Study Highlights Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Farms in MI.

9 Jun 2011


Horns Rev in Denmark - the second largest offshore wind farm in the world.

Yesterday Grand Valley State University’s West Michigan Wind Assessment group released a study about the social issues related to offshore wind, including public acceptance, visibility, noise and tourism.  Here are some of the study’s conclusions that I found interesting:

  • Location.  Locating turbines offshore (rather than on land) offers several important benefits, as well as some significant drawbacks.  Benefits: (i) winds tend to blow harder and more consistently offshore, (ii) offshore turbines can be established closer to large cities, reducing power transmission issues, and (iii) offshore turbines can be larger and rotate faster than land-based models (in part because noise is less of an issue).  Drawbacks: (i) construction costs are much higher for offshore turbines due to the need for elaborate foundations, and (ii) public opposition ranging from economic concerns to aesthetics.
  • Visibility.  Offshore wind farms on Lake Michigan would likely be visible from the shore since the cost of current offshore wind technology limits the placement of turbines to waters less than 100 feet in depth and the Lake’s water get deep pretty close to shore.  How visible?  Assuming the turbines would be located just beyond a six-mile buffer from shore, the group concludes that the turbines would only be visible on clear days, roughly two-thirds of the time or less.
  • Noise.  Although sounds can reflect off water and extend farther than similar sounds on land, the group concludes that the sound of the turbines would be inaudible above background noise at a distance of six-miles from shore.
  • Tourism.  The study concludes that it is difficult to determine the impact, if any, that the turbines would have on tourism.  Some people would avoid a beach with a nearby offshore wind farm; however, some people would seek them out.  The group believes that there is no evidence that existing offshore wind farms in Europe support or hinder tourism.

As we have blogged about before, we all say we want alternative energy, but when push comes to shove does that change when it is in our backyard (or as Arthur pointed out, NIMBY becomes NIML when it comes to windmills)?  That’s the million dollar question.  Hopefully armed with more information from studies like this one, it will open up a discussion about whether offshore wind energy is appropriate for Michigan and the Great Lakes.

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