By Barbara Falconer Newhall
I saw the map and burst into tears. It broke my heart.
Windmills, a hundred square miles of them, are being proposed for Lake Michigan – a couple miles off shore. In the lake.
Beautiful, serene, life-giving Lake Michigan.
My cousin had sent me the link to the website. She wanted me to know that Scandia Wind LLC of Sweden was proposing to build 200 off-shore wind turbines near Pentwater, Michigan – blighting what for me and for a lot of other people is the most beautiful spot on Earth: the stretch of Lake Michigan north of Grand Rapids between Ludington and Silver Lake.
If built, the Scandia Aegir Project would be the biggest off-shore wind farm in the world.
Windmills, a lot of them – at the exact spot I spent my summers as a kid. Where my father was born and is buried. Where he and my mother met. Where grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family lived, reared children and died.
I’m not objecting to wind turbines. Windmills are a great source of clean, sustainable energy. I’ve seen them and they are beautiful in the way so many man-made structures are beautiful – the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station.
The Altamont Pass here in the San Francisco Bay Area is dotted with thousands of wind turbines. Every time we drive past those tall, steely towers facing resolutely west to capture the winds coming in off the Pacific, they take my breath away. They are stunning.
But they don’t belong on – in – Lake Michigan.
I’m a seriously green person. People make fun of how green I am.
The last time my husband and I bought cars, we both opted for hybrids, at considerable extra expense. We also have those (to me awful) CFL light bulbs all over the house.
Not only that, we have five – count ’em five – different waste cans in our kitchen, one for plastic bags, one for paper, one for bottles and cans, one for compost and one – very small can – for actual trash that can’t be recycled here in Oakland.
Every time I toss a tea bag into the compost bin, I think, I’m doing this for my planet. I’m doing it for Lake Michigan.
I know. Lake Michigan is two thousand miles from our house in Oakland. My old tea bag has no chance of ending up anywhere near Michigan, let alone in Lake Michigan.
But, I think as I so carefully send the tea bag off to be composted, that if I take care of California, hopefully, maybe, with any luck, somebody back home will take care of Lake Michigan.
My green credentials established, I will now rant and weep at the prospect of wind turbines along the coast of my beloved Lake Michigan.
There are all kinds of solid, sensible arguments against this project. The people at a citizens group called the Lake Michigan P.O.W.E.R. Coalition (Protect Our Water, Economy and Resources) have spelled them out intelligently on their website.
The sight of hundreds of wind turbines spinning on the lake can do serious damage to the local tourist industry, they point out, as well as endanger local water life, boating and fishing. And it’s not at all clear that the project will bring anything but temporary, unskilled jobs to the area.
I would say, yes we need clean energy. Yes, we need alternatives to coal, nuclear energy and foreign oil. But – is endangering and defacing Lake Michigan and turning 100 square miles of it into an industrial district the answer?
What do we mean by green, anyway?
Some will say this is just another case of NIMBY — Not in my back yard.
But Lake Michigan is not my back yard.
Lake Michigan is not a back yard.
It is a natural wonder as precious as Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Old Faithful.
It’s Nature with a capital N. It is the natural world at its most exquisite. It a vibrant, loving presence that has nourished the spirits of the people who have lived along its shores for millennia.
It’s a place where people finish dinner and, instead of going to a movie or watching TV, they walk down to the beach with their folding chairs to sit and watch the sun set – and remind themselves that they live in a world created by an extravagant God.
Whether we allow this particular – to me holy – place on earth to be violated by a 100-mile-square stand of wind turbines towering 300 feet above the lake, beautiful as those turbines can be in their own steely, graceful way, is not a subject I’m willing to debate.
Would Californians countenance a stand of wind turbines atop Half Dome or on the mountains around Lake Tahoe? Would Floridians allow them anywhere near the Florida Keys or the Everglades? For that matter, would the Swedes allow them on the beautiful lakes that wind their ways through Stockholm?
Automobiles. iPhones. Microwaves. Dishwashers. What’s the point of all that energy-consuming stuff if, once we have arrived at our destinations, texted our friends, nuked the dinner and dispatched the dirty dishes — what’s the point if there’s no beauty left in the world?
Another story about Lake Michigan: “The Center of the Universe.” Also “The 1000-Mile Walk Around the Lake I Didn’t Take.”
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