Five states partner with federal government to review plans for Great Lakes wind farms

Last month, five states with Great Lakes shorelines reached an agreement with each other and the federal government to accelerate plans to consider building offshore wind farms on the Great Lakes. Currently, there are no wind turbines in the region, but development has been proposed in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The states’ agreement would allow plans to progress quickly while still adhering to environmental and safety standards.

A plan proposed by the New York Power Authority in September 2011 would place as many as two hundred 450-foot-high turbines in the two lakes. A demonstration project is also planned for Lake Erie, constructing seven wind turbines generating twenty to thirty megawatts of energy and placing them in the lake near Cleveland.

Federal agencies involved in the agreement include the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania signed the agreement; three other states that border the Great Lakes—Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana—did not sign on to the partnership, but could have an opportunity to join later. The Canadian province of Ontario, the only province to possess Great Lakes coastlines, suspended development on possible Great Lakes wind turbines off of its shores in February 2011, saying that the project needed further exploration into its possible environmental impacts.  The partnership resembles one that currently exists between ten states on the Atlantic coast and the United States Interior Department, designed to support offshore wind energy production off of Atlantic shorelines.

Opponents of the plan worry that offshore wind farms will decrease the value of beachfront property and homes, ruin lake views, and cause damage to native birds and fish. Supporters, however, believe that the five lakes have an enormous potential to provide clean energy and economic growth to the country. Wind farms in the region could produce over 700 gigawatts of energy; each gigawatt can power 300,000 homes, meaning that together, the Great Lakes wind turbines could provide power to a staggering 210 million homes. Producing domestic energy would shift the energy industry away from the rising cost of foreign oil and would create thousands of green-collar jobs for American workers—and at a time when the economy is still suffering, the prospect of economic growth is an appealing incentive to conduct a project.

According to the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, wind energy also translates to water savings and cost savings on home electricity bills, as well as decreased air pollution.

Besides contributing to the growth of the economy and green energy, wind farms decrease reliance on dirty forms of energy, such as coal. It would “promote economic development and create jobs, while reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources,” Illinois Governor Pat Quinn told the Huffington Post.

“This agreement will enable states to work together to ensure that any proposed offshore wind projects are reviewed in a consistent manner, and that the various state and federal agencies involved collaborate and coordinate their reviews,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said in the same article.

Under the agreement, state and federal approval would be required in order to build the wind turbines, with all ten federal agencies in the partnership required to examine the proposals. Logistical hurdles, expense factors, and public debate (especially in states like Michigan and New York, where wind farms have been proposed), along with governmental barriers, present obstacles to the success and progress of wind farm projects; however, this new agreement establishes a structure that allows federal agencies and states to work together to overcome those barriers and find solutions.

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