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Lake Erie wind farm in reach

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/14/07 @ 4:52pm

Seated at a stretch limo-sized conference table inside Cleveland law firm Thompson Hine's offices on the 39th floor of Key Tower, a high-wattage assemble of county officials, Fortune 500 leaders and tech geeks from NASA, GE, and academia poured their will into the logistics of raising a wind farm on the surface of Lake Erie. With this much star power and business acumen in the room, the vision of turbines spinning in the (strong) breeze became palpable-a matter of how soon and pinpointing where.

"In the last five years, we've seen tremendous growth in the desire for wind power," observes task force member and wind power developer Aaron Godwin. Ohio is in a strong position to capitalize on the newfound interest, says Godwin, who cites the 2004 Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP) report showing 12,000 jobs could be created in Ohio from the wind industry.

Why? Because the state's manufacturing supply chain can be retooled to build wind components like the blades and towers.

Wind turbines on fresh water is untested, so it's fueling a race be the first. That's why Cleveland Foundation alternative energy czar Richard Stuebi proposed the task force form the Lake Erie Wind Energy Center. It will provide research and development for a Lake Erie wind farm-up to a dozen turbines standing a few miles offshore and hundreds of feet tall generating five to 20 megawatts of electric power.

The wind farm and research center would seek public funding, most likely from Cleveland-area foundations and Ohio's tech development "Third Frontier" fund.

"The R&D facility for offshore wind, like the one in Germany will defray the cost of the wind turbines and serve as an attraction for Northeast Ohio as a hub for research and development of offshore wind power," Stuebi says. "It will be the first of its kind in the U.S."

The German government announced last October it will contribute 50 million euros to build 12 wind turbines and R&D facility off the coast of the North Sea.

Undoubtedly, the prospect of being the first to build wind turbines on a body of fresh water like Lake Erie (where wind is ample) adds a coolness factor. Proving the economics of wind so that Northeast Ohio becomes the world capital in off-shore wind is also a strong attraction.

Locating the turbines depends on a combination of where winds are strongest (the edges of the county, Godwin says), how much they affect the views from the shore, impact bird migrations and even air travel patterns. Cleveland Foundation is funding a study to 'visualize' how the turbines will look, Stuebi says. Also, turbine manufacturers and projects like the Long Island Off-shore Wind Park have data on environmental and avian impacts, an official from Northcoast Wind & Power told the task force.

An off-shore Cleveland site might play off some unique local conditions, Task Force Chairman and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason says. Perhaps the Cargill Cleveland salt mines, which stretch for 14 miles under Lake Erie, could act as a storage chamber for compressed air-the excess energy produced by the turbines (similar to a wind farm proposal in Iowa that will use mines for that reason).

The task force will make the wind farm and R&D center an official recommendation at their February meeting. Final details like the site, legal and financial issues are still being worked out.

For more information on Wind power in Northeast Ohio.

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