by Chris Kellyand Beth Ulion
Mar 18, 2009
Evanston could be looking at a future of clean, green power along with a different view fro
m the shoreline if a proposed offshore wind farm is approved.
Citizens for a Greener Evanston, a non-profit formed by city employees and community members, wants to put the wind to work in order to shrink the city’s carbon footprint 13 percent by 2012. The city has approved a climate action plan that incorporates the proposal.
A 10-turbine wind farm four miles off Evanston’s shoreline was proposed as part of the city’s climate action plan. This one strategy has the highest impact of any suggestion to lower greenhouse gas emissions, according to the non-profit.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Steve Perkins, a founder of the group. “When you look at a national map of wind potential, the Great Lakes are in red, they have the highest potential.”
The sight of spinning propellers will evoke a sense of pride and make Evanston’s commitment to fighting climate change visible, Perkins said.
While still in the early stages of planning, a wind farm of this size has the potential to meet the electricity demand of approximately 9,600 of the city’s homes, according to the group.
“I really don’t see any negative anywhere along here,” said Nathan Kipnis, co-chair of the renewable energy task force behind the proposal.
By replacing dirty energy sources, this one project could offset close to 60 percent of the city’s emission reduction goal, he said.
For 10 turbines, the total cost could reach between $80 million to100 million, Kipnis said. Private firms, known as “wind developers,” would finance the project, arranging a twenty-year agreement with local institutions to purchase the power, according to the plan.
Electricity may cost a few cents more initially but as power from fossil fuels becomes more expensive, it will eventually be a bargain, Kipnis said.
“There has been a lot of excitement about it and that’s great, but it’s just so new,” said Carolyn Collopy, Evanston’s sustainability program coordinator.
“We are committed to finding ways to do things more environmentally sustainably,” she said. “We are committed to looking at all of our options.”
The wind farm was included in the climate action plan as one of more than 200 possible solutions for reducing emissions, which was approved by the city council in September of last year. However, with city elections in the spring it’s not sure how receptive the new representatives will be, Collopy said.
“Obviously [it’s] something that will require a lot of conversation and process,” Collopy said.
Part of this process is working with state and federal agencies to acquire necessary permits and permissions to begin moving forward. Great Lakes resources are under state control, but construction projects of this magnitude need clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When an application is submitted, the corps will look at various factors, all dependent on the details in the proposal, according to Leesa Beal, section chief for regulatory of the Army Corps Chicago district.
Two of the main issues will be navigation and environmental impact, Beal said.
“We don’t want to take a step backwards for Great Lakes protection while taking a step forward for renewable energy,” said Joel Brammeier, vice president for policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Any investment in wind needs to be paired with investment in stewardship.”
Gaps in state policy on environmental issues and on compensation for using public property has been a barrier to wind development projects on the Great Lakes, he said.
While it seems feasible for smaller wind farms to be developed over the next decade, it is difficult to picture wind competing with fossil fuels for electricity production until there is a serious constraint on carbon dioxide emissions, Brammeier said.
Although the obstacles along the way are many, information gathered by Citizens for a Greener Evanston show that the project could be logistically feasible.
The biggest piece of the puzzle is wind speed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, data shows average wind speeds on the lake off of Evanston of 15 miles per hour.
This measurement was taken at a height of 164 feet above the water and three miles from the shore. Where the turbines would be located, at 262 feet above the water and four miles out, it is expected that the wind speed will be higher, said the department.
The wind farm would also be constructed in a shallow part of the lake at a depth of only only 40 feet to 50 feet, according to measurements by the Great Lakes Data Rescue Project.
“If they can do it in Europe, in salt water, multiple hundreds of feet deep with these same units it can’t be harder, it has to be easier,” said Kipnis, a main contributor to research for the proposal.“If we started now it would take, probably, until 2016.”.
The next step is to find funding for a wind study. The rest of the process will involve environmental impact studies, determining the power purchase agreement, governmental approvals and ultimately constructing the turbines, he said.
With the proposed turbines directly off the coast of Northwestern University, group members have seen the project as an opportunity for partnerships between the university and city.
Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance at Northwestern, said the proposal was very thoughtful and contained interesting ideas.
“The university has no opinion on it as this time though,” Sunshine said. “I am sure many faculty, staff and students will want to consider it and learn more about as the concepts are developed.”
With details such as partnerships, investors and technology still undefined, it is clear that there is still much research to be done and discussions to be had before turbines can be seen from the shoreline of Dawes Park.