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LEEDCo lands a third DOE grant to develop Lake Erie wind project

The U.S. Department of Energy has not given up on Lake Erie-based wind turbines, the first freshwater-based turbines in the nation.

The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., or LEEDCo, is in line for a $3.7 million research and development grant in March of 2016, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said Monday morning.

The DOE granted the company $3 million in 2014 and $4 million in 2012, both for R&D work.

“Lake Erie is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” Kaptur said in an interview. “People don’t realize the wind resource we have on the lake. And LEEDCo is playing a major resource and development role.”

Not only is the company using what Kaptur called “high science” to solve the icing and foundation problems involved in building turbines in fresh water, the company is also in touch with industry here, she said.

“We can innovate and we can manufacture. We can do it, and not just theoretically,” she said.

LEEDCo’s plan is to build a six-turbine demonstration project about eight to 10 miles northwest of downtown Cleveland. Each turbine would generate about 3 megawatts (3 million watts) of electricity, said David Karpinski, vice president of engineering for LEEDCo.

Though the point of the project is to prove it can be done, and done at a reasonable cost, the small wind farm would be a commercial operation and it would be connected by lake bed cable to Cleveland Public Power’s high voltage grid near the East Shoreway. CPP has agreed to buy 25 percent of the output. The rest of the power would be sold into the regional high-voltage grid.

LEEDCo plans to use a new European foundation technology that can be installed without digging up the lake bottom or driving piles into the shale rock beneath the lake.

Called a “mono bucket,” the foundation was developed during the past decade by Universal Foundation, a Danish company, said Karpinski.

The “mono bucket foundation” is an all-in-one steel structure – a monopile shaft attached to the bottom of a bucket measuring about 45 feet in diameter.

The bucket would be sunk and placed open-side down on the lake bottom with the shaft or pole extending toward the surface of the water.

And when engineers pump out the water trapped in the inverted bucket, the structure sinks itself into the sea or lake bottom, said Karpinski.

To design that bucket for this site, LEEDCo over the summer contracted with two companies to take core samples of the dense clay and shale under the lake at the site and to do electronic pressure tests of the lake bottom.

Case Western Reserve University’s Civil Engineering Department and Aalborg University in Denmark are analyzing the core samples. LEEDCo will use those results when it negotiates with wind-turbine manufacturers, said Karpinski.

LEEDCo has worked closely with a number of European engineering companies, including engineer Esa Eranti, of Finland, considered one of the best ice experts in the offshore business.

Each wind turbine tower would be equipped with an anti-ice cone – an inverted steel cone filled with concrete and attached to the tower several feet below the water’s surface to deflect the ice.

Eranti said the ice cone would work just fine in Lake Erie to protect the towers from the “keel ice” or broken and refrozen chunks of ice that will push up against the structures from underwater.

Oil company engineers first suggested the cones 30 years ago to protect offshore drilling rigs, he said.