Proposed Lake Michigan Wind Generator Questions and Answers

The intent of this site is to present factual information related to the wind generation facility that is proposed for the Lake Michigan waters west of Mason and Oceana Counties. Please send error reports, suggestions, and additional questions and/or answers to dlr@eolas.com .

Unless otherwise noted, the answers have been generated by David Roseman (dlr@eolas.com). They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any other person or group.

This page is under construction.
  1. What are the basic premises underlying wind powered electricity generation?
    1. Earth is undergoing global warming.
    2. Human activity, especially the production of CO2, is causal.
    3. It is possible to materially reduce worldwide CO2 production.
    4. Wind turbines are an effective and economically feasible means of producing electricity
    5. Wind turbines are environmentally friendly
    6. Off shore wind turbines are superior to land based turbines

  2. How certain are these premises?
    1. The book Superfreakonomics has an interesting discussion of this.
    2. Roger Underwood, Carbon Forestry: A Cautionary Note This article, forwarded by Jim Macgregor, is written by an Australian forestry expert. It is worth reading.
    3. CO2 production and global warming
      1. Bill Ribbens has shown that teh amount of CO2 produced by worldwid gasoline consumption is approximately equal to than produced by human respiration.
      2. "Unfortunately, the environmental community has focused its efforts almost exclusively on abating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Domestic legislative efforts concentrate on raising fuel economy standards, capping CO2 emissions from power plants, and investing in alternative energy sources. Recommendations to consumers also focus on CO2: buy fuel-efficient cars and appliances, and minimize their use. ,

        This is a serious miscalculation. Data published by Dr. James Hansen and others show that CO2 emissions are not the main cause of observed atmospheric warming. Though this may sound like the work of global warming skeptics, it isn’t: Hansen is Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies who has been called “a grandfather of the global warming theory.” He is a longtime supporter of action against global warming, cited by Al Gore and often quoted by environmental organizations, who has argued against skeptics for subverting the scientific process. His results are generally accepted by global warming experts, including bigwigs like Dr. James McCarthy, co-chair of the International Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II." [1]{pdf]
      3. "51% Of Global CO2 Emissions Attributed To Livestock" [1] [2]
      4. This blog has an interesting debate about CO2 and globabl warming.

  3. How green is wind energy?
    1. Eric Rosenbloom "A Problem With Wind Power" {from Jim Doyle]
      ”Despite their being cited as the shining example of what can be accomplished with wind power, the Danish government has cancelled plans for three offshore wind farms planned for 2008 and has scheduled the withdrawal of subsidies from existing sites. Development of onshore wind plants in Denmark has effectively stopped. Because Danish companies dominate the wind industry, however, the government is under pressure to continue their support. Spain began withdrawing subsidies in 2002. Germany reduced the tax breaks to wind power, and domestic construction drastically slowed in 2004. Switzerland also is cutting subsidies as too expensive for the lack of significant benefit. The Netherlands decommissioned 90 turbines in 2004. Many Japanese utilities severely limit the amount of wind-generated power they buy, because of the instability they cause. For the same reason, Ireland in December 2003 halted all new wind-power connections to the national grid. In early 2005, they were considering ending state support. In 2005, Spanish utilities began refusing new wind power connections. In 2006, the Spanish government ended — by emergency decree — its subsidies and price supports for big wind. In 2004, Australia reduced the level of renewable energy that utilities are required to buy, dramatically slowing wind-project applications. On August 31, 2004, Bloomberg News reported that “the unstable flow of wind power in their networks” has forced German utilities to buy more expensive energy, requiring them to raise prices for the consumer.”
      1. pdf version
      2. Concise version
      3. Very conscise version
        "The biggest problem with large-scale wind-powered electricity generation is the grid. A home system can work well because the fluctuating output (even in the windiest places it is highly variable) can be regulated by batteries, and another source (the grid or a gas-powered generator) is tied in to kick in when need be. This is the model where larger systems work in isolated villages, too.

        But industrial-scale wind plants designed to supply the grid do not work well, even where the wind is superb. The grid is meant to respond to demand, constantly modulating the various suppliers to match the demand exactly. Wind plants respond only to the wind, forcing the more controllable "conventional" plants to change their output in response to wind production as well as to grid demand. And the need to respond within seconds to a drop in wind production requires a plant that runs more inefficiently than one that could run if the grid didn't have to cope with the unpredictable fluctuations of significant wind-powered sources. That is to say, wind farms may actually cause more fossil fuel burning.

        The huge turbines designed for the grid can't work without electricity from the grid, either. They produce on average 25%-35% of what they are capable of, but they are using electricity (apparently free) 100% of the time.

        And a problem about sites with good steady strong winds is that they are too windy. The turbines can't handle strong gusts and automatically shut down (typically around 55 mph). So "good" sites turn out to be very little more productive than less windy ones."

      1. Critism of the article
        1. Archived
      2. Response by Eric Rosenbloom
        1. Archived
    2. "Wind Turbines in Europe Do Nothing for Emissions-Reduction Goals" Der Spiegal 2/1/2009
    3. "Growth in new wind energy installations in Europe is forecast to shrink from 14 per cent in 2010 to 1 per cent this year, according to analysts at Citigroup." Financil Times 5/2/2011 (ft.com)

  4. Who is proposing the offshore wind generator industrial park ("windfarm")?
    1. A Norwegian and Danish-based consulting firm named Scandia Wind LLC. The project name is Aegir . Scandia is affiliated with Havgul, a Norwegian firm. Havgul list six projects, one of which has been approved. According to the Havgul website, that project, Havsul I, has been "...sold in its entirety to Vestavind Kraft AS.".

  5. What is their actual experience and track record?

  6. What is the proposed location?
    1. The so-called wind farm is proposed to occupy 100 square miles of Lake Michigan just offshore from Mason and Oceana Counties. Aegir's map is here. A map showing Lake Michigan depths, the proposed wind facility, shipping lanes, etc is here.

  7. The proposed "windfarm" appears to impinge on two shipping lanes.
    1. The GLOW report states that there should be a 1 mile buffer area for "Recommended course lines," defined as "A designated upbound and downbound path through open water primarily used for commercial shipping traffic and so noted on a nautical chart."
    2. How do the developers propose managing the shipping lane issue?
    3. Were the shipping lanes included in the map layers used by GLOW?
    4. Does a shipping lane have a designated width? If there is a 1 mile buffer on either side of a designated shipping lane? Would the total width be 2 miles, or more?

  8. What is the height and rotor diameter size of the proposed wind turbines?
    1. General information
    2. The developers are proposing either 200 5 MW generators or 100 10 MW generators.
      1. From Rick Jordan:
        The size of the 10 MW from Clipper Wind of California are:
        Total height to tip of vertical blade = 175 meter (574 feet)
        Blade = 70 meters (230 feet)
        Weight Not released, but expected to be approximatedly the same as 5-6 MW units.
        Above data confirmed with Clipper
        Availability = Late 2011
        References [1] [2] [2--Archived]
      2. Clipper gearbox problems [cited by Tom Sturr]
    3. Drawing from Tom Sturr
    4. Timeline of turbine heights [1]

  9. How far out would the turbines need to be to be invisible? Wikipedia has a good discussion of this. The horizon exists because of the generally spherical shape of the earth. The distance at which an object is visible is based on the height above the surface of the observer and the object. For our purposes, we can use the formula



    using feet for height and miles for distance.

    The following table gives distances for several heights:
    height distance
    6 3.0
    50 8.7
    574 29.3

    To find the distance offshore that a turbine would be invisible, add the distance to the horizon for the observer and the object. For a person with a 6 foot eye level, standing on a 50 foot ridge and viewing a 574 foot turbine, the tubine would be invisible if it were 3.0 + 8.7 + 29.3 = 41 miles. For the same person standing on the shore, the distance would be 3.0 + 29.3 = 32.3 miles.

  10. Are there any wind generator "farms" that are as close to shore as that proposed by Scandia?
    1. I have not seen any which were nearly this close. Please help populate the following table:



      Project Developer Location Height Number of turbines Status Power capacity Nearest distance offshore
      Aegir Scandia LLC Oceana and Mason Counties, Michigan 500 feet + (higher if 10 Mw generators) 100-200 Proposed 1000 Mw < 2 miles
      Cape Wind Energy Management Inc. (EMI) Nantucket Sound Proposed 420 Mw 5 miles to Hyannis, further to other locations
      Delaware BluewaterWind Atlantic Ocean off Delaware coast Proposed (Not stated on website) 13 miles
      Havøygavlen Wind Park Arctic Wind A/S Norway 80 meters (to turbine?) 16 40 Mw
      Havsul I Vestavind Kraft ASA western Norway's Sandoey Township 395-foot rotors 78 To start construction 2011 at earliest 1 terawatt (per their website)
      Probably should be gigawatt
      4-7 miles
      A list of offshore windfarms is here.

  11. How deep can Scandia go? At the Shelby public meeting, Mr Dirdal showed a diagram with platforms extending many hundreds of feet below the water. [1]

    The deepest of these platforms is the Troll A. Here is a descriptionfrom Wikipedia: "The Troll A platform has an overall height of 472 metres and weighs 656,000 tons and has the distinction of being the tallest structure ever moved by mankind. The platform stands on the sea floor 303 metres (994 feet) below the surface of the sea and each of the continuous-slip-formed[1] concrete cylindrical legs has an elevator that takes over nine minutes to travel[1] from the platform above the waves to the sea floor. The walls of Troll A's legs are over 1 metre thick made of steel reinforced concrete formed in one continuous pour (See Slip forming)[1] and each is mathematically a joined composite of several conical cylinders that flares out smoothly to greater diameters at both the top and bottom, so each support is somewhat wasp-waisted viewed in profile and circular in any cross-section (see picture at right). The concrete legs must be able to withstand intense pressure so are built using a continuous flow of concrete, a lengthy process that takes 20 minutes per 5 cm laid.

    The four legs are joined by a "Chord shortener", a reinforced concrete box interconnecting the legs, but which has the designed function of damping out unwanted potentially destructive wave-leg resonances by retuning the leg natural frequencies.[1](Not present in the picture at right.) Each leg is also sub-divided along its length into compartments a third of the way from each end which act as independent water-tight compartments.[1] The legs use groups of six 40 m (131 ft) tall[1] vacuum-anchors holding it fixed in the muck of the sea floor."

    On their website, they state that "...technology advances in wind turbine foundations allow for wind turbine siting in water depths up to 80 meters." [Archived copy of website here.]

  12. What is the nature of the shoreline near other windfarms?
    1. Developed?
    2. Residential?
    3. Sandy beaches?
    4. Recreational uses?

  13. The proposed "windfarm" appears to be much closer to shore than discussed in the GLOW report.
    1. The GLOW report on page 27 lists a 6 mile buffer requirement from "Shoreline," defined as "The fringe of land at the edge of a Great Lake (accounts for viewsheds, as well as historic and ceremonial use properties, and near-shore activities (e.g., recreational boating)"

      A footnote cites a University of Delaware study, which was apparently based on renderings of shorter generators. It says that a British study recommended 5-8 miles, and a Danish study recommended at least 8 miles.
    2. Are there any other windfarms in the world, constructed or proposed, that are as close to shore as that proposed by Scandia?
    3. The Reference page of this website has further documentation regarding this issue.

  14. Do the property owner's riparian rights offer any protection?
    1. In the GLOW report, they indicate that the only means for a private entity to obtain a right to utilize the lake bed is to obtain the rights from the state pursuant to a specific state statute – but that the statute then states that only a riparian owner is entitled to obtain such rights under the statute. And, under common law, a riparian owner is generally defined as one who owns property that abuts the water. In layman’s terms, under current Michigan law, only those parties that own lakefront property have the right to obtain a lease from the State to use the lake bed. Given this limitation, the Council suggested in its report that this statute be changed to allow any party to obtain such rights. My understanding was that, unlike inland waters, the rights don't extend beyond the water's edge. However, the GLOW report discusses new legislation to remove riparian rights. The Meeting 5 report suggests that this legislation should be pushed through in Q1 2010.

  15. What are the roles of the various government entities?
    1. The state and the US Army Corps of Engineers appear to have primary jurisdiction
    2. Do the Townships or Counties have a formal role?
      1. No, but it would help to have the local communities object to such a project.
    3. Is Lake Michigan not a federal waterway?
      1. No, it’s owned by the adjoining states and Canada.
    4. Is the Army Corps of Engineers involved?
      1. Yes, their approval is necessary.
    5. Does the State have ownership to the middle of the lake?
      1. By and large, yes.
    6. Can the State make a unilateral decision?
      1. No, but if they pass a law stating that wind farms are not permitted on the lake or at least in areas where they’d be visible from shore, it would pre-empt any other authority.
    7. If local governments play a role, should we encourage local voter registration?
      1. See above. Check for tax consequences.

  16. What is the magnitude of Michigan's energy requirements?
    1. According to GLOW, "Total electricity consumption across all sectors in Michigan during 2007 was 109,297 million MWh (DOE/EIA, 2009)." [Errata November 9, 2009 Exhibit 13]
      Note that this is probably incorrect. The US Energy Information Administration lists this as 119,309,936 megawatthours. The "million" in the GLOW report should probably read "thousand."
    2. The Michigan Energy Commission reports that the peak (summer) electricity production is 30,189 Megawatts.

  17. What percentage would the proposed project provide?
    1. Assuming 30% efficiency of 1000Mw:
      hours per year = 365.25 x 24 = 8766
      Mwh per year = 8766 x 1000Mw x 0.3 = 2,629,800

      fraction of consumption supplied by proposed wind farm = 2,629,800 /119,309,936 = 0.022
      = 2.2 percent

      fraction of peak production supplied by proposed wind farm = 300 / 30,189 = 0.0099
      = approx 1 percent

  18. Why not build wind generators much further offshore?
    1. Deep water, floating patforms work for offshore oil rigs, and are being developed for wind power. See also this.
    2. What are the costs?
      1. According to a Wikipedia article, "The capital costs for the wind turbine itself will not be significantly higher than current marinized turbine costs in shallow water."
    3. WindFloat also has an approach.
    4. From MIT "Floating Offshore Wind Farms- Demand Planning and Logistical Challenges of Electricity Generation"
    5. From NREL and MIT "Engineering Challenges for Floating Offshore Wind Turbines"
    6. MIT studies regarding floating platforms [thanks, Rob Roseman]
    7. 10 KW floating turbine to be installed in 2011
    8. Deployed StatOil floating turbine

  19. What special factors might influence platforms that rest on the bottom of the lake?
    1. Is the bottom sandy? If so, will it wash out?
    2. The Lake occassionally freezes over, and there are ice floes. Are the structures immune to this?

      A quote from Consumer's Energy :

      "The utility does not expect to pursue construction of wind farms in the lower Great Lakes, which can freeze with ice more than four feet thick. Holyfield notes that the same strong winds that are great for electricity generation can move ice flows with deadly force.

      “Last year, the wind blew ice flows onshore with such force that half-dozen homes were crushed on the shore of Lake Michigan,” he says, adding that protection of turbine towers from such pressure and stress is a major concern. "

  20. Would the structures be immune to being struck by an ore boat?

  21. When tax dollars are spent on subsidies, they are unavailable for other uses. What are alternatives?
    1. "A Benefit-Cost Analysis of a Program to Protect and Restore the Great Lakes" This very interesting study was recommended by Steve Lewis.
      1. Archived

  22. The turbine tip speed would exceed 200 mph. If a tip separated, how far could it be thrown? How far would ice build-up on the rotors be thrown?

  23. Where can I find an overview of Michigans energy production and use?
    1. The Michigan Energy Commission has a comprehensive summary

      "Michigan coal-burning power plants generated 60 percent of the electricity used in Michigan in 2006."

      "Michigan's three nuclear power plants, D.C. Cook Units 1 and 2, Fermi 2 and Palisades, supply 26 percent the State's electricity generation; natural gas fired generation provides about 10 percent with the remaining 4 percent provided by hydroelectric and renewable energy."]
    2. US Energy Information Administration

  24. What percentage could ultimately be provided by wind power?

  25. What are the economics of wind power production?
    1. How much money will actually come to the local economy, and the local and state government?

    2. How many jobs will actually be generated? Of these, how many will be local? Permanent?

    3. What is the poetntial impact on tax revenues?
      1. Steve Lewis has built a spreadsheet allowing a user to examine several variables that affect Mason and Oceana County property tax revenue. His bottom line is "Based on these reasonable assumptions, the impact on property tax revenue is startling. Over a 30 year period the average annual cost is $3.4 million ($102 million / 30)."
        1. Introduction
        2. Spreadsheet

  26. Who will pay for removal when the turbines are no longer econimically feasible?

  27. What is the projected lifespan of the windfarm?
    1. According to the Delaware website, "Over the minimum 25-year life span of a wind park..."
    2. Without government incentives, is the power production sufficiently economical to maintain the turbines?

  28. What are the alternatives to wind turbines in the foreseeable future?
    1. Build wind generators inland? On federal properties?
    2. Are there less intrusive designs, such as horizontal rotors?

  29. What are the other alternatives?
    1. GE and DTE are working on a 1550 MW nuclear plant near Detroit. This would be three to four times the projections for the wind farm.
    2. Are underwater turbines possible? An Australian company, BioPower, is working on this approach.
    3. Others??

  30. In addition to the visual pollution, what are the other environmental impacts?
    1. Lighting
      1. FAA "Obstruction Marking and Lighting"
    2. Noise, from turbines and from 100-200 foghorns
    3. Bird migration patterns
      1. Michigan Audobon Society Important Bird Areas
    4. Fishing
    5. Oil spills
    6. Mollusk populations and impact on water clarity
    7. Bat population. [suggested by Christina McVie] I am told that the noise from the turbines attracts bats, and that bats are important predators of insects that can damage agriculture.
    8. Migratory pollinators (moths, butterflies, etc.) [suggested by Christina McVie]

  31. What is the Serra Club's position?
    1. Wind Siting Advisory. See especially Section 5. OFFSHORE WIND DEVELOPMENT. [cited by Jim Doyle]
      1. Archived pdf

  32. Will nearshore wind turbines affect wave action and beach/dune erosion?

  33. Given the central role of the pump storage facility and transmission lines, what is their capability and status?
    1. Storage capability, expressed in MWhours
    2. Life expectancy, leaks, liner status, etc
    3. Capacity of transmission lines
    4. Longevity of transmission lines

  34. What is the importance of proximity to the pumped storage facility?
    1. All electricity to and from the facility now comes from the electrical grid. Would it not serve the same purpose for wind generators, regardless of where they connect to the grid?

  35. What is the importance of proximity to transmission lines?
    1. Harald Dirdal, testifying at meeting 5 of the Great Lakes Wind Council, had the following quote::
      "He also cautioned that the council should be careful not to make too many assumptions on the topic of transmission. He said that when a project builds momentum, the transmission will often become available and viable." However, at the West Shore meeitng, I understood him to say that the proximity to the transmission lines was a very important factor.

      I asked him about this at the Shelby meeting. He said his comments at GLOW related to his Texas project. I reviewed his GLOW quote. There is no mention of Texas, and the comment would have been completely out of context for that meeting.

  36. At the Shelby meeting, I understood Mr Dirdal to say that he had a plan to bypass the Jones Act. What is that Act?
    1. From the Wikipedia article,
      "The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261) is a United States Federal statute that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.

      Section 27, also known as the Jones Act, deals with cabotage (i.e., coastal shipping) and requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed wholly by U.S. citizens. The purpose of the law is to support the U.S. merchant marine industry, but agricultural interests generally oppose it because, they contend, it raises the cost of shipping their goods, making them less competitive with foreign sources. [1]

      In addition, amendments to the Jones Act, known as the Cargo Preference Act (P.L. 83-644), provide permanent legislation for the transportation of waterborne cargoes in U.S.-flag vessels.

  37. Does the phrase "feasible and prudent alternative" apply to the proposed windfarm? One of the favorite phases used by the State, with reference to Special Exceptions to such regulations as wetland, critical dunes, high risk erosion....etc.... is the phase "feasible and prudent alternative". Any application to the State for a Special Exception must undergo the examination of the agency to meet this catch phrase, and they have used it in every case when/if taken to the Appeals Courts.

    Simply stated, when a project has a "feasible and prudent alternative" location or method, then the State will impose their rights to move the project to meet these less invasive standards. This is particularly important in Critical Dune, since the State does NOT consider it a "taking" if they allow the "use" under the mandates of the alternative, therefore it is a partial taking is the eyes of most, but the State only recognizes a "taking" when it is a full taking, meaning there would be no ability to use the property under their standards, which rarely happens since at that point the State would then be required to buy the property from the individual.......

    Any wind project proposed in Lake Michigan clearly has a "feasible and prudent alternative", such as build the wind farm on land.

    Norman Dodds

  38. It seems to me as if the developers' renderings underestimate the visual impact, as if viewed through a wide-angle lens. Also, they don't demonstrate the motion of turning rotors. Can more accurate rendering be accomplished?