DOE Awards $40M Grant for Lake Erie Wind Project – A Victory for Windustrious Cleveland

Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur on May 27 announced that “Cleveland’s Wind Project qualifies for a [U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)] grant of $40 million in additional funds” to construct turbines on Lake Erie, “unlocking the tremendous offshore wind energy potential of the Great Lakes, which represents 20 percent of the United States’ total offshore wind energy capacity.”

Fred Olsen Renewables, the largest independent power producer in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in Europe, is expected to raise the remaining $70 million. Fred Olsen Renewables is enthusiastic about the upcoming collaboration.

This exciting project began in 2006 as a citizen initiative, named Windustrious Cleveland. As a longtime resident of the city, I have deep respect and affection for its industrial core, and regret that much of it is now underutilized. Ten years ago I realized that, a few miles offshore on Lake Erie, there were strong steady winds that could be used as a clean source of power. In doing so, Cleveland could create a new manufacturing center, involving the building, installing and maintaining of wind turbines. Many people, with a variety of skills, would find rewarding work. On top of that, such an installation would be the first offshore wind farm in fresh water in the world. Our city would take on a leadership position.

It was important to build grassroots as well as official support for this idea. With the aid of creative web designer, Dennis Yurich, I launched the Windustrious website. Jeff Moyer, an inspired composer, wrote and performed a beautiful theme melody for the project. Members of the public, as well as organizational and industry leaders, were encouraged to express their support, and were featured as Windustrious Champions on the website.

To push the project ahead, powerful voices were brought on board, including the influential Cleveland Foundation in 2006. Many public officials were lobbied, as well as heads of environmental and community organizations. I met and talked with members of the wind industry and other industry leaders. I wrote letters, gave presentations, and supported wind energy for Lake Erie at every opportunity. Ronn Richard, President of the the Cleveland Foundation, together with Bill Mason, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, created the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force. Subsequently many studies were done to investigate the potential for installing a wind farm on the Lake. An official project, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), was launched in 2009, and geological and further analyses were completed.

All the while, a growing number of Champions added their names and supportive comments to the site, increasing enthusiasm for the project at a multitude of different levels. As I said in a 2009 video, “If this project ever comes to fruition, I want to say thank you to all the Champions who helped to make it happen. You’ve done something very big — not just for Cleveland, but for the planet.”

The current exciting development was fostered by the climate of receptivity and creativity that we initiated. DOE gave small grants to the project at earlier stages, and has now decided that the project’s standing among the various competing requests for funding now merits the really large grant that had always been on the horizon.

The green light given to this endeavor by the U.S. government is an enormous boost to the project. Some obstacles, however, may still pose challenges to the successful exploitation of Lake Erie’s powerful and steady wind resource. The lake is the shallowest of all the Great Lakes, which greatly facilitates the placement of turbine bases, but the lake bottom is not as dense and firm as might be wished. This is where the technology developed by Universal Foundation (a company majority owned by Fred Olsen Ocean) comes into play. Their “suction bucket” foundation permits firm anchoring on even the softest of underwater terrains. This is important, as the fresh water of Lake Erie can freeze in a severe winter, imposing appreciable stress on the wind turbine’s tower.

The outlook is thus now rosy for the development of the substantial wind resource that Lake Erie represents. In the words of Jeff Moyer’s rousing invocation to wind power:

Now we vision mighty turbines
To sustain a cleaner time,
The Lake’s turbines are the answer
But the choice is yours and mine.
There is wind on the water
There is power in the breeze
There is wind on the water
See the turbines spin increase.

Wind on the water,
There is wind on the water,
There is wind on the water, evermore.

Lead image credit: Mark Goebel | Flickr

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