Thursday, 21 November 2013

Michigan's new tourist attraction? Like them or not, wind turbines
20 Oct 2013

DELAWARE TOWNSHIP, MICH.--Whether they are beautiful or a blight on the landscape is beside the point.

Michigan's wind farms are here, en masse. And travelers can't miss them. With nearly 900 commercial wind turbines dotting Michigan, especially in the Thumb where the wind is strongest and most consistent, a scenic drive can turn into a jaw-dropping experience. The Thumb alone has 618 wind turbines already operating or scheduled to go into service by next year.

"I was driving down the road when the sun was coming up one morning, and the sun hit the turbines and it was beautiful", says Scott Carr of Elkton, whose tiny community has been transformed in the last five years by 32 wind turbines. "Some people don't like them, but they don't bother me".

Wind turbines began sprouting in the state in response to a 2008 Michigan law that requires at least 10% of the state's energy be provided by renewable energy sources, such as wind, by 2015. The first phase of a high-capacity, 140 mile electric transmission line called the Thumb Loop was just completed in the region. It is capable of carrying electricity linked from at least 2,800 wind turbines.

Many things have been said and written about wind turbines. All over the world, they have changed tourist landscapes, adding strong man-made vertical elements to nature's soft horizontal vistas. Some travelers see wind turbines as engineering marvels and symbols of energy independence. Some see them as evil industrial fans ruining treasured landscapes.

Some see beauty in a sunset that makes the towers shine, or charm in a scene of a small house dwarfed by a turning blade. Other see turbines as too big and harsh--which they are, compared to a cow, a sugar beet or a farmhouse. Some are so tall that Michigan residents can even see turbines erected across the water in Canada.

At first, they dotted the landscape here or there. Then, they spread. Last summer, an operator in the Ludington and Scottville area did a lively business driving busloads of tourists out to see the turbines. That success has others asking: How does Michigan make the most of their breathtaking stature and the awe that they stir inside of us?

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