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Obama Enlists Wind Power to Breathe New Life into Great Lakes Economy

Obama Administration joins Great Lake states in MOU to develop offshore wind powerThe Obama Administration has just ramped up the nation’s transition to clean energy resources such as wind power with a new Great Lakes wind power initiative that joins federal agencies with Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania in a regional development plan for installing offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes. In addition to supplying clean, renewable wind power to local grids, the new plan could provide the mid-continent states in this group with an economic boost from selling low cost renewable energy to other regions of the U.S.

Wind energy as a regional asset

The five states have joined in a Memorandum of Understanding that sets forth an interstate cooperative mechanism  similar to the Atlantic Wind Consortium for East Coast states spearheaded by the Obama Administration last year. Other mid-continent states have also begun leveraging their wind resources for sale to the national grid, including North Dakota and Kansas, which has been enthusiastically touting its “Grain Belt Express” wind energy initiative.

Wind energy and national security

Along with the expected participation of the U.S. departments of Energy and Environmental Protection, the Memorandum of Understanding includes the Department of Defense, the Army, and the Coast Guard. That could be at least partly related to the military’s cautious approach to wind energy, primarily due to concerns over radar interference from wind turbines. However, that doesn’t necessarily meant that DoD will only play the devil’s advocate in terms of siting and permitting new offshore wind farms.  In recent years the military has begun to embrace wind power, and more is on the way through the U.S. Army’s Net Zero initiative.

Wind energy in the Great Lakes

Wind farms have already proven to provide landlocked rural communities with  economic benefits in terms of job creation and tax revenues, with virtually none of the risks posed by fossil fuel harvesting. For communities without sufficient land for wind farms, offshore wind power is the solution. The Obama Administration estimates that the Great Lakes could provide about one fifth of the total U.S. wind energy potential, or more than 700 gigawatts (one gigawatt of electricity can run about 300,000 typical homes).

Missing the boat on wind power

Not all of the eight Great Lakes states are included in the MOU. Indiana is not on the list nor is Ohio, which makes sense given Governor John Kasich’s “that’s just dumb” position on offshore wind development back in 2010, though his stance appears to have tempered in the last couple of years.

Also notably absent from the Great Lakes plan is Wisconsin, where last March the state legislature abruptly suspended new wind power rules that were just coming to fruition after a year of hard work by numerous stakeholders. Though the legislature caved in just a couple of weeks ago and let the rules stand, the damage has already been done. The state’s wind industry – and its economy – will not be able to take full advantage of surging interest in wind power, at least not this year. The damage has already been done to the legislature, too, as a number of members are facing a recall election along with the state’s governor, Scott Walker.

Image: Wind blowing, some rights reserved by Martino!

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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