The Lake Michigan Wind Farm Controversy

Fedja Kadribasic
November 28, 2010

Submitted as coursework for Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2010

Using alternative energy sources has always created controversies and raised debates, be it political, social, or economic. Since it is difficult to claim any energy source as ideal, conservative opponents of clean energy sources were raising their voices against using them based upon the amount of time it would take for each and any one of them to pay off, thus drawing the attention of the public from the fact that the primary purpose of alternative energy sources is to protect our planet. That is why the paradox of people supportive of clean energy arguing against a certain clean energy source sounds so paradoxical; yet, that is exactly what has happened in the case of using wind energy.

Wind farms generally do not present a problem if they are built far away from residential areas or tourist locations. However, it is much more expensive to build any kind of power plant far from population centers than nearby because it is more expensive to transmit electricity over large distances than over small ones. As a result, more power companies have recently begun building wind farms relatively close to population centers and, at times, certain tourist locations. Most people are not fond of building power plants close to where they live, primarily because of noise pollution and decreased real estate value of the houses in the area. [1] On the other hand, the power companies see the wind farms as green energy sources that can only be implemented in very specific areas, and to them it seems counterintuitive that there should be complaints coming from people who desire green energy.

A case in point is HAVGUL Clean Energy and its plan to build a large wind farm consisting of several hundred wind turbines in Lake Michigan through its sub-organization Scandia Wind Offshore. The wind farm will provide approximately 500 MW of power to the surrounding area, which includes cities like Chicago and Detroit. [2] To put this value into perspective, that is enough power for several tens of thousands of homes. The original plan called for a 1,000 MW wind farm, but after complaints from the locals, the project was downsized to 500 MW. [2] The turbines would be a few miles from the eastern coastline and would be visible from the shore. Yet, many people complain that the presence of the wind turbines could adversely affect the local tourist industry as well as the real estate value of the houses there. Some environmentalists are claiming that it will disrupt local marine wildlife and the migratory patterns of birds that fly over Lake Michigan every year. [3]

On the other hand, the company makes two very strong arguments for the construction of the wind farm. [2] One is that the wind turbines will provide a large amount of cheap, clean power to the region. Because of the close proximity of the power plant to the cities, the cost for electricity would be smaller than if the plant were built further away because the company would have to invest fewer resources to make many power lines. It would also be a clean source of energy because wind power does not produce carbon dioxide as a by-product, which means that it would have a much smaller impact on the environment than a more conventional power plant. The other argument is that making the wind turbines will be very beneficial for the local economy. Because of the recent recession, the industries in the region around Lake Michigan were severely disrupted, and the area has still not made a complete economic recovery. The wind turbine project would create thousands of jobs, some of which would be long-term positions that would be created indirectly because of the wind farm. There is also a large group of the people living around Lake Michigan that are taking the side of Scandia Wind. They want the wind farm because the jobs it will provide will help their communities, which were severely affected by the economic recession. [3]

Even after the wind energy company decided to scale the project down by half, many issues still remained unsolved. There is still the question of proximity to the shoreline that has only been partially addressed: the new wind farm will be visible from fewer places than before, but there will still be large regions from which the wind turbines will clearly be seen. There is also the slighter but still significant impact that the wind farm could have on the animals that live in or migrate across Lake Michigan. Because the wind farm will now be smaller, there will not be as many positive benefits to the area, such as extra electricity and a potential help to the economy, as before. Therefore, it is obvious that simply reducing the size of the wind farm does not solve all of the problems associated with it.

From the discussion, it is apparent that there is no easy solution to the controversy surrounding the Lake Michigan wind farm. The problem itself, in fact, is far too complex to evaluate completely in the scope of this paper. Nonetheless, coming up with a solution to even this specific situation would bring us all one step closer to solving the energy controversies of the world.

© Fedja Kadribasic. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] R. Mertens, "Wind Farm in the Great Lakes? Big Potential Meets Big Opposition," Christian Science Monitor, 1 Mar 10.

[2] S. Warner, "The Aegir Project," Letter to the Boards of Commissioners of Mason and Oceana Counties, Michigan, Scandia Wind Offshore LLC, 2 Mar 10.

[3] "Great Lakes Eyed for Offshore Wind Farms,", 31 Oct 08.