HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP – They couldn’t believe something so big is in Ashtabula County.
Members of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force met at the GaREAT sports complex Thursday afternoon and were wowed by the size, scope and implications of the nonprofit economic development engine. When Lorry Wagner, the president of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) addressed the task force, he drew parallels between what GaREAT visionary Ron Clutter and the people in the banquet room want to do: grow the region.
“This is the type of project we want to do,” Wagner said.
The task force, a project of the Cuyahoga County Department of Development, brings together northeast Ohio energy stakeholders from both private and public sectors. The task force supports LEEDCo’s effort to build a demonstration wind farm in Lake Erie and develop offshore wind energy in Lake Erie’s eastern Ohio waters.
One of the industry’s players, Molded Fiber Glass Cos., is already involved in the manufacture of wind-power components and co-sponsored Thursday’s meeting. Carl LaFrance, who works in the company’s turbine blade division, said Ashtabula’s MFG plant recently started producing turbine parts. The company has blade facilities in South Dakota, Alabama, Texas and California; however, as with all U.S. wind-power manufacturers, MFG’s components are for land-based turbines. Offshore is a whole different game.
Ashtabula County’s Lake Erie waters have some of the best wind potential, and County Commissioner Daniel Claypool has a seat on the LEEDCo board, which led to the meeting being held at the GaREAT.
In introducing GaREAT to the task-force members, Clutter said, “We are really about economic growth, making everybody’s lives better, making everybody feel better about themselves, then going out and doing something with that.”
GaREAT was built without government assistance or debt, “the old-fashioned” way: The community came together and made it happen, Clutter said.
However, making northeast Ohio the epicenter of the U.S. offshore wind industry will be much more complicated and require technology that hasn’t been invented yet, but Wagner said partnerships are in place to make it happen. Cuyahoga County has applied for the submerged-land leases necessary to build a 20-megawatt demonstration project seven miles from the shore. Great Lakes Ohio Wind (GLOW) LLC has been selected as the developer, and General Electric will provide the turbines.
The challenges are daunting. The team designing and implementing the project must do something that never has been done in the United States and at a lower cost than it’s being done in Europe.
Wagner said that while costs usually come down as an industry evolves, GLOW and LEEDCo must find the technology to cut costs even before the domestic industry learns to walk.
Offshore wind power is concentrated in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, Wagner said. Because the components are so massive, the manufacturing supply chain develops parallel to the point of application. LEEDCo’s premise is that by jump-starting the U.S. industry in northeast Ohio, much of the technical expertise and manufacturing will be established here, as well. LEEDCo envisions the region becoming a national resource for offshore wind-energy development in other Great Lakes states.
Wagner said the industry would need to install, at a minimum, 50 turbines in the lake every year before manufacturing would take notice of the potential and start building the supply chain in Ohio. One study conservatively estimated that if the Lake Erie wind industry grew to 5,000 MW of production, 400 new businesses and 8,000 new jobs would be created.
Wagner said there are 18 permitting agencies that must approve any offshore wind project, but both the state and federal governments are pushing to streamline the process. Demonstrating viability with the first project, scheduled for completion in 2013, is essential to that process.
The goal is to have LEEDCo, working with the counties and their port authorities, obtain the leases, then sublease the offshore properties to developers in a consistent and orderly fashion – and have 1,000 MW of clean-energy potential in the lake by 2020.
“We want to make sure it happens and make sure it happens right,” Wagner said.
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