Proposals to build turbines in North America’s Great Lakes have stalled in recent years — but a new initiative aims to break through the barriers.
December 29, 2017 | Andy Balaskovitz | Ensia
It’s been eight years since a public–private partnership — the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) — was formed in northern Ohio to attract an offshore wind energy developer to the North American Great Lakes.
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Today, however, the tide could be turning again. Eight miles north of Cleveland in Lake Erie, the Icebreaker Wind project is poised to become the first offshore wind project in the Great Lakes. The project, lured by LEEDCo, is owned by Icebreaker Wind Power through the Norway-based investor Fred. Olsen Renewables. Pending federal and state approval, developers anticipate construction will begin in 2020 on the six-turbine, 20.7 MW project.
Some renewable energy advocates hope Icebreaker will catalyze further Great Lakes offshore wind development by settling economic, environmental and regulatory concerns. Skeptics fear it could be a one-off demonstration that is unlikely to be scaled up. And opponents like the North American Platform Against Wind Power and others with concerns about aesthetics, renewable energy or potential impacts on wildlife worry it will lead to a flood of projects throughout the region.
However it ends up, the project could play a big part in whether the Great Lakes become a focal point for offshore wind in the future. “Once someone does something, everyone says, ‘I can do that,’” says LEEDCo president Lorry Wagner.
Other resources also offer indications of Great Lakes offshore wind potential. The Michigan wind council developed a GIS-based tool to identify areas off the coast of Michigan that would be suitable for generation. Researchers at Cornell University also produced a “wind atlas” in 2015 to show areas with the most potential. DOE shows Michigan with the highest “net technical energy potential”among Great Lakes states from offshore wind.