Are offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes a good thing?
It depends who you ask, but the Obama administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with governors of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania to streamline offshore wind development there.
The Great Lakes have lots of wind. Their estimated 700-plus gigawatts of wind energy is about 20% of the total for offshore US wind.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) estimates that each gigawatt of offshore wind installed would produce electricity for 300,000 homes.
Even developing a small portion of that would create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, generate revenue for local businesses, while increasing domestic energy production, says the Administration.
Under the agreement, the federal government and the various Great Lake states will jointly create an action plan for all the lakes. The plan will set priorities and recommend steps necessary to efficiently and responsibly evaluate proposed offshore wind projects. The ultimate goal is to speed reviews of proposed offshore wind projects.
The MOU is also intended to signal a consistent, predictable regulatory environment for investors, who have become increasingly hesitant to commit to new wind projects because of the upcoming expiration of wind tax incentives. At least one offshore wind project has already been dropped.
"This agreement will enable states to work together to ensure that any proposed off-shore wind projects are reviewed in a consistent manner, and that the various state and federal agencies involved collaborate and coordinate their reviews," says Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.
To safely and responsibly develop offshore wind resources, federal and state agencies – which share jurisdiction in the Great Lakes – must fully evaluate the potential social, environmental, safety, and security impacts of projects, says the Administration.
Indeed, to go forward, wind developers have to get both state and federal approval. States own the Great Lakes bottomlands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to give a permit to erect wind turbines. 10 federal agencies have to review the plans.
Besides the states, 10 federal agencies signed on, including the Pentagon, DOE, EPA, NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
So, by developing a joint action plan, developers will be able to avoid "a hodgepodge of different processes" that cause needless delays, David Poneman, deputy secretary of DOE told the Associated Press.
So far, there isn’t a single Great Lakes offshore wind project approved because of these logistical hurdles and public opposition.
Citizens have prevented projects from moving forward because they would ruin spectacular vistas, lower shoreline property values and harm birds and fish.
Last year, New York abandoned a plan for 200, 450 foot high turbines in lakes Erie and Ontario. And Ontario has a moratorium on offshore wind in the Great Lakes to further study its impact on the environment.
The MOU is similar to that signed by the U.S. Interior Department and 10 Eastern states for offshore wind in the Atlantic ocean, known as Read about the Smart from the Start. It identifies priority sites that have the most wind potential with the least environmental impact.