm. Getting more information and continuing the conversation are “tiny baby steps.” That is one way Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover appealed to her colleagues to accept the report of the Mayor’s Wind Farm Committee and to act on some of its recommendations. “It’s our duty to get more information. We take tiny baby steps to get that information. … We haven’t decided to wholesale adopt a wind facility in Lake Michigan,” she said.

At the July 18 special City Council meeting, Council members discussed the report of the Mayor’s Wind Farm Committee and voted 5-2 (Aldermen Melissa Wynne were absent) to move forward on two of the Committee’s recommendations: to try to secure a seat for an Evanston representative on a yet-to-be-created statewide wind farm advisory committee, and to seek grants or corporate funding for a meteorological station to measure the wind strength and currents about seven miles east of Church Street, a possible location for a wind farm. A member of the Mayor’s Wind Farm Committee indicated that the cost of such a station could be about $1 million, but Council did not approve paying for a meteorological station.

Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Don Wilson, 4th Ward, cast the two “no” votes.

Citizen Comment

Remarks during the citizen comment portion of the meeting appeared to be split, though not evenly, between those who said they believed wind energy was critical to the future because it is clean and renewable and those who felt the environmental and financial costs were too steep.

Joe Jaskulski, who with fellow Wind Farm Committee member Fred Wittenberg authored the committee’s minority report, said he owns a power-industry consulting company, has LEED certification and is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, said, “Finances are the reason for the poor response to [the City’s] request for information. Offshore wind energy costs 22 cents per kilowatt hour to produce and sells at 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s a shortfall of 18 cents per kilowatt hour. The project will lose $78 million per year – that’s $2 billion over 25 years. … I suggest that the City Council move on and certainly not spend any more time or money on this.”

Joel Freeman, a professional engineer and a member of the Wind Farm Committee, said the community should “explore the concept, keep the conversation going.” He noted that the developer of a wind farm, not the City, would bear the cost of the project.

Thomas Cushing, another member of the Wind Farm Committee said, “Wind energy is very expensive, but things change. Consider staying engaged and get a representative on the state board,” he told Council members.

Jack Darin, director of the Chicago area Sierra Club, acknowledged that “cost is a huge issue, [but] keeping the conversation going does not cost the City [anything]. Keeping a stake in the conversation is the best way to control what happens. I believe that there will be a wind farm in Lake Michigan, but we need to make sure that it’s on our terms.”

Andrew Irvin said Evanston is “well positioned” to attract developers of a wind farm. He said he also spoke of “intergenerational justice” and added, “There is no such thing as clean coal, and nuclear energy is dangerous. I speak for those who will inherit the results of your choice.”

Steve Perkins, vice president of Center for Neighborhood Technology, said, “We are positioning ourselves for the future. This is a great opportunity to be in the game and to provide leadership.”

Northwestern University

At the June 20 City Council meeting, Andrew McGonigle of Northwestern University said Northwestern did not wish to participate further in an off-shore wind farm because the cost was prohibitive. In response to an email from the RoundTable requesting clarification of Northwestern’s position, Eugene Sunshine, vice president for business relations, said the University “found that the [present] proposal was not economically beneficial, especially at this point in time.” He also said that Northwestern is “has a substantial commitment to sustainability and also to working closely with the City of Evanston. … If the City believes that further investigation of the wind farm is desirable … [and] asks the University to work with them on grant-funded studies … Northwestern would be glad to lend our expertise to the process.”

Some Northwestern professors spoke in favor of continuing the pursuit of an offshore wind farm. Ed Colgate, director of the Siegel Design Institute said, “We need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.”

Council Discussion

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl opened Council discussion by saying, “I strongly suggest that we go ahead with further exploration of this issue.”

“I concur,” said Ninth Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus.

Aldermen who voted to continue the work of the wind farm gave differing reasons: that wind energy is the energy of the future, that they wish to learn more about the challenges and benefits of an offshore wind farm before making a decision, and that they felt there would be a wind farm in Lake Michigan eventually, so Evanston should be in the mix as early as possible.

Ald. Fiske was one who took the opposing stance. She said she did not think the proposal was environmentally sound. “I don’t see it,” she said. “Why in the lake? It will cause pollution and interfere with the migratory bird patters. It’s risky. … Why would we do this when clean, green energy is readily available? We are opening up the lake for development.” She also cited the cost and the large task of connecting electricity generated in the lake to a grid in Skokie.

Ald. Wilson said he did not believe the proposal had advanced to the “project” stage, and, until it had, he said, he did not wish to see City money or staff time spent on it. “To the extent there is work to be done, it has to be done in Springfield. Everyone who is involved and engaged should be working with our legislators. … We should accept the report and the world at large should know we are open and amendable to this. [Here], we’re talking about closing libraries, closing our community centers … Staff time should be spent on these immediate problems.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she would agree with everything Ald. Fiske said “if we were working on a project today.” But because the City was not approving a wind farm, she said she would “rely on my dear friend and constituent Steve Perkins.”

The 5-2 vote approves a recommendation to try to get an Evanston representative on the statewide wind-farm committee, should it be formed, and to seek a grant or corporate funding for a meteorological station in the lake to assess the wind currents. Thus ended the evening’s discussion on the matter, and the proposed off-shore wind farm rode a progressive current into the future of Evanston.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...