The first floating buoy to test offshore wind energy in Lake Michigan is planned for six miles off the Muskegon shoreline next spring.
A federal grant helped fund the $3.7 million project spearheaded by Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center in Muskegon.
The initial plan for the Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Assessment Project was to provide a demonstration wind turbine on Muskegon Lake. But it was cost prohibitive and not as practical as a floating buoy that could collect test data in different locations on the lake, MAREC officials said.
MAREC has received two bids on construction and deployment of the wind testing buoy. A decision on the bids is expected this month as project officials work to get the needed federal and state permits to allow the large buoy in the lake.
MAREC officials put together the initial $3.7 million in funding for the buoy and wind testing equipment. The effort began with a $1.4 million U.S. Department of Energy budget “earmark” through Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.
MAREC officials brought in the University of Michigan’s Phoenix Energy Institute and the Michigan Public Service Commission. The final piece of the funding puzzle comes from Wisconsin Energy – the public utility interested in Lake Michigan wind development.
Private developer plans flop
Back in April, MAREC and its wind test platform partners sought a private developer to help finance, design and build the research platform. Adequate interest never surfaced, according to MAREC Director Arn Boezaart.
MAREC and the funding partners took a new look at their budget and the opportunities for collecting test data on the lake. The buoy idea was put in a new request for proposals sent to buoy manufacturers earlier this month.
“This will give us in-the-water, real-time data using the most advanced wind testing equipment,” Boezaart said. “We don’t have this kind of data right now.”
The plan is to put the buoy on Lake Michigan for nine to 10 months. The initial concept was a research platform in the lake that would survive winter ice flows but it did not fit into the researcher’s budget, Boezaart said.
The buoy would survive the winter, but the test equipment would likely be ruined under the strain of ice, Boezaart said. All of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather and wave buoys come out of the water each winter.
The initial research plan is for three years, moving the buoy to collect data from different parts of the lake.
In addition to the Muskegon location, the second testing area will be on the “mid-lake plateau,” a shallow area in the middle of Lake Michigan just south of a line from Grand Haven to Milwaukee. Wisconsin Energy is interested in wind data from that location, Boezaart said.
The third location would be determined by GVSU and University of Michigan researchers after the results of the first two years are analyzed. GVSU would own the buoy and after three years would determine how it could further lake research going forward.
The buoy would be equipped with advanced “LIDAR” technology. The “light detecting and ranging” device is an optical sensing technology that can measure winds simultaneously at various heights.
“This would be able to provide ‘bankable’ results for those that would look at investing in offshore wind,” Boezaart said.
For the two or three winter months that data would not be collected on the water, researchers could make estimations based on wind data being collected onshore under a state wind testing program.
Testing on land
Michigan State Police communication towers along the Lake Michigan shoreline have been equipped with wind anemometers. These test sites could give scientists a fairly accurate picture of the winter winds on the lake when the other nine months of lake data are correlated to the shoreline wind speeds.
Along with analyzing the two bids for the wind test buoy, MAREC officials continue to work on securing an environmental permit from the federal government.
That environmental approval is needed before federal money may be spent on manufacturing
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