Offshore wind farms and the future of renewable energy
Offshore wind farms have the potential to blow other sources of energy out of the water.
Despite the fact that the Department of Energy estimates that the United States has an offshore wind capacity of four million megawatts of energy, “four times the generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants,” according to Michigan Radio, nothing currently harnesses this energy in the U.S.
A recently completed offshore wind farm in Rhode Island, however, could generate momentum for more wind farms along the coasts, following the example of several European countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Germany, that have made green energy a priority.
The Block Island Wind Farm, prepared to start operating in Rhode Island next month, is what many would consider a small initiative, with just five turbines about three miles from shore. These turbines, once they start pumping power into New England’s electric grid, will have the capacity to power 17,000 homes.
If that seems ambitious, compare it to the nearly 50,000 land turbines the U.S. has installed over the past 20 years. These turbines produce approximately 5 percent of the nation’s electric power, according to the New York Times.
Illinois falls just above this national average, with wind turbines creating 5.5 percent of the state’s electrical power, according to the Department of Energy. The vast majority of this generated power makes its way to the Chicago area.
As the nation’s third-most populated city at over 2.7 million residents, Chicago inadvertently consumes energy. Each individual who gazes at the city’s extravagant skyline, charges their electronic devices or appreciates street safety lights has contributed some carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. A potential solution to reducing these carbon dioxide emissions includes implementing renewable energy sources into Chicago’s electrical grid.
One abundant renewable resource available in Chicago comes from the east: the legendary wind from Lake Michigan, which could be harnessed in offshore wind farms.
“Chicago is the Windy City, right? There will always be wind, so why don’t we use that wind?” DePaul junior and business student Kevin Zook said.
Opposition, however, exists to this idea.
One problem an offshore wind farm project could face would be the task of generating interest and investments. Rob Ryan, DePaul finance professor, said that a lack of previous data, which would develop a comprehensive understanding for the rate of return, might keep companies from investing.
Another opposition comes from an aesthetic perspective. Zook discussed his experience with wind turbines in the hills of Palo Alto, California. He emphasized how he thought that the turbines in California were “very ugly” because there was a large farm blocking a natural area. Zook, along with many others, finds wind turbines to be visually unappealing, which can be a problem when trying to pursue implementation of an offshore wind farm in Lake Michigan.
One outspoken organization, the Lake Michigan Open Water Organization, campaigns to “keep Lake Michigan wind turbine free” in the interest of preserving the beauty of its coasts.
Aesthetics are not only a visual problem, but can also become an economic problem due to the value of real estate properties along Lake Shore Drive. Zook, a resident with a Lake Shore Drive property, mentioned that in his opinion the turbines could be a problem if they were close to the shore; however, if they were installed numerous miles off the coast, then he believed that they would not affect his decision to pay the same price for his property.
In the case of Rhode Island’s offshore operation, where the turbines sit at a visible distance from the coast, residents largely supported the visual aspect of the project. Offshore wind farms are visual examples of where people’s energy comes from. In Lake Michigan, this could be a symbolic notion to residents, tourists and potential investors that Chicago cares about the environment and is taking progressive steps forward.
DePaul University has two small wind turbines located on the top of McGowan North and McCabe Hall.
Due to their location in an urban environment, they are unable to generate a lot of electricity. The turbines have not received negative aesthetic feedback, however. Instead, they are symbolic statements towards DePaul’s mission for sustainable development.
DePaul junior Sarah Nolimal, who serves as the Student Government Association’s senator for sustainability, believes that the argument should not lie in aesthetics, but rather discuss the ecological effects of an offshore wind farm.
“Though some are concerned with lakefront views, I wonder how much worse a wind farm would look compared to industry in Indiana that is easily visible from the shore while looking south,” Nolimal said.
“To me it is very important to consider how the wind turbine might affect the ecology of the Chicago land region,” Nolimal said. “Birds and insects have a large influence on the area because they provide pollination, seed dispersal, along with many other natural services.”