Cohocton Wind Watch: Experts say first offshore wind turbines in Great Lakes years away
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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Experts say first offshore wind turbines in Great Lakes years away

MUSKEGON — Large wind turbines are still years away from being installed in the Great Lakes, the federal government’s offshore wind manager and a former industry insider say.

Yet, U.S. Department of Energy’s Christopher Hart and former Bluewater Wind offshore wind developer Mike O’Brien agreed Friday that Grand Valley State University’s offshore wind assessment and research buoy could significantly impact the potential for wind turbines in the Great Lakes.

Hart and O’Brien attended the dedication of the buoy Friday at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Lake Michigan field station. The floating, 20-by-10-foot structure is equipped with a special laser wind sensor to measure wind speeds at various heights over the lake.

When each was asked by The Chronicle to look into their “crystal balls” to predict when turbines might be installed in the Great Lakes, Hart said six to eight years and O’Brien said as early as three to five years.

Hart said he expects that the first offshore wind projects will be completed in the Northeast portion of the United States, because traditional energy costs there are higher so offshore wind’s cost competitiveness will be realized sooner.

After technology advancements are complete and financial risks of offshore wind energy minimized, Hart said he expects “best” projects to begin being installed in the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. Among the advancements currently being pursued is improved power transmission capabilities for offshore turbines, being backed by Google, and larger turbines to access better winds farther offshore.

Hart said the goal is to reduce the costs of offshore-wind-produced electricity from 20 cents per kilowatt hour to 7 cents per kilowatt hour. He said he expects about half of the cost reduction to come in technological advancements and the other half from lower capital costs.

By building bigger wind farms with larger turbines and blades and putting them farther offshore, Hart said he expects offshore wind development to make better business sense. It also will allay concern about the turbines’ appearance from the shore.

O’Brien said the wind-assessment buoy’s data, if deemed accurate, and state changes in the permitting process are keys to making offshore wind farms more viable in the Great Lakes. He said if those two items are favorable for developers, wind turbines could be put in the Great Lakes in three to five years.

However, O’Brien said it may be five to seven years if floating turbines are deemed the better option to install farther off land in deeper water.

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