LEEDCo leading way for Great Lakes wind energy

January 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The push to harvest wind energy off the shores of Lake Erie has gained momentum in recent weeks.

Following the U.S. Department of Energy’s Dec. 12 commitment of $4 million to a project known as “Icebreaker” – an effort to build five to nine wind turbines seven miles off the Cleveland coast to power 6,000 to 8,000 homes – it was announced that Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, the Cleveland-based nonprofit leading the project, had received $1.35 million in additional, private funding commitments.

“It’s fantastic,” said LEEDCo President Lorry Wagner. “We’ve been working with other groups, for example the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative, to foster development throughout the Great Lakes, so it really does feel good to be in this position.”

Much of that additional funding was committed by The Cleveland Foundation, Wagner said.

“They have supported us for the last three years, and they have supported offshore wind since 2005, so we felt really good that the Department of Energy validated their long-term investment – and then (the foundation) followed up with another grant,” he said. “The whole goal behind this was to always stimulate a new industry for the region, and that’s based on what’s going on in Europe, where right now it’s over a $200 billion industry. When The Cleveland Foundation and other leaders in Cleveland came up with this, the thought was ‘let’s find something we can grab on to that fits our skill set.’”

That workforce skill set includes manufacturing, engineering and research, said Wagner, adding that Greater Cleveland also has an impressive history in turbine development.

“The story that people talk about is that Charles Brush in 1887 invented the first electric windmill and had it at his house on Euclid Avenue, and that NASA Lewis, which is now NASA Glenn, invented the modern wind turbine,” he said. “You could almost say it’s a natural to be involved in offshore wind.”

Icebreaker, which Wagner described as a pilot project, will result in “about 500 construction jobs and about 50 permanent jobs,” he said, explaining that a full-scale wind farm would have closer to 100 turbines. “According to several economic development studies we’ve done, if we were to develop something like 5 percent of Lake Erie’s resources, we could develop 10,000 to 15,000 permanent jobs.”

Icebreaker is one of only seven offshore wind energy projects that the Department of Energy awarded funding, and it’s the only one in the Great Lakes. Developing wind energy in the Great Lakes has certain advantages over developing along the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, Wagner explained.

“We’re very close to the electrical distribution grid and the users along many of the Great Lakes, and especially Lake Erie, so the distance we have to go to connect to power sources is very short – and that translates into a better cost structure for us,” he said.

Wagner also explained that as the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie will be easier to build in, and that in general, turbines built in fresh water environments are likely to last longer than those built in more-corrosive salt water.

As for the salt mines below Lake Erie, Wagner said Icebreaker’s proposed turbines won’t be over them for “at least 200 years in the future,” according to the mining industry’s future plans. Icebreaker should also have minimal impact on area wildlife, he said.

“All the data in Europe and Asia indicate fish love offshore wind farms. You’re essentially building an artificial reef, and most fish species find that attractive,” he said. “As for birds, there are numerous studies indicating that birds avoid the wind turbines. We have radar pictures that show birds going around the wind farm and between the turbines.

“Part of the reason to build a small project like this is to find out what the birds around Lake Erie will do, and to take actual measurements with the actual wind turbines,” said Wagner, contrasting what might happen in Lake Erie with what happens at wind farms elsewhere.

The Department of Energy is making available up to $180 million over the next five years to help accelerate the deployment of breakthrough wind power technologies, and Icebreaker could receive an additional $46.7 million in federal funding, according to a LEEDCo statement.

“There will be a 12-month performance period, then the seven projects will compete for funding that will allow the project to get built,” said Wagner, adding that three projects will receive additional DOE funding and that it will be up to the remaining four to find outside funding — and that Icebreaker will move forward regardless of what the DOE decides. “The goal is to have the project built in 2016 or 2017.”


Comments are closed.