Wind power plan for lake gains speed; efforts totaling over $1M seek to win new industry
By Tom Henry
Published March 23, 2007
More than $1 million could be spent in the coming months pursuing offshore wind power in Lake Erie, even though the region just lost out on a bid to have East Toledo host the nation’s first testing laboratory for offshore wind turbine blades.
A $250,000 wildlife study, funded by a grant the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority obtained from U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), recently began along the western Lake Erie shoreline.
The goal of that study is to get the region’s clean energy and wildlife proponents on the same page over the risks posed to birds and bats.
The next phase would involve putting two or three wind turbines along the western Lake Erie shoreline as early as the summer of 2008 to see just how lethal the devices might be.
Sites have not been selected, but they likely would be between Toledo and Lorain, Ohio.
The turbines themselves would cost several more million dollars, said Steve Watts, wind programs manager for Green Energy Ohio, a nonprofit group coordinating the study.
Called the Northwest Ohio Coastal Wind Initiative, the study looms big for a region looking toward renewable energy for jobs.
Western Lake Erie potentially is the Great Lakes region’s cheapest place to develop offshore wind power because of its shallow water and access to transmission lines.
But it also has two of North America’s largest migratory bird flyways.
Thinking even bigger are some Cleveland-area officials who claim they are on their way toward securing $800,000 for a feasibility report with a dual mission:
wExamining the viability of spending up to $50 million to install two to eight offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie north of Cleveland.
wConsidering a proposal to spend up to $10 million for a new research facility in Cleveland to be called the Lake Erie Wind Energy Center.
The University of Toledo would be part of that center, a facility that would “attract research talent for what will be a global offshore wind project in northern Ohio,” said Richard Stuebi, the Cleveland Foundation’s BP fellow for energy and environmental advancement.
“Five to 15 years from now, [offshore wind power] will be a huge industry,” he told 170 people yesterday at a clean energy workshop in Maumee. “Northern Ohio to offshore wind could be what Houston is to oil and gas.”
The foundation has been working with Cuyahoga County commissioners and Cleveland-area officials to secure funds, he said.
“We think the Great Lakes is a great place to do offshore wind, better than the oceans,” Mr. Stuebi said.
Offshore wind turbines typically are twice as large as their land-based counterparts and produce four times as much power.
Several exist in Europe. The United States has none, although Massachusetts and Texas — the two finalists for the lab East Toledo was trying to get — now have permit applications under way.
Mark Shieldcastle, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources biologist who runs many of the state’s migratory bird programs from the Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station in Ottawa County, said he can’t imagine wind turbines going up along the western Lake Erie shoreline in the summer of 2008 — let alone the prospect of offshore wind power any time soon.
He said the state DNR is seeking a study that costs in excess of $2 million and lasts at least three years. The Toledo-to-Lorain region should not be studied for less than $750,000 a year, he said.
“Migration is variable. You can’t go one year and say this is the way it is,” Mr. Shieldcastle said. “If you’ve got $250,000, you’re not going to be doing any studying.”
He said he has not seen any wind power studies to date that have adequately addressed the wildlife issue.
Megan Seymour, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who sits with Mr. Shieldcastle on the state’s wind-power advisory panel, said turbines should not be installed within three miles of the shoreline without extensive avian research.
Yet there was loads of enthusiasm yesterday over the potential of having Cleveland install the Great Lakes region’s first offshore wind turbines.
“This is cutting edge,” Bill Spratley, Green Energy Ohio executive director, said at the Maumee event.
Miss Kaptur, who was in Washington, said during a telephone interview that northwest Ohio’s wildlife issue will be researched adequately by the port authority study.
The region is “absolutely headed into the wind,” she said.
“We have a massive industry to give birth to here,” she said. “God gave us the resource. We just have to capture it.”
The Toledo Zoo is one of several new sites under negotiation for installation of tower gauges to help measure the region’s wind velocity, Mr. Watts said.
The upcoming research is in addition to a $1 million grant Miss Kaptur secured last year for the wind-wildlife issue to be studied at Bowling Green State University’s Firelands campus in Huron, Ohio, via the construction of one or two wind turbines.
Jim Smith, the campus dean, told yesterday’s forum he is eager for electricity to be generated.
“When I’m not buying electricity from FirstEnergy Corp., I’m lowering tuition costs,” he quipped. “When I’m lowering tuition costs, Governor [Ted] Strickland thinks I’m a good guy. So do the students on campus.”
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.