A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

State Rep. Timothy Bledsoe
State Rep. Timothy Bledsoe
D-Grosse Pointe Farms

What's 410 feet tall, makes a humming sound and could be at a lake near you soon?

Answer: Wind turbines — an alternative source of power that is creating a stir on both sides of the state.

Lake St. Clair is the latest target for 160 wind turbines, according to State Rep. Timothy Bledsoe, D-Grosse Pointe Farms. Bledsoe said the turbines are as tall as a 40-story building and 50-plus turbines will be clustered together in each field. He said the turbines would be three to four miles off the shoreline.

“Our peak need for energy in Michigan is a hot day during the summer. That’s when the wind isn’t blowing. The very time you need it the most is when you generate the least.”

— Russ Harding, Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

"Overwhelmingly, there is anxiety of the location of these in Lake St. Clair," Bledsoe said. "Lake St. Clair is too small and too shallow to get reliable wind during the summer months. I'm highly skeptical of the wind potential."

Bledsoe said he has sailed on the lake and said the turbines would have a negative impact on recreational use of the lake.

"It would definitely be problematic in my enjoyment of the lake," he said.

SouthPoint Wind, the Canadian developer pitching the wind turbine plan, didn't return messages seeking comment.

But answers may be hard to come by involving wind turbines located offshore in fresh water.

The Great Lakes Commission is an agency that oversees development of the Great Lakes and works with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Victoria Pebbles, program director for the Great Lakes Commission, said much of the impact of wind turbines on the water is unknown because it is a new technology. She said most of the research involved wind turbines in saltwater environments.

Communities on Lake St. Clair are not the first in Michigan to deal with the possibility of wind turbine neighbors.

There is a $4 billion plan to put wind turbines six miles off Grand Haven's shore on the west side of the state, according to the Grand Haven Tribune.

Roger Bergman, Grand Haven's mayor, said many of the questions residents have concerning financial and environmental impact have not been answered.

"So often all they are hearing is these concerns that may or may not be factual," Bergman said. "I don't have the facts. I don't know if it is true that these things do cause a problem in terms of fish and birds and things like that. ... It's awful easy to say, 'No. We don't want wind mills because we heard they are ugly or we heard they were loud.' It's important to get the facts. This could be a huge negative political football if we let it become that. It should be pretty straightforward."

Russ Harding, former director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality and current director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Property Rights Network, said the turbines would be a "huge visual intrusion."

"Part of the reason you go to a lake is for the scenic beauty," Harding said. "It's like putting an industrial complex in a recreational area. "

And wind power is not efficient, Harding said.

"Our peak need for energy in Michigan is a hot day during the summer. That's when the wind isn't blowing. The very time you need it the most is when you generate the least," Harding said. "There is no wind farm anywhere in the world that operates more than 30 percent of the time."

"Wind is not a primary source of energy."

Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said wind turbines are "part of the puzzle."

"We are potentially putting these things on a body of water that has tons of use that people recreate on and live around," he said. "We do have to have some wind energy development. We just have to be smart were we put them. We are going to put them somewhere."

The original version of this story was posted online on April 21, 2010.

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