|Of Wind and Water|
Extracting renewable energy from the wind is viewed as one of the 12 steps to wean America from its addiction to oil, and converting manufacturing capacity to build wind turbines is expected to provide the "green jobs" of the future. Hope for a manufacturing renaissance here in the Rust Belt rides on the rising demand for wind power, but building commercial-scale wind farms has proven as difficult as building the coal-fired plants they would replace.
Land assembly is a formidable obstacle to terrestrial wind farms. A hundred or more turbines would cover a lot of territory, usually involving multiple landowners all interested in rent. Then there are those concerned about viewscape and "flicker," the wavering shadow cast by a moving windmill and the low-frequency hum of the turbines. And of course, not every location is suitable. In short, there is plenty of fodder for lengthy permitting delays, if not outright denial. So why not look to the water, specifically the Great Lakes?
The bottomlands of the Great Lakes are owned by the states that border them. Each of the eight Great Lakes states is a single, albeit complicated landowner that could provide designated areas for commercial-scale wind farm development. There are no obstacles to wind flow across water, and every boater knows that air/water temperature differentials are engines for wind production. And for riparian property owners concerned about views, the lakes are large enough to put wind farms literally out of sight, beyond the visual horizon.
Boaters may worry about obstacles, but the spacing of turbine towers is such that even the largest of freighters can drive right through. Add some warning lights and the turbine towers are no more dangerous than common marker buoys. And for those who like to fish, the towers serve as artificial reefs that can become fishing hot spots.
Most of the vast expanse of the Great Lakes is a desert with water on top. Little aquatic life ventures more than a few miles from shore because there is no food to forage. So exempting the near-shore area from wind farm development should address the concerns of both riparian and conservationist alike.
If the Great Lakes states are serious about clean energy and green jobs, then they should look to the Great Lakes for commercial-scale wind farms that will drive both. The states own the bottomlands and control the permitting processes to facilitate development, but so far, all that their political leaders have produced is hot air.
Dennis L. Schornack