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Great Lakes Article:

Modern-day windmills cause dust-up in Mich.
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 said.

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 into problems."

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 producing states.

"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 and entrepreneurs.

"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 said.

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 alee@detnews.com.

 

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