IL Advances Offshore Wind Energy Research, But Lake Turbines Still ‘Light …

August 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act earlier this
month, but don’t expect wind farms to pop up in the lake anytime soon.

bill, sponsored by State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) and Sen. Daniel Biss
(D-Evanston), authorizes the state to conduct further research on which parts of Lake Michigan are suitable for offshore wind energy
development before any leases or permits are issued for such projects.

recent measure piggybacks on the recommendations cited in an Illinois
Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) report released last year that
first explored the issue after the state set up the Lake Michigan
Offshore Wind Energy Council
in 2011.

Under the new measure, IDNR
is now tasked with developing an offshore wind “siting matrix” to
identify preferred or prohibited development areas in the lake based on
existing wildlife, infrastructure, transportation and other
environmental factors. IDNR is expected to use its own funds for the
study, which is projected to take at least two years.

Within this
two-year research window, devices will be installed on the lake to
track wind currents, peak hours and other factors, explained Gabel’s legislative assistant Matt Trewartha.

But that’s just the beginning, acording to experts.

are light-years away from putting wind turbines in Lake Michigan,” said
Kevin Borgia, public policy manager at Wind on the Wires, a St. Paul,
Minnesota-based group that works on wind power issues in the Midwest.

The state of Illinois owns the lakebed, so it needs to have some
sort of leasing process in place for any potential wind energy projects, which up until more
recently had never been considered, Trewartha explained.

IDNR’s siting matrix is finalized, the department could grant permits
and site leases for those interested in assessing areas of the lake for
wind energy projects. Those leases may later be converted for the
construction and operation of an offshore wind park. IDNR also has to
create a regulatory toolkit for potential developers that spells out the
necessary permitting-process information.

This leasing and permitting system, however, will likely not be ready until 2020 at the earliest, Trewartha said.

“We’re still quite a ways [away] for this,” he stressed.

The new bill also sets up an Offshore Wind Energy Economic Development Task Force, which is charged with evaluating potential economic and policy models for offshore wind energy. The unpaid task force will also propose ways in which Illinois could purchase and sell the power from offshore wind projects.

Ohio appears to be in the lead when it comes to wind turbines in the Great Lakes. A project is in the works
for six wind turbines to be installed seven miles north of Cleveland in
Lake Erie by 2017. The project would be the first fresh-water offshore
wind farm in the United States.

But there’s no need for Illinois to rush.

aren’t lining up at the moment to build offshore wind projects in Lake
Michigan for a number of reasons, but mainly because the costs are just
too high, Borgia explained.

Borgia said Illinois’ coast is also different than the coast of Cleveland and Michigan, a state that is also steps ahead of Illinois in identifying areas suitable for wind energy sites in the Great Lakes.

prospect of offshore wind energy in Illinois has garnered enthusiasm
from certain environmental groups, such as Citizens’ Greener Evanston
and the Illinois Sierra Club. But the private-sector companies
experienced in building offshore wind projects in other parts of the
U.S. and Europe don’t have a desire right now to build wind
turbines off the coast of Illinois in Lake Michigan, Borgia said.

“There’s not really a way to make offshore wind economically feasible right now in this particular location,” he explained.

Because Illinois’ current onshore wind opportunities and the state’s power markets and electricity costs are cheaper than offshore wind farming in the area would be at the moment, it’s “very, very unlikely to see any interest from the wind-energy sector in building offshore wind off the cost of Illinois anytime soon,” Borgia continued.

doesn’t mean, however, that offshore wind energy isn’t cost-effective
in other places or that offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes are
not feasible, he noted.

Onshore wind energy in Illinois, however, is the cheaper option for the state. It’s also a better avenue to take in order to
make a more immediate shift to renewable energy sources, Borgia said.

For the
past five years, Illinois has been ranked among the top five states when
it comes to wind energy growth, generating 20,000 jobs in
Illinois since 2007, according to the Illinois Sierra Club. Illinois has
emerged as a wind energy leader due to the state’s strong winds near demand centers, like Chicago, and the necessary
electrical infrastructure needed to move the power. Most of Illinois’
wind farms are located in central and northern Illinois.

With that being said, that doesn’t mean the new Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act is not necessary, he said. At the moment, the state does not have a thorough understanding
of which parts of the lake contain hazards that need to be avoided
or where sensitive marine habitats may be located.

“It’s worth
studying this kind of thing … Before anybody starts exploring
opportunities in any kind of a serious way, it’s good to have this
information,” Borgia noted.

Back in May, before the full Senate passed the Lake
Michigan Wind Energy Act, Biss told the News-Gazette’s editor and
columnist Tom Kacich that his constituents “want this bill, and I have
lots of folks in Evanston who very badly want turbines in the lake.”

The senator acknowledged, however, that this idea might make some people “very nervous.”

bill isn’t going to put turbines in the lake,” the lawmaker said in the
interview. “It’s going to set about a process. That process will have
time for lots of public comment, lots of technological improvements,
lots of time for change in the marketplace. If there’s a turbine in the
lake 10 years from now that will be a very, very swift timeline.”

Image: papundits

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