TRAVERSE CITY — Two northern Michigan legislators are pursuing significant restrictions on offshore wind power in Michigan and have drawn criticism from those who view wind energy generation as a source for new jobs on the state’s horizon.
Reps. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, and Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, co-sponsored House Bill No. 4778 this week. The bill would prevent Michigan from entering into a lease or deed for the siting, placement or construction of a wind turbine on Michigan’s unpatented or submerged lands. The legislation also would prevent leasing similar lands for an electric transmission line — a critical component for offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes.
MacMaster said he’s not against wind power. The former television meteorologist said he’s concerned, though, that wind turbines erected in the Great Lakes could be destroyed by ice floes, leaving taxpayers liable.
“I like the idea of wind energy,” MacMaster said. “I think it’s a great idea, but I don’t think its been fully vetted in the open Great Lakes.”
Franz did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Clean energy advocates and experts in Michigan called the proposed legislation a bad idea. Arn Boezaart, director of the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, said the legislation is “just designed to complicate and limit any activity.”
“I don’t find it to be particularly constructive legislation,” said Boezaart. “(It’s) is designed to speak to ... a specific and narrow set of constituents that are pushing for this.”
Hugh McDiarmid, a spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council, called the proposed legislation “foolish beyond description.”
“Outlawing basic research sends the message to the nation that Michigan is closed for business and closed to entrepreneurship, that we’re hostile to ingenuity,” McDiarmid said.
Boezaart runs the Grand Valley State-backed renewable energy center in Muskegon, considered a state smart zone for the development of alternative and renewable energy sources. He said wind energy in general is making significant strides in Michigan, thanks to the state’s renewable energy mandate, which requires energy producers to produce 10 percent of its power with clean energy by 2015.
He points to Consumers Energy’s new wind farm in the Ludington area as an example of the viability of wind power in Michigan.
“We’ve come a long way actually with wind,” Boezaart said. “As recently as five years ago, the only place we had wind was in the Thumb.”
Attempts at wind power development in northern Michigan have had mixed results. The Stoney Corners wind farm by Heritage Sustainable Energy near McBain is considered a Michigan success story, with 29 wind turbines and installed capacity of 60 megawatts. But a proposal by Duke Energy to erect a 200-megawatt wind farm in Benzie and Manistee counties faltered in 2012 in the face of what was at-times virulent local opposition.
The company cited a lower-than-expected demand for renewable power in the state’s wholesale market when its officials scrapped the project.
Boezaart said offshore wind projects are expensive but research is progressing. Several Great Lakes states recently reversed course in turning away from the pursuit of offshore generation, in part because of natural gas markets and in part because of a change in political winds.
“Right now, as of today, there is not a single piece of offshore wind energy in place anywhere in the Continental United States,” he said. “That is being actively pursued on the East Coast.”