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Will the World’s First Freshwater Wind Farm Be Built in Lake Erie Off the Shore of Cleveland?

The Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force released its final feasibility study on its Offshore Wind Pilot Project. In early 2008, juwi, a renewable energy projects developer, was hired by Cuyahoga County to perform a feasibility study for the Great Lakes Wind Energy Center. The proposed pilot offshore wind energy project in Lake Erie would generate 5 to 20 megawatts three to five miles from downtown Cleveland.

Wind Farm ConceptLook closely at this conceptual photo to see what the offshore wind turbines would look like from downtown Cleveland.

The final report presents a summary of results from the feasibility study across a variety of technical and economic disciplines following a one year study period. The report indicates that a pilot project is technically and environmentally feasible, pending further studies of selected issues, approvals by regulatory agencies, and solutions to make the project more economically viable.

The study estimates capital costs of a potential pilot project between $77.2-92.7 million (depending on turbine size), representing design and construction, associated infrastructure and onshore facilities, as well as other costs. The investments associated with a potential pilot project will help accelerate an offshore wind industry in the Great Lakes, provide solutions to technical challenges, and further identify the viability of large-scale wind energy development. With a strong manufacturing base, and many companies already supplying components to the wind industry, Northeast Ohio is primed to become a leader in research, manufacturing and job growth related to wind energy development.

Below are some questions and answers that provide additional information about the Offshore Wind Pilot Project.

Q. Why does Cuyahoga County want to be the first to create a freshwater wind farm?
A. The county is committed to driving economic development in our region. With a long history of industrial manufacturing and dozens of companies already supplying components to the wind industry, our region is primed to become a leader in the offshore wind industry, and is dedicated to become active in this pursuit.

Q. If Cuyahoga County wants to establish a hub for wind energy here in Cleveland, how many jobs will it bring to Northeast Ohio?
A. It is impossible to precisely quantify how many jobs will be created through an offshore wind industry. However, to illustrate the potential economic impact, the British Wind Energy Association retained Bain & Company in 2008 to conduct a study on this issue. The study concluded that aggressive development of offshore wind energy markets in the U.K. by 2020 (34 gigawatts) would generate about 57,000 jobs. Given the theoretical wind resource potential in the Great Lakes is well over 100 GW, it is not a stretch to say that tens of thousands of jobs could be possible in the coming decades to serve a Great Lakes offshore wind industry. We, in Northeast Ohio, can capture a disproportionate share of that opportunity, if we move promptly to maintain a leadership position.

Q. Who is going to pay for the pilot project? And how much will it cost?
A. The task force and its project partners will continue to investigate funding sources for a potential pilot project. In the final report, a total of eight potential pilot project scenarios were evaluated, representing a range in capital investment of $77.2 - $92.7 million. While capital estimates can be made regarding a potential pilot project, other indeterminate factors, including federal stimulus money, grant funding availability, policies to enhance the economic appeal of offshore wind, and other private and public investments could contribute to the overall amount required for financing.

Q. Who is going to buy the power generated by the turbines?
A. The task force is continuing to explore opportunities with Cleveland Public Power and Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. The task force is pleased by the interest expressed by these two companies, and by their cooperation in completing the feasibility study.

Q. How would the pilot project wind turbines affect Lake Erie’s bird populations?
A. Based on the conclusions of the avian risk assessment for the proposed project site, the findings do not indicate that habitat loss, barrier effect and collision mortality pose significant risk to the current avian populations inhabiting the project site and its surrounding area. Except in winter, when waterbirds concentrate at warm-water outlets that remain ice-free, and in fall migration, when large numbers of common waterfowl and gulls stage on Lake Erie, waterbird diversity and abundance along the highly developed Cleveland lakefront is dominated by a few common species. Studies indicate that this diversity and abundance decrease with distance from the lakefront as water becomes deeper offshore. Few waterbirds are able to forage farther from the lakeshore. At the project site, two to five miles offshore in water depths exceeding 33 feet, very few birds will be using these waters. In winter, the site will lack waterbirds; however, when the lake is ice-free, some species, mainly gulls, may forage or even attempt to perch on the turbines.

Q. How will the potential turbine locations affect recreational users of the Lake?
A. As the final feasibility study shows, all of the proposed turbine configurations are preliminary pilot project recommendations, not absolute locations. In addition, the proposed sites include considerations for sailboat race courses, the Audubon Ohio Important Bird Area, shipping lanes and other issues. While the sites are merely preliminary locations, the task force and its project partners will consult commercial and recreational users of the lake before making any recommendations for moving forward with a pilot project.

Q. What is the time line associated with the construction of the pilot project?
A. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, chair of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, emphasized much has to be done before turbines are in the water but hopes to see it happen in 2010. Negotiations are ongoing with manufactures. Mason said he believes that by the end of 2009 a turbine manufacturer will be on board.

Q. How will the public be engaged in the future development of this project?
A. The task force is committed to engaging the public and all valued stakeholders in the future development of a pilot project. Our course of action will depend on a variety of factors, but we look forward to maintaining transparency in all efforts to share information with the public.

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