Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Offshore Wind in Illinois Waters of Lake Michigan: The Path Forward

2012 was a big year for offshore wind in Illinois.  While there are no wind turbines in the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan, the concept of installing turbines in Lake Michigan was discussed and debated. This conversation then became a report by the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Advisory Council (“Council”). The Council, chaired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, convened a series of meetings over the ensuing 11 months to explore the potential for wind power installations in Lake Michigan.  Issues discussed by the Council included identifying areas suitable for offshore wind installations, what lessons can Illinois learn from other domestic or foreign offshore wind projects, and how the state should be compensated for offshore wind turbine installations.  In June 2012 the Council issued a report outlining a permitting process for the installation of offshore wind turbines and identifying turbine siting factors.  The report is entitled the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Report and a copy can be found at

Illinois identified many of the same factors common to other jurisdictions considering the possibility of siting wind turbines.  Factors like the possibility of adverse impacts to bird and bat species, fish or other aquatic species, scenic views and commercial shipping and recreational boating were all discussed and included in the final Report.  The Council found that several comprehensive studies of avian impacts from European offshore wind installations provided a more nuanced picture of avian interactions with wind turbines than previously understood.  In many cases individual avian species will exhibit completely different behaviors when faced with a wind turbine array.  Some species will fly between turbines, some above or around turbines, and others may avoid areas altogether.  Every type of impact will need to be considered if wind turbines are proposed for installation in the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan.  What some Council members may have found surprising was the level of winter-time use of offshore areas of Lake Michigan by waterfowl. 

Illinois has experienced significant levels of investment in land-based wind turbines.  According to the American Wind Energy Association Illinois is ranked 4th in comparison to other states in current generating capacity of installed wind turbines.  Only California, Texas and Iowa have seen greater levels of wind turbine installation.  While no turbines have yet been installed in Lake Michigan, the southern end of Lake Michigan may be an attractive location for offshore wind siting in the future because of the proximity of Chicago, northwest Indiana and surrounding load centers.  As Illinois and other jurisdictions continue to move towards creation of offshore wind generating capacity, efforts like the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Energy Report will be important steps in ensuring the correct balance between economic development, domestic energy production and the protection of human values and the environment.

Todd Rettig

Acting Director
Office of Realty and Environmental Planning
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
New Co-chair of the GLWC Offshore Workgroup

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