Modern-day windmills cause dust-up
By Amy Lee
The Detroit News
Published July 5, 2006
A coastline that whips up wind all year long has Michigan
alternative energy activists pushing to transform the
state into a leader of nonpolluting wind energy.
But as the wind power movement that began in the state's
pastoral northern region heads toward Metro Detroit, advocates
admit the clean electricity source is not without drawbacks.
Wyandotte has landed $1.75 million in federal grants
to build one of the nation's first urban wind farms on
the Detroit River. Officials are conducting studies to
determine the best location for up to three turbines,
which could be installed within a year.
But some environmentalists and wildlife groups argue
the towers, which soar as high as 262 feet, blight the
landscape and can be deadly to migratory birds.
The result is a dilemma between the benefits of wind
energy and the need to protect the state's aesthetics
and wildlife. Controversy over the large-scale wind farms
has popped up in tourism-dependent areas like California's
Altamonte Pass and in Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts.
"When some people see wind turbines, they see an
industrial installation," said David Hamilton, director
of global warming and energy programs for the Sierra Club
in Washington, D.C. "Other people see society starting
to reconcile its energy needs with the effects of production."
As for bird kill, it can be minimized by studying migration
patterns before choosing wind farm locations, Hamilton
Local officials agree.
"No one wants to sacrifice one environmental benefit
for another," said Melanie McCoy, general manager
of Wyandotte Municipal Services. "Siting is crucial.
If you don't put it into the right location, you can run
Michigan, with its 3,100 miles of Great Lakes shoreline,
more than any other state, is rich in potential for wind-generated
electricity. That doesn't mean the turbines, which look
like giant fans, are pleasing to everyone's aesthetic
taste. One St. Ignace resident argued on the Sierra Club's
online Energy Forum that the two Mackinaw City turbines
ruin the beauty of the Straits of Mackinac.
"When you drive south on the Mackinac Bridge, what
used to be a scenic view of trees behind the restored
historic Fort Michilimackinac on the beautiful Straits
of Mackinac now has these ugly huge wind turbines to ruin
the view," the resident wrote. "This is tantamount
to putting wind turbines onto El Capitan, Mount Rushmore
or the rim of the Grand Canyon."
But Marilyn McFarland, executive director of the Mackinaw
Area Visitors Bureau, said the bureau has received so
much praise for the turbines there that they plan to set
up a kiosk near the site outside Mackinaw City with photos
and information on wind energy.
"When you see the blades moving in tandem with each
other, both at the same rhythm, people have likened it
to watching a ballet of sorts," she said. "It's
literally become its own tourist attraction."
Though Michigan's first turbine was installed near Traverse
City 10 years ago, the movement languished and the state
still ranks near the bottom of the nation's 34 wind-energy
"Not everybody has good wind, but we're right on
the water and that's a huge advantage," said McCoy,
of Wyandotte Municipal Services.
Also threatening growth of turbines nationwide is an
ongoing analysis by the Department of Defense into whether
turbines interfere in long-range air defense radar systems.
The Federal Aviation Administration has halted projects
in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and South
Dakota until the agency can determine their impact on
the radar; it's unclear what impact the results of that
study will have on future Michigan wind farm projects,
said Tony Molinaro, FAA spokesman.
The state's Energy Office has created several wind maps,
which show potential developers the areas of the state
that get the most wind. The state hosts monthly wind energy
forum meetings in Lansing for advocates, municipal officials
"Michigan, because of the lakes, definitely has
a high energy potential for wind power," said Richard
Greenwood, team leader for the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem
Team for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "That's
why we work with industry to guide them to areas that
are of lower risk for wildlife."
The three turbines operating in Michigan provide enough
energy, combined, to power some 600 homes. A third project
is under way in Ishpeming in the Upper Peninsula; it will
supply on-site, wind-generated electricity for a senior
citizens apartment building known as Pioneer Bluff.
Another wind farm under construction in Michigan's Thumb
would be the state's largest and 32 planned turbines could
power some 16,000 homes within two years. Officials with
Connecticut-based Noble Environmental Power in December
broke ground on the Noble Thumb Windpark on about 4,700
acres of farmland in Bingham Township. A couple of the
turbines will rise about a half-mile from Jim Philp's
house on Washington Street in Ubly.
"I'm not really opposed to them, as long as they
become part of the tax base and pay their property taxes,
there will be a benefit to the community," Philp
The Wyandotte wind farm will be owned and operated by
the city, which hopes it will generate enough electricity
to run about 700 homes. Sites under consideration are
near the shore between Eureka and Pennsylvania streets.
Another is BASF Corp. property.
"It's going to be a big jump for Michigan,"
said John Sarver of Michigan's Energy Office. "There
are people looking into wind power all over the state,
mostly along Lake Michigan because of the wind speed.
But the Thumb has emerged as an area of significant potential,
because it also has consistent strong winds."
You can reach Amy Lee at (313) 222-2548 or email@example.com.