Plan would put 700 towers, each 40 stories tall, along St. Clair, Erie shores
BY TINA LAM DETROIT FREE PRESS
A proposal to put 700 wind turbines along the shores of Lakes St. Clair and Erie, each about as tall as a 40-story building, is provoking controversy in Canada and the U.S.
The turbines, planted on the lake bottom and arranged in grids jutting more than 3 miles out into the lakes, easily would be seen from the marinas and mansions of the Grosse Pointes, as well as from Rockwood, Gibraltar and Grosse Ile.
Some residents on both sides of the border are worried about how the windmills would affect shoreline property values, fishing, boating and bird migration. The turbines would be on major migratory pathways for birds at several major wildlife refuges, including Point Pelee, Ontario, and the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge.
The province of Ontario, which recently lifted a moratorium on offshore wind projects, is aggressively pursuing green energy under a new law because it hopes to close its coal plants within five years.
“I am furious at our provincial government for doing this,” said Maureen Anderson, a resident of Amherstburg whose family has a charter fishing business. “Who wants to go relax in a giant industrial zone?”
Storm brews over Ontario winds
A plan by SouthPoint Wind, a Canadian firm, to pepper the shores off western Ontario with 700 spinning wind turbines is setting off alarms.
“There’s already a groundswell of opposition,” said Rick Fryer, a councillor in Amherstburg, just north of one of the 13 proposed wind farms. “People are already unhappy with these on land, let alone what the sunset will look like through these in the lake.”
Charles Parcells, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park, has modeled how the turbines would look from the Grosse Pointes: like a long line of skinny palm trees on the horizon. “The view of Lake St Clair from the American shore will be transformed for the worse,” he said. Property values of expensive shoreline homes could drop, he said.
“The turbines could have a huge impact on boating and fishing on the lake, especially for those of us whose livelihood depends on the lake sustaining the quality of the recreational fishing it provides,” said Doug Cummings of Chesterfield Township, who runs a fishing charter business.
But some say it’s the future. Mark LaBelle of Clinton Township owns a powerboat and spends lots of time on Lake St. Clair. “Other countries are doing it, and if we want to stay a world leader on technology, we need to embrace some of these things,” he said. “I look at it as job creation.”
3 farms in Lake St. Clair
The turbines in the SouthPoint Wind project would be in 13 rectangular farms, three along southern Lake St. Clair and 10 along northern Lake Erie. The rectangles would be a mile out from shore, about a mile wide and 3 miles deep, with 55 turbines each.
The turbines would stick up 410 feet out of the water, atop pillars hammered into the lake bottom.
SouthPoint Wind is to submit its plans to the province of Ontario, which is pursuing large wind projects under its new Green Energy Act. The province had a moratorium on offshore wind projects on the Great Lakes after an outcry over plans by SouthPoint to put turbines in Lake Erie in 2006, but lifted the ban in 2008.
SouthPoint’s project would be larger than a similar plan on Lake Michigan near Ludington and Pentwater, which has drawn strong opposition from local residents and officials. That project was to have 100-200 turbines and generate 1,000 megawatts of power, 40% less than the Ontario wind farms.
Those two projects, plus an even larger one proposed for northern Lake Ontario, are “validation of the keen interest from wind developers to go offshore,” where wind is stronger and steadier than on land, said Skip Pruss, chairman of Michigan’s Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council. The council has identified Michigan waters where turbines could go and is working on legislation for such projects, which should be ready in March.
Officials at SouthPoint, headquartered in Leamington, declined to be interviewed, but answered questions by e-mail.
The company said many states around the Great Lakes are looking at wind power offshore, and by getting out in front with its plans, it hopes to spur wind manufacturers to locate in Ontario and create jobs.
The turbines would be near Point Pelee, a Canadian wildlife sanctuary, and the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge. “We’re in a sensitive eco-corridor,” said John Hartig, director of the Detroit refuge, which stretches along the shore 48 miles between Monroe and Detroit. The refuges are in a major pathway for migrating birds, bats and waterfowl. “Those are issues that would have to be dealt with,” he said.
In plan documents, SouthPoint acknowledges the wind farms could have an effect on animals, but says the effects would be small and outweighed by the benefits.
Gord Meuser is a member of Citizens against Lake Erie Wind Turbines, which has fought SouthPoint’s plans for turbines near Point Pelee since 2006. The group has consulted experts who have said wind farms could harm birds, waterfowl, bats and fish and the noise from them would disturb humans. The group is also concerned that building turbine bases on the lake bottom will kick up sediment contaminated with toxins.
“From everything we’ve seen, the government is plowing ahead without those concerns being answered,” Meuser said.
A spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Environment said the company will be required to do environmental studies.
Ontario is to decide
Local residents don’t call the shots; the provincial government does, said Ruth Coursey, chief administrative officer in Lakeshore, Canada, on Lake St. Clair. Coursey likes the idea of wind energy replacing polluting coal plants. “I believe the province will act responsibly,” she said.
On the U.S. side, few people are aware of the project, since no notices are required here. But some are bothered by the prospect of turbines on the horizon and whether they’ll disrupt fishing and boating.
“I think the public outcry will be huge, since visually, they’re ugly,” said Cummings, who operates bass charters. “I do a lot of fishing in Canadian waters. The amount of turbines sounds insane.”
The turbines could be a boating hazard, he said.
“If they don’t let me fish in that zone, I’ll be vehemently opposed,” said John Maniaci, a professional fisherman who works with Bass Pro Shops. “But I know I’ll have no say-so, it’s the government of Canada.”
Contact TINA LAM: 313-222-6421 or firstname.lastname@example.org