Offshore wind farm coming to Lake Michigan (Illinois)?

Wind power generation was one of a the recommendations included in the Evanston Climate Action Plan that proposed ways for the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

After two years of research, Citizens for a Greener Evanston, a volunteer advocacy group, responsible for developing the plan, has concluded that the lake shore "is a viable site for wind power generation," City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Carolyn Collopy, the city’s Sustainable Programs Coordinator, wrote in a report to the council.

A report by the citizens group identified a site for the wind energy project, an approximately 1.5-nautical mile square, located roughly 6 to 9 miles off the Evanston shore.

Offshore wind energy typically produces its maximum power in the middle of the day, the report noted, "when the power is most needed and can therefore offset fossil-fueled power plants (coal and natural gas) that produce the most CO2 emissions."

Group members discussed concerns about the effect of wind turbines on birds, which can get caught in their blades. Group members noted, though, that wind’s overall impact on birds is low compared with other human-related sources, literally "a drop in the bucket" compared to threats from hunters, house cats, buildings and cars. 

Could an offshore wind farm be blowing in Evanston’s future? If built, the wind blades not only would be the first on Lake Michigan but the first offshore farm in the United States.The City Council is expected to consider the proposal Tuesday night.

Citizens for a Greener Evanston developed the proposal as part of a climate action plan for the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A report by the group said the 1.5 nautical square-mile area it selected has average annual winds of 18 mph, more than enough to support a wind farm.

The officials stressed that while many have proposed wind power generation in the lake, no precedent exists for developing such a project. To get built, ocean or lake-based wind turbines face a thicket of environmental regulations from local, state and federal authorities.

One of the projects closest to starting, off Cape Cod in Massachusetts, has drawn the ire of landowners who say their views would be spoiled, especially at night when the turbines would be lit to prevent collisions with vessels.

But on Lake Michigan, in the daytime humid haze and pollution would obscure the view during most of the summer months, according to Robert Owen, Jr., a Madison, Wis., engineer who has studied wind energy in Lake Michigan. “In the vicinity of the lake in the summertime, we frequently can’t see more than three miles,” he said.

In clear weather, the offshore wind turbines, which are typically 80 to 100 meters high, would be visible, but would only appear as specks, Owen said.

A six-inch underground cable could link the wind turbines to land, tunneling under the beach or shoreline before connecting to the power grid, according to Owen, who is not affiliated with the Evanston project.

Another concern, that birds might be killed by the spinning wind turbine blades, is less serious offshore than on land, because migrating birds typically stay close to shore, Owen said.

Evanston, Illinois is a suburban municipality in Cook County, Illinois directly north of the City of Chicago, east of Skokie, and south of Wilmette, with an estimated population of 74,360. It is one of the North Shore communities that adjoin Lake Michigan. Evanston is concurrently a city and township, according to state and municipal charters.

Citizens for a Greener Evanston is a group of community members working together with the City to help Evanston, Illinois reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and overall carbon footprint.

When Evanston signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2006, it joined hundreds of other American cities that have pledged to ‘meet or beat’ the Kyoto Protocol by reducing GHG emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012.

A 2007 inventory conducted by the City showed that, in order to meet this goal, Evanston must reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 13% by 2012.

Source: WBBM News Radio,