Great Lakes offshore wind development stalled in Legislature

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Capital News Service
LANSING – A year after state energy experts recommended developing offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes, lawmakers have not passed legislation needed to implement it.
The Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council recommended to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm sites where offshore wind turbines would work best and legislation to regulate the industry. A new administration and a year later, state agencies and supportive groups are still working on bills that support its development.
Offshore wind turbines can produce more energy than those on land and could significantly reduce the need to buy out-of-state fuel, said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council. Clift was part of the governor-appointed Great Lakes Wind Council, formed in 2009. The council set criteria for desirable areas for offshore wind development and was then given the go-ahead by Granholm to propose locations and legislation.
Although an offshore wind bill was introduced last Legislative session, it didn’t advance, said Frank Ruswick, deputy director of the Office of the Great Lakes. His agency is refining that bill to re-introduce this session, but they have not found a legislator to sponsor it.
The bill will set up a framework for leasing and developing underwater land for offshore wind, since none exist, said Mike Berkowitz, chapter organizer for Michigan’s Sierra Club. His organization is working with the Office of the Great Lakes to prepare the legislation to debut later this fall or early spring.
However, a bill introduced last spring seeks to prohibit offshore wind in the Great Lakes. Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, is the primary sponsor, and the bill is in the House Energy and Technology Committee.
“We don’t believe the Great Lakes should be industrialized,” said Jennifer Smeltzer, the legislative director for Franz. “Industrialized wind turbines in the Great Lakes affects shipping, it affects fishing.”
The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing. Berkowitz said it is going nowhere because it contains misconceptions about offshore wind, including concerns over interrupting shipping lanes and fish habitats and killing of birds and bats. Berkowitz said the Great Lakes Wind Council accounted for these issues in selecting the sites suitable for offshore wind development.
“If we just follow the Great Lakes Wind council recommendations, we wouldn’t have any issues with any of these things, these migratory patterns or shipping lanes or anything like that,” he said.
The council selected five areas most suitable for offshore wind development: Southern Lake Michigan near Berrien County, northern Lake Michigan near Delta County, central Lake Superior near Alger County, central Lake Huron near Saginaw Bay and southern Lake Huron near Sanilac County.
While Berkowitz said he’s seen some bipartisan support for offshore wind, the House and Senate Committees on Energy and Technology haven’t scheduled anything regarding offshore wind yet. Staff members for the chair of each committee weren’t clear on where they stand on the issue.
The Senate committee is reviewing progress on the 2008 law requiring Michigan to generate 10 percent of its energy via renewable sources by 2015. Offshore wind development could be a factor in meeting that goal, said Greg Moore, the legislative director for Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek chair of the committee.
The office of Rep. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, chair of the House committee, declined to comment on offshore wind.
Gov. Rick Snyder has not taken a formal position on offshore wind development, said Sara Wurfel, his press secretary. He is working with the Office of the Great Lakes on developing the regulatory legislation for offshore wind.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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