Friday, December 2, 2011

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By: Tony Logan
USDA Liaison and Steering Committee Co-chair: Great Lakes Wind Collaborative

I’ll Have a Double Latte and 15,000 Jobs, Please

As the gales of November strike the blustery cities around the Great Lakes—Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, to name a few—renewable energy advocates throughout the region tug up their coats, cast their eyes lakeward and ask, “why not?”

The notion of harvesting the powerful Class V and VI winds offshore in the Great Lakes for clean, renewable electrical energy has begun to take root in statehouses, city halls and boardrooms around the region. An estimated 740 Gigawatts of electricity—the equivalent of 360 nuclear power plants – awaits wind developers and utility companies willing to boldly go where no one has gone before: offshore in the freshwaters of the North American Great Lakes.

From an engineering standpoint, the problems associated with offshore wind deployment are eminently surmountable. After all, more than 3300 MW of offshore wind is already deployed in harsh European environments like the North Sea and the Baltic Sea—many in depths far greater than the Great Lakes.  Newer tower designs address the challenges presented by ice floes characteristic of freshwater lakes; specialized installation vessels have already been designed for Great Lakes waters; and studies on cross-lake bird migrations are already underway to make sure our domestic wildlife can co-exist with 300-foot wind turbines.

But the issue of cost still tends to obstruct public acceptance of offshore wind power generation. Although costs are continually coming down, coal-generated electricity is still cheaper on paper than wind power, whether generated on land or offshore.

For renewables like offshore wind to compete, many governments in Europe and Canada have established feed-in tariffs—a long-term incentive where the government agrees to purchase the electricity for an established price. Feed-in tariffs mean slightly higher costs for the consumer, but the payback for the economy is often substantial.

Societies that adopt incentives for wind almost always reap the benefits of green energy jobs, as wind turbine manufacturers and maritime industries bring factories and laydown yards to the offshore installation sites. For example, the Province of Ontario’s 2009 Green Energy Act, which established a feed-in tariff for offshore wind and other renewables, has already attracted an estimated 20,000 new jobs to the province. In spite of higher electric bills, the measure remains popular with Ontario voters. In the provincial elections last October, supporters of the Green Energy Act turned back an effort to abolish the tariff by a 60-to-35-percent margin.

An incentive available in the United States involves empowering utilities to “rate recover” for electricity purchased from renewable sources like offshore wind. Drawing from the cross-lake example of Ontario, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) in Cleveland, Ohio is looking to be the first to deploy wind turbines offshore in the Great Lakes. Their plan is to build out a pilot project of five, 4-megawatt turbines three miles out in Cleveland Harbor.

To help fund the effort, LEEDCo is talking with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio about instituting rate recovery for the project through the local utility, First Energy. If approved by the Commission, the typical electric bill in the utility service area would increase by about .40 cents a month: $4.80 a year.

Studies suggest that if this project succeeds in being the first to get “sticks in the water,” it would stand to become the epicenter for offshore wind turbine manufacture on the U.S. side of the Lakes—a game-changing event which would create some 15,000 new jobs in the former Rustbelt cities around Lake Erie.

For the annual price of a Grande Double Caramel Latte —or in my circle of friends, a pint of locally-brewed IPA—Northern Ohio could transform its economy almost overnight and be a leader in the green energy jobs revolution.

So will the state that first brought us Standard Oil and the Wright Brothers’ aircraft also be the first to adopt offshore wind development?

It may all come down to a cup of coffee.

By: Tony Logan
USDA Liaison and Steering Committee Co-chair: Great Lakes Wind Collaborative

1 comment:

  1. Well said, excellent article! You've set a high bar for this blog Tony, thanks for this first post. MKlepinger