Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Research project to measure the winds of changing energy

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By NICK MORDOWANEC
Capital News Service

LANSING – As the state continues its quest for multiple forms of renewable energy, one university is focusing on the winds of change.

Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center intends to develop an offshore wind project on Lake Michigan to measure wind data, using a $1.4 million grant pushed by U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.

Although the original project plan was to place wind turbines in the Great Lakes, that plan has changed.

“We are not putting wind turbines out there,” said Arn Boezaart, interim director of GVSU’s center. “Funding has not allowed for that to happen. We are developing an offshore project to develop wind data on Lake Michigan, as well as other research information on top of that.”

He said no start date has been announced because “we are still in the process of getting things figured out.”

Development of offshore projects on the Great Lakes is an idea promoted by the Michigan
Great Lakes Wind Council. The council was created in January to help the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) analyze offshore wind development.

The center is aided by the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, an organization that promotes alternative energy, for advice about developmental options.

“The development of the project is predicated on winds and how predictable they are,” said Greg Northrup, president of the alliance, based in Grand Rapids.

How such development will occur remains uncertain.

Boezaart said, “Nobody knows how to construct such a project. We’re looking at a  variety of sources and proposals and figuring out the best strategy. It will most likely be a mono-pole structure in the lake bottom.”

The purpose of the project is to measure wind speeds and other wind-related data on a year-round basis because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pulls its buoys from the water from November through March.

“Nobody has ever done this before,” said John Sarver, supervisor of technical assistance in DELEG’s Bureau of Energy Systems and chair of the Michigan Wind Working Group.

“Grand Valley State University could provide major contributions as no actual data of wind speeds in lakes are taken because the buoys are not tall enough in height.”

The project itself will be no easy feat, Sarver said.

Focusing on offshore wind rather than placing turbines far from the shore would benefit both environment and nearby communities, Sarver said.

“There are many things to consider,” Sarver said of the original idea to place turbines in the lakes. “Fish, migratory birds, navigation in terms of shipping channels and disturbing lake bottoms are just some of them.

“And then there are view-shed issues. Do people want to look out at a sunset over the lake and see these large turbines?”

An offshore wind project could study more than just wind data.

“There’s a real interest in developing information on bird migration patterns, bat behavior patterns and climate interests,” Boezaart said. “We could even do ice studies and see how it impacts the lake.”

Boezaart said development of the center’s offshore wind project has been met with little to no criticism and lots of encouragement. “People want to develop wind energy.”

And Northrup said the project is intended to create a more alternative energy-friendly environment without harming the essence of Michigan’s Great Lakes.

“Turbines could have presented long-term liabilities – both aesthetic and environmental,” Northrup said. “We want to protect Michigan’s beautiful shoreline.”

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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