The cover page of the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Report.

Legislation approved by the Illinois General Assembly this spring moved the development of an offshore wind farm in Lake Michigan one step closer to becoming a reality. 

The Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act calls for a study to identify areas of the lake that are appropriate for lakebed wind turbines. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is to develop a wind energy siting matrix that considers a range of factors, including impacts on the environment, wildlife, transportation, public infrastructure and security.

Proper siting is of particular importance to those concerned about the potential impact of wind turbines on wildlife.  The Lake Michigan shoreline is a principal bird migration flyway, and many waterfowl and gulls winter just offshore. According to the Bird Conservation Network, more than 300 species of birds are present in the Chicago area at some point in the year, and more than five million songbirds migrate up and down the lakefront in the spring and fall. There is also some indication that bats may fly over the lake. 

The siting matrix is one of the key recommendations made in 2012 by the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Council. The legislation implements the Advisory Council’s other recommendations by:

• creating a volunteer task force to evaluate policy and economic options to facilitate offshore wind energy development;

• authorizing IDNR to grant permits for site assessments and leases for wind park construction and operation; and

• calling for preparation of a toolkit to guide developers through the regulatory and permitting process.

Local Opinion of Offshore Wind Farm

The Advisory Council also noted in its final report, “Early and effective public engagement is critical to the success of any offshore wind project. Identifying, addressing and alleviating local concerns is important to both private developers and public officials.” 

Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a leading proponent of offshore wind energy development, recently took steps to find out what area residents think about offshore wind power. With a grant from the Civil Society Institute, CGE commissioned an opinion survey from the University of Michigan.  

A random sample of residents from Evanston, Wilmette and Rogers Park took part in an online survey, answering questions about the impacts they would expect from a local offshore wind farm project and about the likelihood that they would support several hypothetical wind farm scenarios. Key findings include the following:

• One-third of survey respondents currently support offshore wind farm development near Evanston while roughly half (53%) have not made up their minds. Of those who are undecided, almost half (45%) lean towards supporting the idea, 12% are inclined to oppose it, and the others need more information.

• A majority of respondents believe that job creation and the local economy would improve and electricity rates would decrease as a result of an offshore wind development near Evanston. A significant portion of respondents also think an offshore wind farm would have a negative impact on lake views and on bird life.

• Levels of support for an offshore wind farm are highly dependent on the distance of the development from the shore.

Respondents were shown photo simulations of hypothetical wind farms at three distances offshore (3 miles, 6 miles and 10 miles) and asked whether they would support each one given a randomly presented price increase or decrease to their electric bill. (Example: “Would you support this wind farm if you knew you would pay $12 less per month on your electricity bill?”)   

The majority of respondents indicated that they would not support a wind farm just three miles offshore, regardless of the price impact on their electric bill. A majority would also reject a wind farm six miles offshore, although there was more support for this project than for the three-mile scenario.

Many respondents would support a wind farm 10 miles offshore, however, whether it would reduce or increase their electric bills. Around 80% of respondents would support the 10-mile scenario given a $36 decrease in their monthly electric bill while 30% would vote for the project even if they had to pay as much as $48 more/month.

Additional Support for Offshore Wind

In March 2012, Illinois was one of five states joining 10 federal agencies in signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote the efficient, orderly and responsible evaluation of proposed offshore wind energy projects in the Great Lakes. The agreement establishes a Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to enhance coordination among the relevant federal and state regulatory agencies in the review process. 

The agencies involved are to evaluate offshore wind energy proposals for their potential social, environmental, cultural, safety and security impacts. The MOU is intended to enhance collaboration among these agencies so as to speed the review process and accelerate the development of clean energy from Great Lakes offshore wind resources.

Community Perceptions and Opinions Regarding Offshore Wind Development near Evanston, IL is available in the Resources section of CGE’s website: