Evanston Contemplates Lake Michigan Wind Farm

The struggle over offshore wind turbines is one usually fought along the the East and West Coasts. But that battle is now here by the shores of Lake Michigan as the City of Evanston contemplates the installation of a wind farm off its shore.

According to a draft request for information (RFI), Evanston officials are seeking partners to identify the feasibility of constructing wind turbines six to nine miles east of the Northwestern University campus. The city has already conducted preliminary studies of the site, concluding that annual windspeeds at sixty-five meters above the water average eight meters per second, more than enough to support a wind farm. Water depths in the area range from approximately thirteen to thirty meters.

The proposal was first made by Citizens for a Greener Evanston, a community group whose aim is to shrink the greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint of Evanston. The group concluded that strong, sustained wind speeds make the lake a viable site for wind power generation. Additionally, the Great Lakes offer a better environment than the ocean for offshore wind facilities, because the installations corrode more slowly in fresh water and are spared strong waves and tides.

If constructed, the wind turbines would not only be the first on Lake Michigan, but comprise the first offshore farm in the nation. A proposed project off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts is the closest to reality, but has been beset by vocal opposition concerned largely with tarnished ocean views. But if Evanston officials are serious about the plan, the project would be far from smooth sailing. Residents concerned with aesthetics, environmentalists concerned with the effect on bird population and environmental regulations on construction in the lake would all impede project completion. And that’s before the logistical nightmare of hauling ten-story windmills several miles offshore and anchoring them in up to a hundred feet of water. But the plan has to get off the table first, which it will or won’t as the RFI goes before the Evanston City Council Tuesday night for approval.

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