Lake-based wind tower raises hope,
Potential for renewable energy source competes against
likely danger to wildlife
By Tom Henry
Published September 4, 2005
Like a silver needle rising 165 feet above Lake Erie’s
surface, a newly completed offshore wind tower near downtown
Cleveland has the potential of making the Great Lakes
region a bigger player in the renewable energy market.
The 6,000-pound tower, by far the region’s tallest in
the open water, was anchored in two phases this summer
to the city’s water intake crib three miles north of Cleveland’s
shoreline. It consists of some 125 feet of steel with
movable parts atop the intake crib, which itself sticks
40 feet above the water.
Over the next two years, the imposing tower and a satellite
weather station at the bottom of it will collect data
on wind direction and velocity, as well as atmospheric
Green Energy Ohio, a nonprofit group behind the venture,
expects it to produce the kind of results necessary to
take the next step: gauging the public’s interest in putting
utility-scale wind turbines out in the lake.
Wind power is one of the fastest-growing forms of energy
Europe — which for decades has overshadowed the United
States in terms of land-based windmills — is on an ambitious
campaign to install hundreds of wind-harnessing turbines
at offshore locales from the United Kingdom to Germany.
But even with all of the apparent momentum under way
for the renewable energy market, don’t expect to see the
Lake Erie shoreline cluttered by the sight of wind turbines
anytime soon — especially along the ecologically fragile
western end of the lake between Toledo and Sandusky.
The Ohio Department of Development has been generally
supportive, because of the potential for cleaner energy
production and job growth in those sectors.
But the idea of putting wind turbines offshore is a politically
delicate subject, even more so than it is trying to find
the right land.
Many of the same issues that affect land-based turbines
— potentially large kills of birds and bats, if proper
siting is not done — get carried over to the discussion
of offshore turbines.
Thrown into this region’s mix are questions about how
well the massive devices can withstand the impact of anything
from ice floes to lake freighters. And what, if any, impact
the devices could have on the region’s valuable freshwater
Environmentalists have mixed feelings, even though they
generally urge less reliance on polluting coal-fired power
plants and the radioactive waste generated by nuclear
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, for the record, say they aren’t
anti-wind. But spokesmen for both agencies made it clear
in interviews last week that they have a number of ecological
issues that would have to be addressed before they would
be willing to sign off on the construction of offshore
wind turbines in Lake Erie.
“While we’re [generally] supportive, we still want to
express our concerns about the appropriate placement of
wind turbines in Ohio,” Michele Hoffer, Ohio DNR deputy
One of the Ohio DNR’s top bird biologists, Mark Shieldcastle,
head of the state’s Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station
in Ottawa County, said western Lake Erie is so important
as a flyover zone that he can’t even conceive of wind
turbines in this end of the lake.
The Ottawa County marshes in particular are important
to wading birds, waterfowl, songbirds, and raptors, including
the state’s largest cluster of bald eagles.
“This may be the biggest concentration of birds in North
America in terms of migration,” Mr. Shieldcastle said.
He said the Ohio DNR recommends no wind turbines within
three miles of the Lake Erie shoreline. “It’s just amazing
the rumors going around about who would like a wind turbine
between here and Conneaut,” Mr. Shieldcastle said. “It’s
really not practical anywhere along the shoreline.”
The experimental four-turbine wind farm west of Bowling
Green, which has generated results that have surpassed
expectations, is about 30 miles from the shoreline.
Aaron Godwin, GreenEnergy Ohio project manager, said
the Cleveland water intake crib is being used only to
collect wind data and is not eyed as a site for turbines.
He said the group hasn’t determined exactly how far out
it would have to go to get optimum wind, but said it expects
the distance to be at least five to seven miles.
Too close in, and you’re not fully reaping the benefits
of going offshore. Too far out, and the costs climb, bringing
the law of diminishing returns into play.
“This in no way, shape, or form is a mandate,” Mr. Godwin
said of the Cleveland tower. “It’s a way of getting information
in the hands of the public.”
Ongoing results are to be posted on the group’s Web site,
Mr. Godwin agreed that the wildlife issue will probably
eliminate the western basin from consideration.
“There’s just no way you can get around that,” he said.
Proposals for offshore wind projects in Massachusetts
and New York have received mixed responses.
“Right now, we’re at the very, very early stages of looking
at offshore wind in the United States,” Megan Seymour,
wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
in suburban Columbus.
She said the Great Lakes are different from oceanic water
because the water here, especially in shallow Lake Erie,
is prone to freezing.
“I kind of think the Great Lakes are in a wait-and-see
mode, seeing how Atlantic coast projects go first,” Ms.
She said the effect of noises and vibrations would have
to first be studied in creatures as small as mayflies,
those tiny winged insects that burrow beneath Lake Erie
Officials also would have to find a better way to gauge
the degree of avian mortality offshore. Most of the birds
and bats that strike turbine blades would fall into the
water without being detected. “That [issue] will have
to be overcome in some fashion,” she said.
Despite concerns, Green Energy Ohio remains optimistic
about the potential for wind and solar in this region.
But it expects turbines on land sooner than in the water,
in part because the land-based ones are about half as
expensive. Plus, there are other land-based wind towers,
such as the one that went up in Bryan this summer, that
could build on the momentum generated by the Bowling Green
The Cleveland tower was built at a relatively affordable
cost of $87,000, in large part because a deal was worked
out to use the intake crib as its base.
Bill Spratley, Green Energy Ohio executive director,
cited a recent study that suggested 40 percent of the
wind on the Ohio side of Lake Erie to be “conditionally
viable for wind energy development.”
Mr. Spratley said Ohio and Wisconsin share an interest
in researching the potential in their respective states
for offshore wind power. But he too said Green Energy
Ohio is not at the point of pushing it for Lake Erie.
“It’s definitely worth looking at,” Mr. Godwin said.
“But the moral of the story is that there are a lot of
questions left to be answered.”
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.