Cleveland-based Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation LEEDCo expects to start construction on a 20-megawatt, $100 million pilot project by next year and aims to have the turbines operational by late 2013.
Freshwater Wind a developer formed by Bechtel Development Company, Cavallo Great Lakes Ohio Wind and Great Lakes Wind Energy could reach a power purchase agreement with utilities within a month. Energy from the project could supply around 16,000 homes with electricity.
LEEDCo hopes the demonstration can jump-start a freshwater wind industry across the eight states surrounding the five lakes and the province of Ontario all while steering wind turbine manufacturing to Ohio's existing component and construction materials industries.
"We think there is great value in being first, because our goal is not just to generate electricity," said Dennis Eckart, a strategic adviser to LEEDCo and president of the North Shore Associates consulting firm.
"One of our main goals is to create a supply chain industry that will support the building and deployment of these turbines," as well as entice a turbine maker to build a full assembly plant in Ohio, he said.
The initiative began with the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, which formed in 2006 to explore how advanced energy technologies could revitalize economic development in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County and adjacent Lorain County.
Cuyahoga has more manufacturing jobs than any of the state's 88 counties. The shoreline county had 82,470 positions in 2008, out of 765,800 jobs statewide, according to the latest figures from the state Department of Development.
The county lost 2,000 jobs from 2007 to 2008, while the state lost 31,800 jobs during that same period. Overall, Ohio shed 418,000 manufacturing jobs from 1999 to 2009, according to figures from the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
For the task force, the offshore wind industry emerged as the best option for reversing job losses and creating new positions within the state's industrial workforce, LEEDCo president Lorry Wagner told SolveClimate News.
"It seemed like a great match," he said.
The task force began holding monthly meetings with communities and businesses to discuss a possible offshore wind farm in Lake Erie. Encouraged by support for the project, the group created LEEDCo in 2009 to formally pursue freshwater wind power.
The development group is now composed of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the Cleveland Foundation, the city of Cleveland, and Cuyahoga and Lorain counties.
LEEDCo is also negotiating with General Electric, the preferred turbine supplier, to reach a price that would ease the financial constraints of the project and make electricity from offshore turbines more competitive.
If successful, the pilot project could spur offshore wind development across the Great Lakes, where economic and environmental concerns have kept the region from tapping into one of the nation's best wind energy resources.
In a 2010 report, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said the average wind speed in the Great Lakes is between 17.9 and 20.1 miles per hour, a few miles per hour less than the mighty winds off the northern Atlantic coast. At speeds above 15.6 mph, Ohio, for instance, has 46 gigawatts of wind potential, while New York and Michigan have a respective 147 gigawatts and 483 gigawatts.
Current electricity generation in the region is roughly 100 gigawatts, estimates say.
Experts agree that a clean energy build-out in the region could have far-reaching effects.
More than 30 million people live in the watershed of the five lakes about 10 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of Canada's population.
According to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project, CO2 emissions from power plants in the eight Great Lakes states totaled an estimated 679 million tons in 2010, nearly 30 percent of the U.S. total for that year.
"Our commitment to renewable energy in the Great Lakes would take a huge bite out of carbon dioxide emissions across the world," said Terry Yonker, co-chair of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative GLWC and president of environmental consulting firm Marine Services Diversified.
GLWC includes stakeholders from all Great Lakes states plus Ontario and Quebec, as well as federal agencies, environmental organizations and industry officials from the U.S. and Canada.
The collaborative met with the White House Council on Environmental Quality in Chicago last October to discuss the siting of offshore wind power in the region. The federal council is now drafting a memorandum of understanding with states to establish a roadmap for the offshore permitting process.
"We must improve and increase the lines of communication to bring wind development in the Great Lakes closer to fruition," Nancy Sutley, chair of the environmental council, said in a press release.
After Ohio, New York could be the next state to bring offshore wind to the region.
The New York Power Authority NYPA is leading the public-private Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project to pursue the possible development of a 120- to 500-megawatt farm in Lake Erie and/or Lake Ontario within the next five years.
The NYPA issued a request for proposals in December 2009, following several months of community outreach. By June 2010, five developers responded with plans, and a winner was to be selected this January, though none has been named so far.
Tying up the proposal review could be opposition from seven shoreline counties and multiple communities that have issued resolutions against the Great Lakes initiative, citing fears of exorbitantly high costs to ratepayers and an unsightly shoreline.
In Michigan, a bill in the House Energy and Technology committee aims to modify a state law that allows the Department of Environmental Quality to lease state-held portions of lake bottoms for the purpose of wind energy development.
Thirty-five percent of Michigan's bottomlands, or 13,339 square miles, are suitable for offshore wind energy, according to a 2010 report by the Great Lakes Wind Council GLOW created by former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
The council identified five priority areas for projects, called wind resource areas, in Lake Michigan, central Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
The ban proposal follows an attempt by the House energy committee last year to adopt a bill regulating offshore wind farms, which ultimately did not come to a vote. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in the past has supported GLOW's efforts but said he would likely not make offshore wind development a high priority.
A moratorium in Ontario has indefinitely stalled offshore wind projects already under contract or in proposals. The provincial government in February said it would lift the ban once further research emerged on the industry's environmental impacts.
One contract and four applications were already in the works when the measure took effect.
Richard Stuebi, president of LEEDCo's advocacy arm, Coalition for Great Lakes Offshore Wind, said support from other states and provinces is vital to spurring offshore deployment in North America.
"For the next several years, it is going to be a very difficult thing for the market alone to encourage the emergence of offshore wind," Stuebi said.
He said the coalition was considering a variety of public policies that could accelerate offshore wind development.
Investment tax credits specific to offshore wind, such as carve-out requirements in state or federal renewable portfolio standards or tradable renewable energy credits RECs, could complement grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for research and development.
Stuebi said the coalition's conversations with Ohio legislators had "ratcheted up considerably in the past couple of months" to garner support for such measures from elected Gov. John Kasich and newly appointed lawmakers.
"What we're trying to do is build an industry of the future. The first projects are going to be above market, but thats the best you need to make if you want to help build this industry," he said.
"We can wait five, ten or 15 years, and offshore wind will eventually come to the shores of the Great Lakes... but we won't get the jobs associated with it, just the turbines out in the water."