By Scott Pryor ’07, Matt Stout ’07

The State of Michigan possesses significant wind resources, especially within its boundaries over the Great Lakes. These resources, combined with recent offshore wind energy successes in Europe, have encouraged this preliminary assessment of the potential for offshore wind energy development in Michigan and the Great Lakes.

Wind energy technology has improved significantly over the last few decades and commercial offshore turbines are now approaching 3.6 megawatts (MW) in capacity. Technological advancements combined with government incentives have made wind energy fully cost-competitive with traditional sources of electricity. The advantages of offshore wind in Michigan include higher average wind speeds compared to onshore sites, proximity to population centers and grid connections, at least somewhat mitigated aesthetic and noise concerns, and the ability to transport and deliver very large pieces of wind energy equipment using a well-established water transportation infrastructure.

Although the technical impediments to offshore wind development are gradually becoming more clearly defined, environmental and regulatory uncertainties have continued to impede progress and to date there has been little serious interest in offshore development in the Great Lakes. Significant opportunities exist, however, for Michigan to learn from developers of offshore wind energy in Europe and other U.S. states. The authors of this report recommend that Michigan policy makers undertake the initial steps to:

• initiate outreach to potential stakeholders, including relevant agencies in the neighboring Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces, to develop appropriate mechanisms for interstate coordination, establish dialogue regarding development opportunities, and try to achieve consensus on a near-term approach to further research and development;
• identify or if necessary establish a permit process, at least for the purpose of siting offshore meteorological equipment for completing resource assessments;
• identify the most appropriate offshore locations for completing data acquisition and experimental and demonstration installations;
• assess offshore wind resources, to more accurately measure the available potential; and,
• promote wind turbine and equipment manufacturing in Michigan, particularly in lakeshore communities.