27 Oct 2011

Ohio and Michigan Race to Own the First Freshwater Offshore Wind Turbines

Author: Jacqueline Gedeon | Filed under: Science, Health, Environment

By: Jacqueline Gedeon

The race is on.

Organizations near the Great Lakes are competing to develop and construct the first freshwater offshore wind project.

Imagine five tremendous wind turbines rising 300 feet above Lake Erie, each weighing about 225 tons and generating four megawatts of electricity. Looking from Cleveland’s shore, they appear to be merely the size of a dime. Great Lakes Wind Energy, Betchel Development Corp. and Cavallo Energy are currently planning to make this $150 million vision a reality in Ohio by 2013.

Areas such as Ohio, Ontario, Michigan and New York took off from the starting line around the same time, each doing a series of studies of feasibility of the offshore wind project.

While Ontario and New York have fallen out of the race, Ohio and Michigan continue to move forward.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., a non-profit organization created in 2009 to initially build wind turbines in Lake Erie, has been doing studies for approximately five years to prepare for the wind farm.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. intends to construct the wind turbines seven miles from the downtown Cleveland shoreline, and have been doing feasibility, avian and bat studies.

In 2005, Green Energy Ohio, a non-profit organization devoted to promote environmentally and economically sustainable energy policies in Ohio, built a wind monitoring tower atop the Cleveland Water Crib, the main intake for Cleveland water supply, to continuously gather wind data.

This map shows wind power in Ohio. www.greenenergyohio.org

It stands about 125 feet above the upper deck of the Water Crib and records wind movement.

The wind speeds monitored by the Water Crib are the best yet measured by Green Energy Ohio compared to the data from ten wind tests on land, Kemp Jaycox, program manager of Green Energy Ohio, said at the Green Energy Ohio news release in 2008. The Water Crib report estimated that the average wind power density at the Water Crib is about double of Ohio’s first on land large wind turbines in Bowling Green.

On Oct. 7, the researchers at Grand Valley State University, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University announced the development of the WindSentinel, a research buoy designed to asses Lake Michigan’s wind characteristics.

“Diversifying Ohio’s electricity supply with 20 percent wind energy by 2020 would create an estimated net of 40,000 person years of employment through 2020, or the equivalent of 3,100 permanent, full-time jobs. It would also increase wages paid to Ohio workers by a cumulative net total of $3.7 billion through 2020,” stated a 2007 report from the Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center.

The wind turbines would be a potentially large impact on Ohio. There are over 8,000 parts in a wind turbine and Ohio companies develop these parts, said David Meadows, energy program developer at the Ohio Department of Development.

Opponents of the freshwater offshore wind project are questioning the turbines’ impact on wildlife, shipping, price of electricity and shadow flicker. Shadow flicker occurs when the blade of the turbine crosses over the sun.

The cost of the new electricity from the wind turbines will increase. For homeowners, the electricity bill may only increase by 25 cents per month, but for major manufacturers, it may increase by $5,000 per month said Chris Wissemann, managing director at Great Lakes Wind Energy.

“Onshore development in Ohio is still relatively new and there are some opponents that might argue that, you know, let’s see, how things go onshore. And we tap out our resources there and if there’s a need then maybe we can go from there and I think a big part of it is that it’s such a new industry in the state” said Meadows.

Another issue is that the parts needed to install the wind turbines are not made in the Great Lakes. The locks in the Saint Lawrence Seaway are not large enough to fit parts that would potentially be bought from Europe.

This causes problems with the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act which requires that transportation of merchandise between U.S. ports only be carried on U.S. registered ships that have been built in the U.S.

Ohio appears to be moving forward in the contest with Michigan, despite the delays and continuous hurtles.

“If that port of Cleveland is built out first, then whoever builds the second and third and fourth and fifth project will use that port because it is already there,” said Wissemann. “They won’t build out a new port. So the idea is it’s a race to capture the job.”

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