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Against the wind

Chicago's early planners weren't talking about Lake Michigan when they devised the famous dictum: Forever open, clear and free. They were protecting an uncluttered city lakefront. But those are the words that came to mind when we heard about Evanston's designs on Lake Michigan.

Chicago's early planners weren't talking about Lake Michigan when they devised the famous dictum: Forever open, clear and free. They were protecting an uncluttered city lakefront.

But those are the words that came to mind when we heard about Evanston's designs on Lake Michigan.

The northern suburb is asking developers for ideas on building a wind farm - a cluster of towering wind turbines - six to nine miles offshore. The goal: Generate enough electricity to power Evanston's 30,000 homes.

Windmill developers covet Lake Michigan-and the other Great Lakes-because the wind is strongest and most consistent over the water. Officials in Cleveland, Michigan, New York, and Toronto also are exploring offshore wind projects.

The first American offshore wind farm, dubbed Cape Wind, was recently approved by the feds for Nantucket Sound, off the Massachusetts coast. The winds of change didn't blow very fast: The process took nine years. Initially, opposition seemed to fall into the not-in-my-backyard category. But opponents raised some serious concerns about the wind farm's threat to fishing, tourism and prime oceanfront views.

Take note,... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Chicago's early planners weren't talking about Lake Michigan when they devised the famous dictum: Forever open, clear and free. They were protecting an uncluttered city lakefront.

But those are the words that came to mind when we heard about Evanston's designs on Lake Michigan.

The northern suburb is asking developers for ideas on building a wind farm - a cluster of towering wind turbines - six to nine miles offshore. The goal: Generate enough electricity to power Evanston's 30,000 homes.

Windmill developers covet Lake Michigan-and the other Great Lakes-because the wind is strongest and most consistent over the water. Officials in Cleveland, Michigan, New York, and Toronto also are exploring offshore wind projects.

The first American offshore wind farm, dubbed Cape Wind, was recently approved by the feds for Nantucket Sound, off the Massachusetts coast. The winds of change didn't blow very fast: The process took nine years. Initially, opposition seemed to fall into the not-in-my-backyard category. But opponents raised some serious concerns about the wind farm's threat to fishing, tourism and prime oceanfront views.

Take note, Evanstonians: Cape Wind power is expected to cost at least twice as much as electricity from conventional sources for Massachusetts customers.

Ouch.

Proponents here must convince the protectors of Lake Michigan - and that should be all of us - that windmills on the lake will do no harm. The lake is the region's most precious natural resource. That's about drinking water. And fishing, boating, tourism, underwater ecology and the appeal of a wide expanse of blue, unblemished by development. We mess with it at our peril.

This isn't the first time local pols have had windmills on the mind. Chicago officials nixed a lake wind farm development years ago because the turbines might pose a threat to migrating birds.

You won't see construction cranes on the lake anytime soon. Illinois has no permit process for a lake wind farm, says Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Creating one likely will require a state law.

Several federal and state agencies also would be involved, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. That should spool out enough environmental impact studies and red tape to stall any project for years to come.

We support development of wind power where it's appropriate. Wind farms are becoming more common, even though they still need enormous government subsidies and they generate intense local opposition when they're close to homes.

Lake Michigan? Well, not so fast.

"This is not a question of what any individual municipality should be doing," Brammeier says. "But how it fits in transforming the region's and nation's energy supply. What we don't want is an army of windmill skeletons left in the lake after 30 years because we didn't think this through before we started."

He's right. This has to be a careful decision, a regional decision.


Source: http://articles.chicagotrib...

MAY 21 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26453-against-the-wind
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