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Great Lakes Wind in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin's Energy, Environmental, and Economic Answer

Jack-up barge installing offshore wind turbine

Offshore wind in Lake Michigan is one of Wisconsin’s most promising sources of renewable energy.  By investing in Great Lakes Wind, we can use Wisconsin’s manufacturing and engineering know-how, put people back to work, and create turbine and transportation equipment that will generate clean energy for generations.  Wisconsin has unrivaled potential for economic development from Great Lakes Wind.

Wisconsin's Energy Answer:

Although all forms of clean energy need to be in the mix in order to move us beyond fossil fuels, offshore wind has the greatest potential to be at the scale we need.  Offshore wind employs the same technologies onshore wind does, except the turbines are more efficient. Onshore wind turbines are smaller and the wind hits buildings and other obstacles that weaken its impact before striking the turbines.  With offshore wind, the turbines are much larger and there is nothing in the way and the wind blows stronger. Unlike onshore wind, where electricity often has to travel to the population centers.  Some of the Midwest's biggest cities lie on the Great Lakes, like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.

Wisconsin's Environmental Answer: 

One of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes are coal-fired power plants that emit carbon dioxide which causes climate change Increased evaporation caused by climate change could lead to lake level drops of 1.5-8 feet, devastating habitats and our shipping industry. Other potential impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes include dead zones, algal blooms, invasive species expansion and the loss of rare species. Climate change isCoal vs. Offshore Wind an urgent problem that threatens to eclipse all the other work we have done. It is imperative to address it now and begin investing in solutions needed for our future survival. 

Continuing to burn coal threatens the Great Lakes in other ways too. We are concerned about the coal ash bluff collapse in southeastern Wisconsin last October as well as the 3.8 tons per day that are intentionally dumped into the Lake by the S.S. Badger car ferry each day it operates. Finally, coal plants also emit Mercury, a nerve toxin that contaminates the fish that we eat, as well as soot and smog that pollute our air and lungs. 

Nuclear power also poses grave risks to the Great Lakes. Wisconsin’s three reactors at Kewaunee and Point Beach have generated over 1,345 metric tons of highly radioactive waste that currently sits in “temporary” storage along the shore of Lake Michigan. These plants jeopardize aquatic life during normal operations with thermal pollution. Most disturbing of all, continuing to extend the lifespan of these 1970’s era nuclear power plants increases the risk of a tragic accident on our Great Lakes.

The concerns associated with Great Lakes Wind are no where near as devastating as the concerns associated with our alternative power sources. Sierra Club is helping support a study of the wind resource and potential environmental impacts of offshore wind development in Lake Michigan. The results will help inform siting decisions, ensuring that a proposed project is both environmentally sustainable and economically viable. The results will be out this year. Sierra Club is looking forward to working with developers to ensure that all bird, bat, fish, and other ecological concerns are met with solutions.

More research is needed, but it's possible Great Lakes Wind will have benefits to the ecosystem as well. European offshore wind farms have seen waterfowl avoid the wind turbines.  In some areas, fish are using the turbine bases to spawn.  In Germany, they are hoping one wind farm will bring back a rare lobster that was decimated by World War 2.

Installing an offshore wind turbine

Wisconsin's Economic Answer:

Great Lakes Wind will revitalize Wisconsin’s economy.  Wisconsin is perfectly poised to gain economic success in every level of offshore wind development, from manufacturing components to building turbines to shipping and installing parts, and even in maintaining the system.  Companies in Wisconsin are already building components for wind turbines or could easily be retooled to create these items. Companies in the Milwaukee area are already making turbine generators and concrete that could be used.  Sheboygan, Manitowoc, and Sturgeon Bay have crane manufacturers, wind turbine tower manufacturers, and ship builders.  Wisconsin also has some of the biggest construction companies in the country, which are already in the wind turbine installation business.   Even the old GM plant in Janesville could be modernized to produce these.  Ports, like the Port of Milwaukee and the Port of Green Bay could ship, receive, and marshal incoming parts and ship Wisconsin manufactured goods out.  After installation, we have industries prepared to maintain those farms.  Lakeshore Technical College in Cleveland (south of Manitowoc and north of Sheboygan) already has a wind technician program and could train offshore wind technicians.

At a time when we are so desperate for jobs, but we cannot keep irresponsibly destroying our natural resources to create them, offshore wind provides the perfect solution.  The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) extrapolated data from Europe and estimates that offshore wind will create more than 20 direct jobs for every  megawatt produced in the United States.  A new study shows that if we heavily invest in offshore wind energy in the Great Lakes region, between 12,000 and 120,000 jobs could be created.

Make Great Lakes Wind a Reality:

Although Wisconsin is perfectly poised to be a leader in offshore wind, we could lose our advantage if we sit on it. Other states will build the infrastructure we have and could take our spot as the offshore wind leader. 5 other Great Lakes states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with President Obama and a number of agencies in order to begin establishing permitting guidelines for offshore wind in the Great Lakes.  Wisconsin did not sign-on.  Great Lakes Wind will produce jobs, economic development, and make Wisconsin the clean energy leader it once was, but only if we use the advantage that has serendipitously landed on our laps

What you can do:

  1. Tell Governor Walker to get on board and sign the MOU
  2. Stay up-to-date with the latest offshore wind news by liking us on Facebook
  3. Sign-up to join the Great Lakes Wind team!

For more information:

   Powerpoints and videos from Sierra Club's February 8 Conference