A Case of the Human Condition: Build a Wind Farm — Wreck Lake Michigan

lake michigan sunset with trees. Photo by BF Newhall

Lake MIchigan sunset. Photo by BF Newhall

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.

Windmills against the sky, Altamont Pass, CA. Photo by BF Newhall

Windmills at Altamont Pass, California. Photo 2012 by BF Newhall

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.

Winding river with mountains, Yosemite. Photo by BF Newhall

Windmills at Yosemite? I don’t think so. Photo 2011 by BF Newhall

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.”

Permission is granted to reprint and reuse this column in full, with credit to Barbara Falconer Newhall and a link to this website, http://BarbaraFalconerNewhall.com/  Thanks.






  1. diann neil engblade says:

    I have to say, and without apology, that I hate the windmills that were erected in Summit township, Mason County, Michigan. We kept them out of the lake, but not out of the area. Without defending myself, I wish they were anywhere but in my backyard.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      That’s what I’m hearing from the other side of my family. I’ll take a look next time I’m there. It’s so hard to see the natural beauty of our landscapes wrecked because our society is so hooked on our cars and other energy users.

  2. Curt Winter says:

    Barbara it is clearly obvious you have never tried to look at something that is 8.5 KM out in a lake. You will probably not even be able to see [the windmills] except on the clearest of days as maybe little blobs on the horizon . . . So your statement is just hype . . . So you would be happier filling the entire shoreline with them? That would be an eye sore . . . I think you need to go back and review the facts about what stuff will look like 8.5 KM away, or maybe next time you are out in your car, try looking at something that is 8.5 KM away.

    (Barbara’s note: I have edited Curt’s comment way down. I plead guilty to not knowing what 8.5 KM looks like. Maybe he would be willing to translate it into miles for me. I have a tiny view of the San Francisco Bay from my office window. I’ll take a look.)

  3. Colleen Plummer says:

    Thank-you for this post Barbara. I find it quite amusing that David Justian posted the comment, “we’ve got to trade one change for another”??? In a sense that is correct, but just who’s making the change? We have been told more than once, that this energy is needed in Detroit (Detroit area two weeks ago banned wind turbins in thier area) and Chicago. I happen to live in Summit Township, the only township in Mason County to have this off our shores. I currently own a business in Pentwater, off our shores there too. I will state right off the bat, I’ve had my fill of the ignorant NIMBY callers. Right now a huge Consumers Power Plant sitting within view of my home to the north of me. A Consumers Power land-based wind turbine factory is going in to the east of me, also in Summit Township. If this proposal goes through, I will have them to the west of me in our precious Lk Michigan too. Surrounded on three sides. I did not choose to move to the inconvient north country for this, I move BECAUSE of this. David happens to have the same last name as an individual from Muskegon, Michigan, pushing for this project and I notice he is from that area too. Eric Justians connected/part owner to a job consortium where they stand to benefit from this project due to the deepwater port…WITHOUT THE BLIGHT. Most of those supporting this project have blinders on and have been silent when I’ve invited them to our community to discuss their position or presented opposing starting points. I’ve attended all meetings in West Michigan including the states GLOW Council meeting, except one. That took place at the public tax payers supported college Grand Valley University. It was invitation only. No public attending except for a Facebook group that was included supporting the Aegir project, which I questioned as being a violation of the open meetings act… Barbara, you hit the nail on the head and your stance in this mirrors mine. I was born in Hart, Mi, grew up south of New Orleans. Spent summers in Pentwater. Ancestors arrived here in the mid 1800’s. My father was a hardhat deepsea diver. He worked on the mighty Machinac Bridge and when finished we moved south where he spent the rest of his diving career capping oil and natural gas wells and laying it’s infrastructure transporting it inland. I am very familiar with big business… the biggest! Just look at the top five profit companies on our planet, BP is #2….. I’ve proposed, without ANY response from our government or Grand Valley U., allowing private citizens and businesses to apply for the “incentives” these wind companies are being offered. We already have wind turbine plants here in Michigan and through-out the country, one being in Manistee, Michigan. If the tax payers themselves received their own tax dollars returned to them to purchase smaller, effective and less intrusive wind turbines, we would stand to benefit much sooner from our investment in alternative energy everyone is promoting for jobs. Plants are here already. If demand rises= plants expand= jobs, installers=jobs, maintnance=jobs. Local jobs for everyone throughout the country. Everyone who took-part would also have more disposable income to spend back into the their economy, no energy bills! In my case, in my business alone, I would save minimum $20 k per year. We have been told, by experts, that our national power grid is currently inadequate to support these wind farms. With the smaller turbines, there is no need for upgrade at this time. Energy is used before it enters the grid. Any excess energy would then enter, selling back to the energy companies. I need to run it’s the beginning of summer in our little Village of Pentwater and it’s pre-Memorial Day weekend!!! Hurray!! Anyway, thank-you again so much for loving and caring so much for our little piece of the world and posting this blog… We need all the help we can get. ……………. Colleen :-)…… OH, by the way, the new legislation our state is trying to convience the public they need, will strip all reparian rights to lake front owners….. Current law gives lakeowners a say in this wind project… Isn’t that something………… AND…. the head of the states council (GLOW), is also the head of the energy department at Grand Valley University.. GLOW is made up by wind energy companies and those who stand to benefit in some capacity from wind energy… the public was left out till the very end when they moved their “dog and pony” show around the state presenting superficial presentations…. skewed by some of their very own, sitting in the audience voting for or against their proposals….yes… stacked questions too……Bye I’m late now!!!

  4. Barbara, the environmental changes in my life since 1944 are a mixed bag with the air in Muskegon no longer changing my white shirts a rust collar after spending a day downtown, and with the water in Muskegon Lake and Mona Lake pristine compared to when I would swim as a kid in the areas where sewage was dumped directly into the water. It’s better now for those things. As I got older the lamprey eels came and the stinking alewives washing up on the beach, as invasive species, and now we’ve got to be careful walking when walking in the forest because we can be attacked by wild boars imported from somewhere else. The point (finally) is that my world is changing and as much as I don’t like my scenery to change I know it will, and the decisions are made by necessity. We’ve got to trade one change for another, a la oil washing up on what US Today called the cleanest beach on the Great Lakes, Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Beach.

    • Boars? In Michigan? Omigosh. Are you allowed to hunt them? How big do they get? Do they have those fearsome tusks?

  5. Margo Mensing says:

    Wind power is clean power. No matter how conscious each person is in recycling, toting cloth bags to the grocery story, and other small but essential ways to cut energy and recycle, this is small potatoes compared with the necessity of changing energy sources. Wind is a crucial one.
    There’s no arguing with what one person finds beautiful and another horrific, so I respect your disgust at the sight of these big towers on the lake. But I don’t buy your argument that this is not NIMBY. Put them anywhere but where you grew up or looked at the sunset?
    I’m of another mindset. I find the wind towers strikingly beautiful and if I still lived there and could see them offshore in Stevensville, MI, where I lived for 18 years, I’d be delighted. They would only add to the landscape in my view plus, hopefully, cut down on gas, oil, and “Clean coal”.

    • Hi Margo,
      True the wind turbines can be beautiful. But I’d like to see us preserve as many beautiful spots in their natural state as possible. Lake Michigan — all the Great Lakes — deserve this kind of protection. Yes, this particular spot on Lake Michigan is close to my heart because I grew up there. But it’s not a back yard, it’s a beautiful place for the public to enjoy.
      I wonder, if given a chance, how would Christo place wind turbines on a landscape? That would be an interesting experiment.

  6. Nina Jordan says:

    Thank you, Barbara, for expressing eloquently your thoughts about this proposal on the grand scale industrialization of Lake Michigan. If you google the Columbia River gorge – in Oregon – along with the words wind turbines… you will see that the ridge above the gorge has been studded with turbines – forever marring the view of the Columbia River. As you know, wind energy takes a huge amount of space to produce a modest amount of (somewhat fluctuating) energy. My family and I spend much of our summers along the coast of Michigan – driving there from Texas. We have been blessed to be in that incredibly beautiful place for decades. Even though this is not in my everyday backyard – I agree that this is not a yard – but a resource to be held in the public trust. In whom do we trust to protect it? The state of Michigan? I pray that all of us who hold this lake dear to our hearts will seek seek divine help on this one!

    • Thanks for pointing out that the wind turbines don’t produce all that much energy given the space they take up. Nonetheless, I’m not against them. When placed in the right place they are quite a stunning visual experience in their own right.


  1. […] If this story resonates for you, check out “The Downside of Things Beautiful.”   For other posts about Lake Michigan, go to “Walk Around Lake Michigan? She Did It, Now I Don’t Have To” and “Build a Wind Farm, Wreck Lake Michigan.” […]

  2. […] years ago I burst into tears when I read online that a Scandinavian company was fixing to put 200 windmills in Lake Michigan […]

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