CLEVELAND, Ohio – The U.S. Department of Energy is advancing another $3.7 million to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. to continue engineering work on a proposed wind turbine project in Lake Erie about seven to 10 miles northwest of downtown Cleveland.
“This additional funding will support LEEDCo’s offshore wind research and development progress and work associated with permitting, … [and with an interconnection] agreement, installation and operations and a maintenance plan,” the DOE wrote in a memo to the Ohio Congressional delegation.
The grant is the third the DOE has awarded to LEEDCo, bringing the total federal funding to $10.7 million. Previous grants have helped pay for the development of foundation engineering designs.
The energy department made LEEDCo an alternate or runner-up in 2014 when it announced it would be awarding $47 million grants to offshore projects in the Atlantic Ocean.
But those projects have run into engineering and political problems while LEEDCo has continued to work on the hard engineering involved in placing wind turbines in fresh water, where ice poses an extra foundation problem.
LEEDCo is hoping the energy department will now declare it a finalist and move a primary grant to the lake project since the ocean projects have not met the government’s rigorous engineering development schedule.
LEEDCo’s decision last year to partner with Norwegian wind developer Fred.Olsen Renewables, the largest independent power producer in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in Europe, should help.
Fred.Olsen has incorporated a U.S. subsidiary and intends to buy LEEDCo’s assets. In the mean time the Norwegian developer has been paying some of the bills.
The $3.7 million DOE grant depends on the LEEDCo and Fred.Olsen partnership providing a $1.9 million cost share, according to a DOE memo, making the total funding now available nearly $5.6 million.
David Karpinski, an engineer and LEEDCo vice president, said the DOE had indicated in November that the project was on track to receive the $3.7 million. “This grant will take us through another year of detailed engineering work,” he said. “Fred.Olsen is contributing a cost share now.”
Karpinski said the goal now is to complete detailed electrical and mechanical engineering designs – everything from the wiring and transformers, to underwater cables, to exact foundation specifications and even details as small as ladders on the turbine foundations.
The goal is to have the wind turbines built and functioning by the end of 2018, he said.
U.S. Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the ranking member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said her goal at this point is to convince the DOE to make the LEEDCo project a finalist and eligible for major future federal funding.
“LEEDCo has achieved significant milestones and overcome all of the weaknesses identified in DOE’s  project evaluations,” she said in a statement issued late Wednesday. “This … project will begin to unleash Lake Erie’s full renewable power potential and contribute to creating a more competitive energy marketplace.”
As originally conceived when the Cleveland Foundation awarded the first grant to the project a decade ago, off-shore Lake wind farms were thought of as having the potential to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of megawatts – as much as a fleet of conventional power plants, either coal or nuclear.
The idea was that such a development would have a good chance of creating thousands of manufacturing jobs in Northeast Ohio.
That goal has not disappeared.
LEEDCo is aiming to build a 20-megawatt demonstration project, not a commercial wind farm. In other words, this is a proof-of-concept project.
Current cost estimates, including the research and development already under way, are between $120 million and $128 million. Fred.Olsen Renewables is expecting to raise about a third of that money through private investors. The company is talking to banks, both here and in Europe to finance the remainder.
LEEDCo plans to use six turbines designed for off-shore wind farms around the world on foundations designed to withstand ocean wind and current conditions.
What makes the LEEDCo project different is that it would be the first off-shore fresh water project, meaning the foundation designs would have to be able to withstand ice on the surface as well as underwater ice floes and ice dams.
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