The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 8, 2011

LEEDCo president makes case for offshore wind

Kent State-Ashtabula Profiles Breakfast series gets under way

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Residents of Ohio’s lake-shore communities may be asked to choose between eventually destroying the Lake Erie fishing industry or having some very tiny wind turbines on the lake horizon.

Lorry Wagner, president of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), spoke at the Profiles Breakfast on Wednesday morning at Kent State-Ashtabula about the economic benefits and some compromises that will come with offshore wind energy. LEEDCo is a public-private partnership that is at the forefront of developing Lake Erie’s offshore wind energy potential. That potential is considered to be greatest in the counties of east of Cleveland; a demonstration project is planned about seven miles off Cuyahoga County.

Wagner told the breakfast guests that at seven miles out, the 300-foot towers will, to someone on shore looking at the lake horizon, appear to be the size of a dime. The prime locations for wind turbines in the waters off Lake and Ashtabula counties are 10 to 15 miles out.

“Most of the time, the wind turbines will not be visible,” he said. “At 15 miles out, it will be much smaller than a dime.”

One of the breakfast guests grilled Wagner on the possible impact the turbines would have on the county’s tourism industry, which is tied to the lake. Wagner said a larger concern for him is the impact the continued pollution of the lake from coal-fired plants along its shoreline will have on the sport-fishing industry. Lake Erie has the highest concentration of mercury of the five Great Lakes, and about two-thirds of that pollution comes from coal-burning plants, Wagner said. He said a value judgment will have to be made on what is more important to the long-term longevity of the industry and region.

That same long-term approach must be taken to offshore wind, in general. Wagner said that while there is a glut of electricity at this time, coal-fired generation plants are nearing the end of their lives and will need to be replaced with alternative methods of producing energy. Northeast Ohio lost out on the technology boom and, more recently, the biotech industry boom, he said. The Cleveland Foundation studied the next big thing to come down the road and determined it will be energy.

“Every coal plant in the region will be looked at for retirement,” he said. “If you retire 20 percent of the coal plants, what are you going to replace them with?”

Wagner said European nations already have recognized offshore wind as both a viable source of energy and a jobs engine.

The United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark have $137 billion in offshore projects. France gets 80 percent of its power from nuclear plants but, nevertheless, is investing $14 billion in offshore wind projects.

“There is money to be made in offshore wind in Europe,” he said.

Is there money to be made in the United States? Wagner, whose background includes nuclear engineering, believes there is. He said LEEDCo wants to seed the industry with up to 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind projects by 2020.

“Our goal is to get the industry moving and then bring in as much private investment as possible,” he said.

If LEEDCo gets 1,000 megawatts of production capacity in the water, it still would be only 10 percent of the overall Lake Erie potential, he said. That is also seen as a tipping point for convincing manufacturers to set up production facilities in Northeast Ohio to supply the turbine and tower parts.

On the hardware side of the project, Wagner said LEEDCo is leaning toward a gravity-based foundation that would be 10 to 12 stories high and built on land, and then floated to the construction site. That work will require a port of at least 100 acres that could be devoted to building the bases.

“The Ashtabula port is ideally suited,” he observed.

LEEDCo’s demonstration project, originally slated for a 2013 construction, probably won’t be built until 2014, Wagner said. The configuration called for five or so turbines, but he said advances in turbine generating capacity could change that. Cleveland Public Power has committed to purchase 25 percent of the power the project generates; LEEDCo is negotiating the sale of the other 75 percent.

Wagner said that in addition to the strong prevailing winds on Lake Erie, the presence of the Lake Erie Loop electrical grid and connection points on the shoreline make it an excellent site for offshore wind.

“The existing grid is more than adequate to plug into,” Wagner said.

Ashtabula County, along with Lorain, Cuyahoga and Lake counties, have representation on the LEEDCo board and will have a voice in how revenue from the projects will be shared. The county is getting a share of revenue from the Cleveland project, and Wagner said that is indicative of how income from future projects will be weighted toward the host county.