A new study by Grand Valley State University may remind you of an old study by Grand Valley State University. The new one is on the impacts of offshore wind. The conclusion: Not as bad as people might think. The old study: Same bottom line. But will it change minds? Probably not, and that’s a (cough) shame.

The cough is from the coal that powers much of Michigan, and the Midwest. The deal with coal is that it’s been in use a long time, and some people just don’t see the harm it does.

A big wind turbine in a lake? People can see that. The noise from a turbine? People can hear that. But how does either compare to the impact of a coal plant that billows out emissions around the clock? What about those coal-plant stacks along the waterfront? Ah, people don’t even notice them anymore. It’s like living by a highway. After a while, you don’t hear the rumble anymore.

photo lake michigan beach power plant
Photo Credit: EPA

The latest Grand Valley study examined the visibility of a proposed wind farm located in Lake Michigan, six miles from shore. The report from the West Michigan Wind Assessment found that such a wind farm would be visible 64 percent of the time based on average weather conditions. This is the third issue brief (pdf) released by the assessment project, which is funded by Michigan Sea Grant (a program that’s balanced enough to combine bitter rivals Michigan State and the University of Michigan under one roof.)

Another highlight: Besides being able to see tiny turbines on the horizon 64 percent of the time, the study found it “unlikely that any sound would reach the shore six miles away.”

Erik Nordman, principal investigator for the project, sums up the dilemma quite nicely: “We found there are different expectations and uses of the shoreline, from power plants to recreation to relaxation. This information can help open up a discussion to understand the different values of the Great Lakes and whether offshore wind energy is appropriate.”

Maybe a good followup question is what’s more appropriate on the Great Lakes? Wind or coal? Spinning turbines or deposits of mercury and dead fish?

A Norwegian company called Scandia proposed a $4 billion offshore wind project in Lake Michigan last year. Commissioners in Mason and Oceana counties voted “no.”

To refresh your memory, the headline from last year was on a Grand Valley study that discounted many common fears about offshore turbines. In other words, they pose little health risk and aren’t as loud as many people believe.

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