Officials hopeful for wind turbines

DOts represent businesses in the wind industry. For more information, visit www.glwn.org/. Map courtesy of the Great Lakes Wind Network

DOts represent businesses in the wind industry. For more information, visit www.glwn.org/. Map courtesy of the Great Lakes Wind Network

Avon Lake

By Bryan Wroten

The upcoming offshore wind turbine project in Lake Erie has many hoping for the development of a turbine manufacturing market in northern Ohio, but those behind the project say there’s much work to be done before that can become a reality.

The Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force met Thursday at the Avon Lake Public Library to share with its members and an interested public the progress made since the May 26 announcement that GE would build the turbines for the project.

Task force Executive Director Steve Dever, an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County, said when the project began, GE initially had no interest in offshore wind power because of issues with the turbines’ gearboxes delivering the electricity at a competitive cost. Having recently found a direct-drive technology that does away with gearboxes, GE reconsidered.

“That company feels there is an opportunity for offshore wind as a form of advanced electricity generation,” he said.

As part of the deal with the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), GE must consider building a manufacturing plant for offshore wind turbines in Northeast Ohio should a market for the turbines develop. The goal is to build out the wind turbine industry and reduce the cost of production in this area to encourage growth and development. GE will use turbines manufactured at a recently purchased plant in Scandinavia for at least the test units.

Dever showed a chart by the Great Lakes Wind Network displaying areas actively involved in the wind market. There is a large cluster of Northeast Ohio businesses whose products or services relate to wind energy.

“It shows what we knew all along,” he said. “Ohio has the muscle.”

Factories are built and investments take place where development occurs and policies are in place, he said. Supplies huddle around factories, he added, expecting offshore wind industry development within the next 10 years.

“It’s all determined by which projects move forward,” he said.

LEEDCo is the smallest proposed offshore wind turbine farm in the country, with a test project of five 4-megawatt turbines 3 to 10 miles out in the lake.

This project has started out as sustainable economic development project, LEEDCo attorney David Nash said.

The reason LEEDCo and the task force plan to put turbines on the lake has to do with wind speeds. There are few places in Ohio that have strong enough wind speeds for a wind farm on land, he said. The best resource Ohio has is in the lake, he said.

“The fact of the matter is, if Ohio takes place in this industry, we have to have projects that are near where the stuff is going to be manufactured to capture manufacturing and service opportunities,” he said.

“There’s so many requirements, we’re going to make damn sure that’s the case before we get the opportunity to put the first wind turbine in the water.”

Having a manufacturing base here would hopefully provide jobs in the area, said Phil Amato, an Avon Lake Renewable Energy Task Force member. Amato, a mechanical engineer, said northern Ohio could become a central hub for wind turbine manufacturing.

State Rep. Matt Lundy, who attended the meeting, said in an interview the General Assembly is considering a tax break (SB 232) for alternative energy projects. It would exempt tangible personal property taxes for alternative energy sources, including wind power. The size of the exemption would depend on the size of the project, he said.

“This is something that we thought was important to do to make us competitive with other states,” he said. “It obviously helps to pave the way for more businesses in this industry and more jobs.”

Ohio is a big manufacturing state, he said, so to turn the economy around, the state needs to make a transition to producing components for the renewable energy field.

“Ohio, last year, was leading the country in new green energy jobs,” he said.

Lundy said he believes the strongest wind is off Avon Point, so it’s not just about Cleveland but the potential for other cities to participate in this project at some point.

“The important thing about this is we’ll crawl before we walk, walk before we run,” Lundy said. “This is going to be a learning process every step of the way. It’s going to require new engineering because it’s never been done before. Ultimately the benefit will be for economic development and increasing our renewable energy capabilities.”

Contact Bryan Wroten at bwroten@2presspapers.com

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