Cape Wind, the planned $2.7 billion wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., in Nantucket Sound, got the green light in April from the Interior Dept., the most important approval so far in the project’s nine-year odyssey. Even so, there’s still plenty of reason to doubt it will ever be built.
Despite the environmental merits of replacing a dirty local power plant, and a steady parade of local, state and federal approvals, the project has been besieged by a series of legal challenges backed in part by well-heeled opponents with homes in the area, such as billionaire industrialist Bill Koch.
Cape Wind has also pitted green against green, renewable energy supporters against conservationists. Some have argued the project threatens the area’s shore views, birds and sea life, most famously Robert F. Kennedy Jr., senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, from whose family compound the turbines would be visible. In the wake of the April approval, opponents immediately vowed to file new suits.
Meanwhile, there’s little opposition to a proposal to put wind turbines in Lake Erie, near Cleveland. Developers there have been careful to focus on the potential to salvage the region’s beleaguered manufacturing sector. Ohio’s plan is smaller than Cape Wind — initially five turbines compared with 130 planned in Massachusetts — and slated to be a fraction of the cost, at about $100 million.
But if construction starts next year, as planned, the project could be operating in 2012, and could rewrite the playbook for the development of offshore wind power in the U.S. “One offshore project being built could trigger a series of others,” says Walt Musial, Principal Engineer at the Dept. of Energy’s National Wind Technology Center.
Jobs on the Line
The project has the potential to create employment, which is critical. Since the recession began in December 2007, Ohio has lost more than 376,000 jobs — mostly in manufacturing. If the state can become a regional hub for offshore wind manufacturing, up to 8,000 jobs could be created. And state GDP could rise by $22.6 billion over the next two decades, depending on the amount of material that is imported, according to a July report prepared for The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) by Kleinhenz & Associates.
“The region’s strong manufacturing base will be a major asset to the emerging offshore wind industry, while also further diversifying our economy and creating jobs,” said Rebecca O. Bagley, president and chief executive officer of NorTech, a non-profit promoting regional economic development.
There are other incentives to develop wind energy in Ohio. To meet state law, 12.5 percent of Ohio’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2025, with at least half that originating from within the state. Today, just 1 percent of Ohio’s electricity comes from green sources, mostly from hydropower. Similar rules could be in the offing nationally. Senators Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on Tuesday introduced a bill that would require utilities nationwide to source 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.
Offshore wind is being discussed elsewhere too, with projects at earlier stages of consideration off the coasts of Maine, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and several other states. Coastal turbines suit the needs of cities, where space limits make conventional power facilities difficult to build. Plus, compared with land-based turbines, conditions offshore are generally far better, with steadier, stronger winds.
Though offshore wind costs roughly twice as much to build and operate as the land-based variety, DOE’s Musial says turbines in the Great Lakes should be less costly than in the saltwater off Massachusetts. Except for the threat of ice, the conditions are less punishing, says Musial. “The water is shallower, with less powerful waves or storms, and no salt to corrode equipment.”
The Ohio project also may benefit from the fact that it originated with a non-profit economic development group, neutralizing criticism that a private developer was exploiting public resources, a charge levied against Cape Wind. LEEDCo, which was founded last year by Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties, and NorTech.
First to Dive In
To date, $3 million in public and foundation money has been put up to fund early analysis and development of the project. “We believe we’ll be first in the water,” potentially beating Cape Wind and other offshore projects, says David Karpinski, vice president of NorTech. “And by being first, we believe we have a better chance to become the center of this industry in the region.”
LEEDCo last week announced a developer to build the wind farm. Great Lakes Ohio Wind (GLOW) is a consortium including Bechtel Development Co., Cavallo Enegy, and Great Lakes Wind Energy. Rounding out the team is GE Energy, which in May announced it would supply the project’s offshore turbines.
For starters, GLOW plans to put the five turbines about seven miles offshore from downtown Cleveland, so far out, they’d be only barely visible from shore on a clear day. Capable of generating up to 4 megwatts (MW) each, the turbines will be the largest yet deployed in the U.S., the equivalent of 30 stories tall to the top of their central towers.
When complete, this part of the project will have a capacity of 20 megawatts — enough to power some 5,600 homes annually. By 2020, LEEDCo hopes to increase that capacity by 50-fold, 200 turbines capable of cranking out 1,000 MW. And come 2030, there is the potential to install 1,250 turbines, with 5,000 MW of capacity to supply state and regional markets. To meet its goal of 12.5 percent by 2025, Ohio must create more than 7,000 MW of alternative power supplies.
Much of the specialized gear and services would have to be imported, initially at least. For now, no offshore turbines are made in the U.S., so GE would likely have to import substantial portions of the systems from a Norwegian subsidiary. Likewise, the region doesn’t yet have the enormous crane ships or other specialized boats that will be necessary to establish this industry.
If there are enough orders, GE has said it would consider building an assembly plant in the region. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” says Musial. “Until there’s substantial demand for these systems, manufacturers are wary of making the investment.”