Western Wind Farms & Urban Farming in Detroit

  • Wind turbine near Pigeon, Michigan (Flickr photo by user ~jettagirl~).

There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects:


There’s been a lot of talk in West Michigan lately about how wind power could boost the region’s economy. As Lindsey Smith reports, the area could be home to several potential wind projects.

About 60 people gather at an auditorium in Saugatuck – a tourist town on the Lake Michigan shore. Farmers, business owners, and residents want to learn more about the wind farms that could begin to pop up in the region both on and offshore. These are large scale wind farms with industrial turbines that would tower 300 to 400 feet tall.

Mike Obrien has worked for companies looking to build offshore in the Great Lakes. For years he’s been trying to convince governments, businesses and residents that Michigan’s manufacturing base is perfect for the wind power industry:

“We ought to own this. We ought to own it in the Great Lakes because we can ship this stuff by water much more effectively than we can by trucks and rails. So we ought to own that. And we ought to put people back to work. It’s not the only reason we should do wind, but it’s a hell of an important one.”

But there are still a lot of people like Michael Johnson who don’t feel that way. Johnson lives and owns businesses in Saugatuck:

“I don’t think anybody would argue with you that we need this renewable energy. The only problem is I don’t want it in my backyard.”

Ann Erhardt is with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. She admits getting people to think regionally about energy has been a struggle:

“There’s those governmental borders and entities not wanting to work together. You know, ‘this is my pond and that’s your pond, keep your fish over there.’”

Erhardt says people and governments have to be more open to work together to bring wind farms to the region. Otherwise, she warns the jobs and economic investments won’t come.

Right now, the city of Holland is testing wind conditions at a potential site in Allegan County. Muskegon County has already tested land it owns and is now taking proposals for a wind farm there.

As for any offshore wind farms… those are likely a long way off because Michigan lawmakers still have to approve regulations for them.

For nearly two years, entrepreneur John Hantz has been working to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls “the world’s largest urban farm.”

But as Sarah Cwiek reports…the project’s been slow to get off the ground, which shows Detroit’s mixed feelings about the project…and the whole idea of city farming:

City officials have just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots—about five acres—adjacent to their headquarters.

The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards. There are some pretty big catches, though. For starters, they can’t sell anything they grow there.

Also, large-scale farming would require re-zoning for agriculture. That brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play.

That law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. But some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.

Then there’s Mayor Dave Bing’s effort to create a master land use plan for Detroit. Until that’s finalized…the city is being tight-fisted about its vacant land.

And then, there’s fairly widespread skepticism about the idea of large-scale urban farming. Councilman Kwame Kenayatta is one of the skeptics.

“I understand that we got a lot of land. And some of that land can be used as greenspace, that’s true. But this whole idea of turning vacant Detroit into an urban farm is not necessarily one that I have bought into.”

Hantz Farms hails the land acquisition as “a milestone.” They also say it’s “just the beginning.”