Tilting At Windmills

Algoma alderman Ken Taylor and Mayor Virginia Haske stand in Haske's living room overlooking the Lake Michigan shoreline in a Friday, May 26, 2006 photo, in Algoma, Wis. Both Taylor and Haske are opposed to the prospect of implanting offshore giant electricity-generating windmills in the area.
A little red lighthouse. Boardwalks. The blue-green waters of Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon.

It's just another pretty-as-a-postcard view on the shores of this sleepy town of 5,700 a half-hour east of Green Bay, Wis. But how long the unspoiled vista in Algoma and in other communities along the Great Lakes will last is anybody's guess.

Government and industry officials are set to meet in Madison and Toledo, Ohio, this month to talk about the prospects for installing giant electricity-generating windmills out in the Great Lakes.

Advocates say offshore wind turbines would be an efficient means of producing power. Opponents fear the windmills would harm the lakes' natural beauty and hurt tourism and fishing.

"I'll fight this every way I can," said Algoma Alderman Ken Taylor, chairman of the city's marina committee. "The beautiful view we have would be destroyed. ... How many are going to come here if we have these things off our coastline?"

The rows of windmills would tower as high as 400 feet and float or stand in relatively shallow water.

Winds over water are generally stronger, less turbulent and more consistent than those on land, said Walt Musial, senior engineer and offshore programs leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor.

Major population and industrial centers such as Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Ind., and Milwaukee are situated on the Great Lakes' shores, reducing the need for long-distance transmission.

"Offshore machines can make about twice as much as onshore," said Musial, who will make a presentation at a June 14 conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's a potentially big resource for renewable energy. You want to generate the electricity close to where people are going to use it."

The UW-Madison conference will look at such things as efforts to gather wind data on the Great Lakes, technological barriers to offshore wind farms, and the political policies needed to spur their development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency are among the agencies sponsoring the June 27-29 session in Toledo. Discussions are set on how to protect birds, bats and fish from the windmills.

European countries such as Denmark and Britain have developed wind farms in the North and Baltic seas. A Houston energy company plans to build a 170-turbine farm in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas' Padre Island. An additional 50 turbines are planned off Galveston, Texas. East Coast offshore projects have been proposed off Long Island and Cape Cod.