12 April 2012

Off-Shore Wind Farms in Michigan's Future?

Story first appeared in the Detroit News.

The Michigan Governor has the right perspective on off-shore wind energy. It's important to keep in mind there are significant technical and cost barriers that make it impractical as an energy source right now.

As Michigan enters into a multi-jurisdictional compact to investigate what's involved in building giant wind turbines on the lakes, it must avoid the temptation to risk a lot of state money on what could turn out to be an albatross. The market, free of undue government influence, should decide if off-shore wind farms are a worthwhile investment.  They should also consider the legalities of the movement, say Orlando Environmental Lawyers.

The potential is there, in theory. Michigan, with thousands of square miles of Great Lakes waters in its jurisdiction, could get significant power from wind turbines covering less than 100 square miles, according to a 2008 consultants' report contracted by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

But the best-known such project in the U.S, to date -- a billion-dollar wind farm of more than 100 turbines off the coast of Massachusetts -- will produce energy that costs way more than Michiganians are accustomed to paying.

Michigan, four other Great Lakes states, the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies are talking about regulations that would apply to such an industry. Their agreement doesn't call for the creation of any regulations, but requires the various agencies to discuss rules they already have that would affect wind projects.  Environmental Lawyers in Charleston are intrigued by the proceedings.

It's timely and appropriate, considering that a few companies are weighing the pros and cons of this kind of an investment. Should one or more of them decide to take the leap, governing agencies here and in Washington, D.C., can best help by having one clear-cut set of rules. Costs balloon when a business has to negotiate a conglomeration of regulations involving multiple levels of government.

Michigan's public universities and other organizations are doing cutting-edge research that could solve technology and cost issues that make off-shore wind generation a prohibitive challenge. As he notes, it makes little sense to develop a new regulatory framework for the prospective industry unless those drawbacks can be overcome.

The state, meanwhile, has to steer clear of subsidies or mandates that would spur the development of off-shore energy while increasing utility rates for homeowners, industries and commercial businesses.  St. Louis Environmental Lawyers agree with this assessment.

Projected power rates from off-shore wind projects in the U.S. and Canada are double those for energy from on-shore wind generation, says the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which is supportive of investigating its potential. And on-shore wind energy costs considerably more than power from such traditional sources such as coal and natural gas.

Michigan has a law requiring that 10 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2015, the added cost of which is capped at $3 a month per residential customers, $16.58 a month for commercial customers and $187.50 a month for industrial users. Petitions are being circulated for a ballot issue that would drive up those surcharges by ramping up the requirement to 25 percent.

The state needs to avoid additional mandates, but clearly can benefit from a discussion of off-shore wind generation with other states and Uncle Sam. It's always a good idea to be prepared.

For more local and Michigan business related news, visit the Michigan Business News blog.

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