SPRINGFIELD — In what was described as a first step toward developing wind energy in Lake Michigan, an Illinois Senate committee approved legislation authorizing a study to determine the best locations for wind projects in the lake.
The bill calls for an in-house study by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, possibly including universities and other agencies, to determine the best sites for lakebed wind turbines.
The study is expected to take at least two years. Officials offered no cost estimate.
The Senate Energy Committee approved HB 2753  by 12-0, with three Republicans, including Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, voting present. Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, voted for the bill.
The measure is sponsored by Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
"It simply directs the department to do a study to determine which parts are favorable, which are unfavorable, which are intermediate, and it begins to lay the groundwork for a permanent process, should we get to a place where there are prospective projects that ready to go," Biss said.
The Department of Natural Resources, which would do the study with its own funds, supports the study.
"This is the next step in what is probably a long series of steps as we thoroughly evaluate and consider whether offshore wind is appropriate in Lake Michigan," the department's Todd Rettig told the committee. "All of these early steps are necessary to make sure that we're looking at all the issues, that we're not rushing into any decisions that all of the different stakeholder groups, from the shipping industry, the recreational and commercial fishing industries, the communities along the lakeshore, conservation organizations, all have plenty of opportunity to evaluate the issues and identify concerns."
Biss said he didn't believe the "economics of this make sense right now," but that "the field is changing rapidly. It is changing internationally and domestically, in states like Ohio, for instance, and also, famously, like Massachusetts."
In Massachusetts, vocal opposition stopped a proposed wind farm development south of Cape Cod.
Biss said he believed it would be "10, 15 years for now" before there would be turbines in the lake, and that they would be at least 6 miles offshore, "and therefore barely visible from shore."
But he urged his colleagues not to block a growing industry.
"What I would be concerned about, if we didn't go forward, is that we'd be sending a strong signal to those who are making investment decisions on the research and also on the manufacturing side that this is just not a place where there is any hope, any future, in this," Biss said. "What we do, if we don't pass this bill, is we shut off an entire industry."