News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DOE grants to measure wind potential of lake and lower costs, but is it too little, too late?

Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Energy announced the awarding of $43 Million in grants to "speed technical innovations, lower costs, and shorten the timeline for deploying offshore wind energy systems." Lake Erie will play a significant part in research resulting from these grants.

A $700,000 grant to Indiana University is to fund a project that "will integrate wind data from remote sensing, aerial and satellite measurements, and meteorological towers to produce a high resolution wind characterization for Lake Erie." IU's Rebecca Barthelmie will oversee a consortium that includes scientists from six institutions and companies in the U.S. and Europe. The study will measure offshore wind and turbulence in the lake. The team will use remote sensing technologies, including an unmanned aerial vehicle, to produce a three-dimensional analysis of Lake Erie's offshore winds.

Another grant award of $500,000 will go toward Northeast Ohio’s offshore wind energy development in Lake Erie geared toward long-term cost reductions. The lead grant recipient is Freshwater Wind, a private Cleveland-based developer selected by Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) for the initial 20-30 megawatt offshore wind project.

The Freshwater Wind grant will comprehensively assess offshore wind systems to optimize performance in shallow water environments generally found throughout the Great Lakes. “This award from the DOE validates the work done thus far by LEEDCo and Freshwater Wind and confirms the Lake Erie project is the farthest advanced project in the Great Lakes. Our next step is to gain policy backing from Ohio that will ensure Ohio remains in a leadership position,” said Chris Wissemann, Managing Director at Freshwater Wind in a press release.

LEEDCo's press release about the grant played up the job creation aspect of wind energy. “This grant is a seed toward starting a new industry. While we understand that a core challenge is lowering costs, it can be done. All things considered, our learning curve will be much smaller compared to that seen in Europe – an industry now employing more than 40,000,” said Dr. Lorry Wagner, LEEDCo President.

The $43 million grant package is part of the DOE’s recent push to speed technical innovations, lower costs, and shorten the timelines for deployment. While offshore wind costs are currently higher than those of conventional energy sources and onshore wind energy, the DOE has a goal of 20% wind power by 2030 and at a cost similar to other energy generation systems by 2020. There are currently no offshore wind projects in the U.S.

At about the time DOE was announcing the grants, Cleveland’s utility, Cleveland Public Power, agreed to purchase 20% of the renewable energy produced by the five-turbine, 20 megawatt pilot wind farm five to ten miles offshore of Cleveland, being developed by LEEDCo. Construction on the initial phase is tentatively scheduled to commence in late 2012. This announcement by Cleveland Public Power was seen as an effort to encourage other utilities to jump on the wind energy bandwagon.

Then, just five days ago, an ambitious plan for as many as 150 large turbines in Lake Erie off Buffalo's shoreline was halted, according to a New York state lawmaker with firsthand knowledge. Interestingly, both the Buffalo and Cleveland wind farms claimed to be the nation's "first" freshwater wind farm.

It seems that wind power on Lake Erie is off to a rocky start, even as the federal government appears committed to developing this technology. Clearly we have to do something. The reality is that our lawmakers saw the end of oil coming decades ago, saw the security issues involved, and chose to do nothing. They took bushel baskets full of campaign contributions from big oil while scoffing at renewables. And we allowed them to do it. We put all of our energy eggs in one big barrel of Middle East crude and now we are fighting wars, and spending obscene amounts of money, as a result. Shame on them, and shame on us.

Within a few years we may see huge propellers spinning out over the lake, when what we really need is a giant gust of common sense propelling us back to reality.

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