Old Town, MaineThe Sierra Club, James W. Sewall Company and Greenleaf Advisors are building a team of stakeholders to develop a regional web-based GIS for siting wind energy projects in the Great Lakes. The proposed online system, the first wind siting tool of its kind in the US, will provide developers, regulators, government officials, NGOs, landowners and other organizations with high-value environmental and ecospatial information for use in identifying offshore project sites and evaluating the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of development in the region. 

The first phase of the SmartSiting Project, launched in early January, includes an outreach to key stakeholders to inform, identify and recruit project partners; and a legal review of the regulations affecting offshore wind development and submerged land leasing in the Great Lakes. In subsequent phases, the team will collect and develop environmental, cultural, economic and commercial datasets from a variety of sources, integrating them into the web-based GIS.  In concept, the new system’s design and data integration process will be based in part on existing Great Lakes web-based atlases and the Offshore Wind Energy GIS (OWEGIS), an ecospatial information management system created by Dr. Susan Elston at the University of Maine and refined in collaboration with its commercial partner, Sewall. OWEGIS comprises over 650 layers of coastal- and marine-related data used in siting wind power projects in the Gulf of Maine.

According to Emily Green, Sierra Club’s Great Lakes program director, “We see the SmartSiting system as an innovative collaborative tool that will provide key stakeholders with a wide range of accurate, project-specific information essential to site evaluation, siting decisions and permitting. It will also refocus the discussion about data—where it comes from, how relevant it is—to the actual critical issues of wind power development in the Great Lakes.”

According to John Andersen, president of Greenleaf Advisors, “Renewable energy is not truly sustainable unless its infrastructure is developed intelligently, beginning with siting  decisions that are well informed by scientific data, revealing environmental, economic and social values impacted.”

The first phase of the $225,000 SmartSiting Project is funded by in part by a grant to The Sierra Club Foundation from The SC Johnson Fund, Inc.