Evanston aldermen Tuesday voted to see whether whether any developers are interested in building a wind farm off the city’s Lake Michigan shore.

The aldermen approved a staff plan to issue a request for information — asking developers to describe how, and under what financial terms, they might build a cluster of perhaps 40 wind turbines roughly seven miles east of the Northwestern University campus, and how they would navigate the complex process of winning regulatory approval for the project.

As described by project proponents, the wind farm could generate enough electricity to power all the homes in Evanston — though not enough to supply all the city’s commercial users.

The vote by the aldermen was unanimous, although Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, delivered a long list of concerns about the project that she said she’d need answers to before she’d support moving the project beyond the talking stage.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz described the wind farm concept as “uncharted territory” for the city, and said the RFI process is designed to answer questions that Fiske and other resident have about its possible impact.

Evanston architect Nate Kipnis, a member of the city’s Environment Board, said the winds across the lake are ideal for wind turbines.

Kipnis and other environmental activists believe the wind farm project could be key to reducing the local level of hydrocarbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

But Libby Hill of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club said more research needs to be done to make sure the turbines wouldn’t be a hazard to migrating birds.

And Bill Schwimmer of 1319 Greenwood St. said he opposes any development on the lakefront. A windfarm, he said, would be “an artificial intrusion into the last natural environment we have in these parts.”
 

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Windfarm plan goes to aldermen

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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20 Comments

  1. This is a great idea
    A wind farm on Lake Michigan, with some sort of Civic ownership, would be a great thing for Evanston. Evanston is already at the limits of what our local power utility can provide but we are not done growing. We need power, we need to reduce our carbon output and we need infrastructure investment; it’s clear that this project answers those needs.

    Going further beyond its power utility impact, the project would provide much needed engineering and construction jobs. Going even beyond employment, a project like this makes prudent use of perhaps our greatest natural resource, Lake Michigan, in a ‘new’ way as a open-plane wind power resource. Our little City is considering doing something that until now only European Nations have been able to pursue- that is a great point of civic pride and is a nice legacy for our children. Why shouldn’t we use our Lake for power? To not build wind farms would be like Saudi Arabia not using it’s desert to drill for oil. (Imagine the Sauds complaining that the oil derricks were eyesores or spoiling the landscape or that the cost of building deep-water ports for tankers had too long a ROI…)

    Our future economic prosperity is dependent on our wise and prudent investment today. What else are we going to spend our money on? Corporate Bank Bailouts? Wars? Credit Cards? Let’s go Evanston, the future is calling!

  2. Disagree
    Actually, we will all be spending our money on Health Care.

    But, that aside, the questions I have are:

    1) how much is this going to cost?
    2) what is the initial outlay?
    3) what will the cost overruns be?
    4) what is the contingency plan for cost overruns?
    5) what are the financial projections for profitible return?
    6) can this energy be resold?
    7) are there guarantees other communities will buy it?
    8) are there guarantees of sustained power output based on wind calculations?
    9) are there guarantees the TAXPAYERS will see one dollar in this investment in the form of savings and/or revenue share.

    We have to look at the reality of the economics of the project and make an informed decision solely based on dollars and not Liberal emotional environmental pleas and passion.

  3. End Game
    Here’s how I see this playing out. The alderman get the residents all excited about this pie-in-the-sky wind farm project and use the project to ram through a special assessment or other tax increase to facilitate a massive bond issuance so the the wind farm can be built.

    Then the City will disclose that its finances are worse than previously thought and that the proceeds of the bond issuance will need to be diverted to pay operating expenses and to shore up the pension shortfall.

    If you want to see an example of this chain of events in action, just look up LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s half-baked plan to build a “Subway to the Sea” financed by a 0.5% increase in the sales tax. They will never see their Subway to the Sea and we will never see our beloved Wind Farm.

    Just Say No.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with
      I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Somehow it’s going to turn out to be an excuse for a tax increase – but in the end we’ll get nothing.

  4. Wind Farm?
    What a novel idea! It’s just one more ploy of Evanston City Council to spend their time and our money on something frivolous so they obfuscate the real problems in this town: that we don’t have the money to pay for all their projects and they don’t know how to stop spending.

  5. NO wind farm
    This will ruin the expanse of the horizon line, the visual peace and calm of the lake, the open line of sight out across the water; this is not a good idea.

    We all need the clear, clutter-free, line of vision out across the lake. It refreshes our souls, it provides rejuvenation for our spirits.

    If we put up wind turbines, they will interrupt the visual peace and calm and bring clutter into our view. If we get boxed in with more man made structures, stuttering nature, we will have no place left to find natural tranquility in our area.

    Our lakefront is a visual break from everyday stress, noise and day to day challenges we all face. Can you imagine looking out and seeing stuff, cluttering the horizon line, bits and pieces of stuff that you just want to be able to sweep away to allow for one horizontal resting place to cast your weariness upon?

    No wind turbine can give the same gift, only the lake itself, can do that. A resounding no!

  6. Other easier options
    This initiative was part of the Evanston Climate Action Plan.

    It could be useful in reducing our GHGs, but it will take a long time, require begging a large company for development, and have an impact on the lake that some won’t like.

    The whole discussion makes me wonder why the city has not developed a renewable energy district to help citizens with financing low-carbon retrofits.

    If a property owner wants to install geo-thermal heating/cooling or solar panels, they now have to front all of the money for retrofitting and hope they will stay in the house long enough to recoup their initial investment in the form of lower energy bills.

    The renewable energy district changes the incentive structure. The district pays the initial capital costs and the assessment for the costs gets pegged to your property tax bill and is paid off over a 20-year period.

    This brings down the initial capital outlay for the property owner and–if you ever move–the debt obligation stays with the property. As it stands now, if I install solar panels on my roof and move in 3 years, I would not recoup the investment. If you tie the loan to the property, more people will switch to renewable technologies.

    My property taxes will rise immediately, but they will be offset by lower energy bills.

    The costs to the city to administer the program are minimal.

    It is incomprehensible that the city hasn’t established a renewable energy district. It could have an almost immediate impact in reducing fossil fuel energy consumption.

    1. Wind Farms & Options
      Ryan,

      In all this enthusiasm for being green and conserving scarce resources let us not forget one detail: money is also a scarce resource.

      If the property taxes go up while my energy costs go down (hopefully) is there a net save or will I be shoveling out more money?

      details….

      1. You’ll come out ahead
        Vito, the thing about the renewable energy district scheme is that THERE IS NO COST TO THE CITY!

        The municipality establishes the special service area, but it is financed by homeowners WHO CHOOSE to join.

        I can tell you one thing for sure–if you currently have a gas furnace and ComEd electricity, your energy bills will see a 2/3 reduction if you install a geothermal system.

        The main problem for a consumer who wants to shift to solar and/or geothermal is the up-front cost. A residential geothermal system is about $20,000–although after the Federal tax deduction it would be around $13,000.

        Not many people will either a) have the money to front the capital costs or b) live in a home long enough for the initial capital costs to be recouped through reduced energy costs.

        When the cost is amortized over 20 years at 5%, you are looking at a monthly assessment of around $70, tied to the property.

        It all depends on the terms of the assessment, but conceivably you should have enough energy savings to cover the assessment so if you decide to move before you’ve paid off the loan, you’ve suffered no losses.

        If you installed solar, there will be possibilities for selling your surplus power back to the grid.

        As it stands now, if I installed solar it would come out of my pocket immediately, so if I were, say, transferred out of town I would have funded a new energy system for the new owner.

        I like the energy district idea because there is really no “losers” and no general municipal funds are involved.

        1. Wind turbine and developers
          Ryan,

          Having observed Evanston over the past 40+ years I will predict that no developer will do anything unless their palms are greased with some consideration from the City. Also as someone well into my 70’s I see absolutely no payback within the time I have left. Combine that with volatile house prices there is little incentive to make those kinds of investments.

          Realistically by the time that proposals are made, evaluated, developers sought, permits obtained (maybe)from the Great Lakes, the animal rights inputs (birds), etc. I will be long gone…

  7. Lack of perspective and mis-information
    I’m always dismayed by how people can turn around a positive, progressive idea into a negative.

    No one is suggesting that the taxpayers of Evanston pay to develop a wind farm. But any developer would need to know there was community support before attempting a project such as this. A wind farm presents enough challenges without fighting community opposition. An analogy could be made with the Google fiber optic internet proposal. Google would pay for and operate a new high speed internet service- they’re trying to find a community where the investment would be easy and relatively low cost, i.e. they have the support of local government for rights-of-way, permits, etc. and consumers willing to pay for the service.

    As for “the visual peace and calm of the lake, the open line of sight out across the water”, consider the Chicago water cribs. These structures are bigger than any single wind turbine and are 2-4 miles from shore. The proposed wind farm would be twice as far out. I won’t argue aesthetics, but the wind farm will not be easy to see except in the most favorable conditions.

    Open your mind before you open your mouth.

    1. Breaking Wind Power – Some info
      Here is some information from George Will’s Newsweek column published 4/9/10:

      “Meanwhile, America, which pioneered nuclear power, is squandering money on wind power, which provides 1.3 percent of the nation’s electricity: it is slurping up $30 billion of tax breaks and other subsidies amounting to $18.82 per megawatt-hour, 25 times as much per megawatt-hour as the combined subsidies for all other forms of electricity production.”

      For more info and “perspective” just look on Wikipedia on Wind Power to see how expensive this form of power really is.

      Since we do not know what the proposals will be, the fact that taxpayers will be on the hook for this fantasy is a valid concern. The Ecolgy Center was initially funded as public grant and now is tax liability for the Evanston taxpayer.

      Though I agree that visual pollution will be minimal but what would stop all the towns up and down the lake from doing the same thing. Will the lake have a band of wind farms up to Door County?

      What is so egregious is that the City Council is facing a real budget crisis that uses the tax or fee hike as the only tool to fix it. Instead of focusing on this problem they take valuable staff time for this dumb idea.

      I am all in favor of an open mind, but not an open wallet.

      1. Real Cost of Alternative Energy
        Terrestrial energy : how nuclear power will lead the green revolution and end America’s energy odyssey
        Tucker, William
        and
        Out of gas : the end of the age of oil
        Goodstein, David L.,

        Provide excellent analysis of the energy resources available, praticality of various solutions and costs of the solutions.

  8. Great Idea for a Great Lake
    I love the idea of a wind farm, however, I question whether Evanston has the authority to build a windfarm 7 miles out. I would think the federal government has rights to those waters, or maybe the state.

    In any event, whichever level of government has the authority here should seriously consider development of wind farms in unused parts of the lake.

  9. Wind farm light pollution
    I had always thought that wind farms are starkly beautiful, but I had always driven through them in daylight. Last year I happened to be driving through rural Wisconsin at night, and noticed the landscape out to the horizon dotted with a myriad of red lights. I kept wondering what they all were. When I finally found myself driving through them I realized that they were lighting windmills in a wind farm. That was new information! I’m not sure I’d want to look out over the lake at night, or fly over it or sail on it at night, and see all those red lights. They’d crowd out the darkness, and the stars. Not so beautiful after all.

  10. Go wind farm go go go
    All You Negative Nellie’s obviously don’t know how to read. The wind farm is not necessarily going to be funded or operated by the City of Evanston ” Alderman . . .voted to see whether any developers are interested in building a wind farm . . . (and) how, and under what financial terms, they might build . . .” Those of you whining about increased to your property taxes seem to forget or don’t realize that Cook County gets most of that money.

    Frankly, I believe it would be wise for the city to own this new power source so that we could cut our ties to ComEd!

    If any of you are paying attention to what is going on in the world, you should realize that the era of fossil fuel is over and that we have a serious problem with global warming. If we plan to continue living our lives as usual, some sacrifices are going to have to be made. Those of you complaining about lights and sight-lines – can you really see anything 9 miles
    away? Those of you complaining that you are too old to get any benefit out of this must be selfish bitter people with no children and no concern for the future of humanity.

    I say (and have believed for a long time) that a wind farms are the best way, with our current technology, to solve our energy problem in the Great Lakes area. Go forward with the investigation of the wind farm go go go!

    1. go go … gone
      There is an alternative — nuclear fuel. Illinois derives 60% of its electricity from nuclear power plants. They make much more economic sense than less cost effective, and intermittent sources, such as wind or solar.

      As for owning the wind turbine farm, please extrapolate the Darwinian Award financial expertise that our City leaders have given us: police and fire pension funds, Research Park, affordable housing that has not been sold and has overruns,708 Church, higher and higher taxes, etc…

      Please get real.

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