Citizens group shows virtual future view of wind farm project

This screen capture from the virtual viewer shows an approximation of what could be seen from the Baraga waterfront. In the foreground is U.S. 41 and the marina, and on the horizon many of the turbines Summit Lake Wind Project can be seen.

The Friends of the Huron Mountains (FOHM) commissioned the creation of a map showing where wind turbines in a wind farm proposed for L’Anse Township would be visible. FOHM worked with researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) to create both a two-dimensional map and a three-dimensional virtual viewer.

“View shed analysis is a pretty common technique that most geographic information system software packages can perform,” Ryan Williams, assistant director of the Geospatial Research Facility at MTU, said in an email.

Williams said projects like the the Summit Lake Wind Project, proposed by Renewable Energy Systems (RES), frequently use these analyses. RES showed the public some of their own images of potential views at a public meeting in July, but FOHM decided a more thorough and publicly available analysis was warranted.

According to Williams, the results of these analyses serve as a guide, but not a guarantee, of where a development will be visible.

The calculations are based on several layers of data from multiple sources.

“Usually, each layer requires some form of preparation before it is used for analysis and final map production,” Williams said. “We’re fortunate here because we’ve been building a repository of geospatial data to support projects just like this, so we already have data such as the digital elevation model of the UP in-house, thanks to the work of previous researchers.”

Other data had to be downloaded and reviewed before being added to the project, which can take a week or two, according to Williams.

The calculations involved in the analysis could take as much as a full day to complete on a typical desktop computer.

“Thankfully, we recently added a high-performance computer to the Geospatial Research Facility, that greatly reduced that processing time,” Williams said.

The production and publishing of a map for public viewing can take as long as the analysis itself.

“Everything combined, this could easily take a month or more of work time to complete, and the whole process including revisions and meetings can take a few months from start to finish,” Williams said.

MTU does this work on a cost-recovery basis, according to Williams. This means they charge for the use of facilities, workspace, technology resources, accounting support and more.

“As you can imagine, every project is different and as the number of locations and variables analyzed increase, the amount of time required and cost increases as well,” Williams said. “Generally though, analyses like this probably cost in the neighborhood of thousands of dollars.”

FOHM declined to reveal how much they paid for their analysis cost. The results of the analysis are available at FOHM’s website, savethehuronmountains.org.

TOMORROW: The different layers of data used to create FOHM’s map and virtual viewer.

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