The development company formed to build a pilot wind farm in Lake Erie is switching to smaller, more efficient turbines, a move that could make the project more practical.
The idea is to whittle down the construction cost in order to produce electricity that can be sold to utilities at a price closer to wholesale prices – or at least closer to price of power from land-based wind turbines, said Lorry Wagner, president of the nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., or LEEDCo.
The project, first proposed in 2010, bogged down because utilities found the power too expensive. Supporters hope cheaper power will jumpstart the effort.
Gone are the gargantuan General Electric turbines that would have required equally extraordinary foundations and very large, specially built construction barges to put up the towers.
Each of five GE turbines would have generated up to 4 megawatts of electricity. But the cost of the power would have been close to 30 cents per kilowatt hour – or five times as expensive as current wholesale prices.
LEEDCo hopes to cut that rate in half, still more expensive than the 8 to 10 cents of land-based turbines and the average wholesale price of 6 cents for power generated traditionally.
In place of the 240-ton GE machine, LEEDCo proposes to use 70-ton turbines designed by the wind division of Siemens Energy, a German engineering company with several U.S. wind turbine manufacturing sites.
The relative light weight of the turbines means that less costly foundations would be required and existing construction barges would be able to handle the project.
As before, the long-term goal of the project is economic development. LEEDCo hopes ultimatley to place hundreds of turbines in the Lake, manufactured here by Siemens.
Although the towers for the pilot project would be fabricated locally, Siemens would make the turbines in Kansas and the blades in Iowa, Wagner said.
“Siemens has been very interested in assisting us. They have each of the Great Lakes planned out, and they have created a business plan,” Wagner said. “They realize they have to partner with local industry and develop a local supply chain.”
In addition to the informal relationship LEEDCo has developed with Siemens, the organization also has drawn the attention of DNV KEMA Energy and Sustainability, an electrical engineering company headquartered in the Netherlands with offices in 30 countries.
“We have been involved in every off-shore wind project in the world. There are over 50 right now,” said Richard Polich, an engineer with the company who is based in Burlington, Mass., and doing work for LEEDCo.
Wagner also is working informally with a Esa Eranti, founder of Eranti Engineering Oy of Finland, and a world expert on seabed turbine foundations.
The cost of the project would still be about $100 million, but that money would buy as many as nine 3-megawatt Siemens turbines that would be installed by local contractors, Wagner said.
They would generate a total of 27 megawatts. One megawatt is enough power for 800 to 1,000 homes.
The turbines would be erected on a 4-square-mile parcel of lake bottom about 7 miles northwest of Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Financing for the project depends largely on LEEDCo and Case Western Reserve University winning $50 million from a $180 million grant the U.S. Department of Energy is making available for offshore wind projects. The application deadline is next week for the first award, $5 million, mostly for engineering research and development.
A Siemens spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the company’s interest in the Lake Erie project.
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