Offshore wind farms have the potential to create jobs in struggling states like Michigan, but uncertainty in the permitting process continues to slow projects down.(Photo courtesy of the US DOE)
It’s been nine years since developers first proposed a wind farm off Cape Cod. You can now find offshore wind proposals in just about any state with a coastline. But these are still just proposals. Dustin Dwyer has a look at what needs to change before the U.S. can tap into its offshore wind potential:
It’s been nine years since developers first proposed a wind farm off Cape Cod. You can now find offshore wind proposals in just about any state with a coastline. But these are still just proposals. Dustin Dwyer has a look at what needs to change before the U.S. can tap into its offshore wind potential.
One of the newest plans for offshore wind in the U.S. is in Michigan, a state that’s desperate for the kind of jobs that an offshore wind project could create.
But local landowners don’t want to have to look at the turbines – it’s the same problem Cape Wind confronted nine years ago. And the process for getting offshore wind projects approved remains murky.
Steve Warner is CEO of Scandia Wind, which is proposing the Michigan project. He says the response from state government so far has been confusing.
“In the absence of understanding the process and what it entails, people want to hesitate and we understand that.”
There is an effort underway in Michigan to clarify the permitting process for offshore wind. But as that effort drags in many states and at the federal level, developers are left waiting.
Russ Allen breeds and grows thousands of shrimp in a
barn in his backyard. The entire process is contained. There's no water
coming in or going out, and there's no waste leaving his farm. (Photo by
Russ Allen sells all the fresh shrimp he produces three days
a week at his market in Okemos, Mich. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Russ Allen breeds shrimp in big tanks of water that mimic
an environment off the shore of the ocean, where the water quality and
temperature are stable. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)
Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Recently, shrimp surpassed tuna as the most-consumed seafood in the
United States. Most of the shrimp Americans eat is produced in
Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Brazil. Russ Allen wants to change
that. He’s opened one of the world’s few indoor shrimp farms in the
Midwest. Allen says his operation meets an obvious market demand, is
good for the environment, and presents a new economic opportunity for
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
In a big blue barn in Russ Allen’s backyard, there are thousands of
shrimp… beady-eyed, bacteria-munching, bottom-feeders.
Here, the life cycle of the shrimp starts in the breeding center, where
two big tanks of water mimic a place 150 feet deep off the shore of the
ocean where the water quality and temperature are stable. Allen says
it’s the perfect environment for shrimp to mate.
“Like in just about all animals the male chases the female, and they do a
little courtship dance, and then the male will deposit a spermatophore on
the female and when she spawns, the eggs pass through the
spermatophore, are fertilized and then go out into the water.”
A few months later, the shrimp end up in the production room where all
they do is eat, and sometimes, if they get excited or spooked, they jump
right out of their tanks.
“They don’t like light…”
“Oh (laughing)! Do you ever have them hit you as you’re standing
“Oh yeah, that’s why we have the nets up so they don’t jump.”
Russ Allen has been farming shrimp for three decades. He started in
Ecuador, and then went to Belize, where he started the country’s first
Allen and his wife moved back to Michigan in 1990, when he started
designing his indoor shrimp farm. It finally opened for business about a
year ago, and now, he’s selling all the shrimp he produces.
(Sound of shrimp market)
Allen says his indoor shrimp farm is one of the first of its kind in the
world. There’s no waste leaving his farm, so pollution’s not an issue,
and because there’s no water coming in or going out, there’s no danger
of introducing diseases into his system.
Allen says an indoor farm also moves shrimp farming away from fragile
coastal ecosystems. That’s where most of the industry has developed
around the world.
“In a place like the United States with all the development on the
coastline and land costs, you can’t really do it anywhere near the ocean
anyway. So, if you’re going to have a viable shrimp farming system in
the United States, you need to move it away from – you know – these coastal areas.”
But indoor farms haven’t always been a viable option, either.
In the 1980s, a handful of them opened in the U.S., including a big one in
Chicago. They all failed because the technology didn’t work quite right,
and because the cost of production made them unable to compete with
Bill More is a shrimp farming consultant and vice president of the
Aquaculture Certification Council. He says now, indoor shrimp farmers
have a better chance of making a go of it.
“Coming from third-world countries, there’s been a lot of issues with
illegal antibiotics being found in shrimp. There’s been environmental
and social issues that environmentalists have come down hard upon. It’s
sort of prompted the opportunity for a good indoor system where
you could manage those and you didn’t challenge the environment.”
But More says creating and maintaining a clean, organic indoor shrimp
farm is still very expensive, and it seems an even bigger problem now
that the price of shrimp is the lowest it’s been in a decade.
Shrimp farmer Russ Allen says he’s invested several million dollars in
his business. He’s the only guy in the game right now, which he
admits is good for business, but he doesn’t want it that way. He says
he’d like to see the industry grow in Michigan, and throughout the
“In order to do that the government has got to be a partner in this, and
that has been the challenge… that when you don’t have an industry, you
don’t have lobbyists and nobody listens to you and you can’t get an
industry until they do listen to you. So, that’s been our real challenge
Allen says he wants the government to offer tax breaks and other
financial assistance to the aquaculture industry like it does to other
sectors of the economy, but he says he can’t even get some local elected
officials to come and see his shrimp farm. He says with so many
companies moving jobs and factories overseas, he thinks government
leaders should be looking for ways to help new and perhaps
unconventional industries like his, grow.
Mike LeBeau installs solar and wind energy systems.
He has put in more generators this year than in the last 10 years
combined, thanks to rebate programs offered by the state and local
governments. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)
Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in
Argentina to work out the next steps in dealing with climate change.
Seven years ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions
and greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now, a report from the National Environmental Trust says that decision
is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Representatives of nearly 200 countries recently met in Argentina to
work out the next steps in dealing with climate change. Seven years
ago, many nations agreed to reduce fossil fuel emissions and
greenhouse gases. The U.S. didn’t agree to reduce its emissions.
Now a report from the National Environmental Trust says that
decision is hurting American businesses. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Mike LeBeau installs wind generators and photovoltaic solar
collectors. His business, Conservation Technologies, is in Duluth,
Minnesota. In the U.S., there are not a lot of contractors doing this
kind of work.
“This is a two and a half kilowatt photovoltaic system.”
Two panels about the size of a dining room table stand on the top
floor of a downtown garage. The only other equipment is an inverter
– a metal box the size of a shoebox – that transforms the direct
current from the solar panels to the alternating current we use in our
“The electricity is produced here by the sun, fed into the wiring in the
building here, and any excess is distributed out onto the utility grid.”
The solar panels were made in Japan. And the inverter is from
LeBeau has been installing systems like this for ten years. Demand
was slow until a year ago, when Minnesota started a rebate program.
LeBeau has put in more generators this year than in the last ten
With another rebate offered by the local utility, LeBeau says the cost
of installing a typical system can be cut nearly in half.
And he says the increased activity has persuaded some of the
naysayers to help rather than hinder renewable energy projects.
“Now the electrical inspectors don’t have any choice – it’s being
supported by the utilities, and by the state of Minnesota, so it’s really
changed the atmosphere and the climate that we work in.”
But LeBeau says the state rebate program is a drop in the bucket
compared to what’s being done in other countries.
Christopher Reed agrees. He’s an engineer who advises individuals
and businesses on renewable energy projects. He says U.S. policy
has been piecemeal and erratic. For instance, there’s a federal tax
credit for renewable energy production. But it’s only in place for a
year or two at a time.
“When the incentive is out there, everybody ramps up as fast as they
can, and we slam projects in to meet the deadline before the credit
expires, and then everybody sits until the credit gets reintroduced
again. This has happened three times now.”
Reed says that discourages long-term investment.
Reed’s business is one of several American firms studied for the
report from the National Environmental Trust. The report says Japan
and most countries in Europe are providing major and consistent
incentives to encourage production of renewable energy. The report
says this approach is saving money, creating jobs, and putting
businesses in a position to export their new technologies and
Reed says he’s frustrated to see European and Japanese companies
thrive, using American inventions such as photovoltaic, or PV,
technology, while American manufacturers fail.
“It’s almost embarrassing. The PV technology, that came out of Bell
Labs in the U.S. We should be the world leaders.”
But some observers say the worry is overblown. Darren McKinney is
a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers. He says
the U.S. has nothing to fear from German or Japanese businesses.
He says fossil fuels are doing a good job of stoking the American
“The fact of the matter is that wind and solar and biomass and
geothermal simply aren’t ready for prime time. If someone wants to
make an argument ‘well, they could be ready for prime time if they
received x-amount of tax cuts,’ I won’t necessarily argue against that
because I don’t know enough about the technologies. What I do
know is it would be cutting off our nose to spite our energy face if we
turn our backs on fossil fuels.”
Right now, oil and natural gas get the lion’s share of federal subsidies
in the U.S. Subsidies for renewable energy sources are very small in
comparison. As other countries shift to new technologies, American
companies could be left behind.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.