Local leaders propose a windy addition to the Lake Erie horizon – massive wind turbines that would crank out megawatts and spin off research, development and jobs.
An energy task force will recommend to Cuyahoga County commissioners next month that the region pursue a demonstration project of four to 10 turbines, spinning at least three miles out on Lake Erie.
It would be an unprecedented venture – while European countries have water-borne windmills, the United States has none, task force officials said. And there are no freshwater wind turbines in the world, they said.
“We believe it’s feasible as a research and development project,” said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason, head of the Cuyahoga Regional Energy Development Task Force.
Cuyahoga County commissioners appointed the 22-member task force last summer, with the idea of boosting alternative-energy use in the region and creating a cluster of businesses.
The task force includes some of the area’s top legal and business expertise, including companies that could manufacture wind-power components, such as the Lubrizol Corp., Parker Hannifin Corp. and Eaton Corp.
Their preliminary research showed that turbines sitting at least three miles out could catch fruitful wind speeds averaging 16 mph.
Ten turbines could generate up to 20 megawatts, powering tens of thousands of homes and businesses, officials said.
But the project would likely cost tens of millions of dollars and need significant public subsidies, task force members said.
It’s unclear where the money would come from. Task force members are already soliciting local foundations and believe funds might be available from Ohio’s Third Frontier program, which promotes high-tech innovation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Besides money, other daunting issues include environmental impacts, bird flyways, airport flight paths and shipping channels.
Engineering challenges include anchoring towers in a lake that’s 50 to 60 feet deep. The towers would stretch 240 feet or more above the water and hold rotating blades that, tip to tip, are longer than a football field. The towers must withstand waves and winter ice.
But encountering the difficulties would generate unique research and development, potentially making the region a hub for off-shore wind power, said Richard Stuebi, the Cleveland Foundation’s energy expert.
“We could show industries worldwide we’re serious about off-shore” ventures, he said.
He and other task force members are crafting a bid request for commissioners that will accompany the task force recommendation next month.
The county should seek experts to direct the demonstration project and detail how the region would position itself as a center for off-shore wind power development and manufacturing, officials said.
Time will tell whether this is another Cleveland pipe dream or an idea with profound impact.
“I personally think there’s potential with this,” said David Rosenberg, a market development manager for GE Energy and a task force member. “But there’s definitely issues associated with wind out on the water.”
By Tom Breckenridge
Plain Dealer Reporter
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