Offshore Wind In New England Offers Learning For Great Lakes

3 de marzo de 2013 at 22:49 Deja un comentario

When Scan­dia, a Nor­we­gian wind com­pa­ny, announced its plans to install 200 tur­bines in Lake Michi­gan four miles from the tourist town of Lud­ing­ton, Michi­gan, in 2009, they like­ly didn’t antic­i­pate the con­tro­ver­sy that would erupt.

After all, the project would be deliv­er­ing domes­ti­cal­ly pro­duced renew­able ener­gy to replace planet-warming fos­sil fuels. It would cre­ate local jobs installing and oper­at­ing the tur­bines. A near­by pumped-hydro facil­i­ty for stor­ing back­up ener­gy sat in the near­by dunes, com­plete with sub­sta­tions and high-voltage lines they could use to move elec­tric­i­ty from their off­shore tur­bines to the grid.

“The devel­op­er thought, We’ll build wind farms out in Lake Michi­gan, hook up in Lud­ing­ton, and every­one will be delighted,” recalled Arn Boezaart, direc­tor of the Michi­gan Alter­na­tive and Renew­able Ener­gy Cen­ter at Grand Val­ley State Uni­ver­si­ty.

Instead, “they were basi­cal­ly run out of town,” Boezaart recalled.

Res­i­dents of this pic­turesque town were out­raged about the prospects of scores of wind tur­bines ruin­ing their view. Nobody had con­sult­ed them. And Michi­gan, like every other Great Lakes state, lacks even a rudi­men­ta­ry pro­ce­dure for reg­u­lat­ing off­shore wind farms, with­out which there would be lit­tle oppor­tu­ni­ty for pub­lic hear­ings.

A sim­i­lar brouha­ha unfold­ed over the past decade in Nan­tuck­et Sound, off the south­ern coast of Cape Cod, over a pro­posed 468 MW wind farm known as Cape Wind. Res­i­dents of the area spent nine years fight­ing the project before the Inte­ri­or Depart­ment approved it in 2010.

Off­shore wind farms may be a com­mon sight in Euro­pean waters, but the Unit­ed States has yet to build its first. Plans for sev­er­al East Coast wind farms are mov­ing for­ward, and con­struc­tion of the Block Island Wind Farm, in the Rhode Island Sound, could begin next year. Mean­while, Ohio’s Lake Erie Ener­gy Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (LEED­Co) is scal­ing up to build a nine-turbine, 27 MW wind farm in Lake Erie off Cleve­land.

As off­shore wind lurch­es for­ward, bet­ter tech­ni­cal and pol­i­cy tools are need­ed, off­shore wind experts said recent­ly at the annu­al con­fer­ence of the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Sci­ence (AAAS) in Boston. At the con­fer­ence, they offered new mod­els, plan­ning tools and lessons learned from the bat­tles over off­shore wind in New Eng­land.

Bet­ter sit­ing with sci­ence
“There’s a lot of inter­est in doing [off­shore wind] if costs can be justified,” econ­o­mist Robert Grif­fin of the Palo Alto, California-based Nat­ur­al Cap­i­tal Project, said at the AAAS con­fer­ence. The wind speeds off­shore are high­er, which means wind farms can pro­duce more elec­tric­i­ty per tur­bine, and East Coast off­shore sites are close to major cities that con­sume a lot of elec­tric­i­ty.

At the con­fer­ence, Grif­fin described a new wind ener­gy model he devel­oped that iden­ti­fies sites where wind com­pa­nies could prof­itably devel­op a wind farm.

The model, called the Inte­grat­ed Val­u­a­tion of Envi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices and Trade­offs (InVEST), can help cal­cu­late the power the wind farm would pro­duce and the price per kilowatt-hour the owner would need to charge to make a prof­it. The model con­sid­ers the mea­sured wind speeds at a site, infor­ma­tion about tur­bines and cables, and the dis­tance to the near­est node of the elec­tri­cal grid. The model will be released March 1.

Although the model was devel­oped for the North Atlantic, “there’s no rea­son this couldn’t work in the Great Lakes,” Grif­fin told Mid­west Ener­gy News.

Lorry Wag­n­er, pres­i­dent of LEED­Co, sees promise in Grif­fin’s approach.

“Right now you have one set of tools on the tech­ni­cal side that give you your cost of ener­gy, and anoth­er set of tools that give you your pro forma—your finan­cial data,” he said.

If the InVEST model is accu­rate in its tech­ni­cal and finan­cial pre­dic­tions, it would be “very use­ful” in plan­ning for var­i­ous con­tin­gen­cies, such as high­er main­te­nance costs than pre­dict­ed, or ris­ing inter­est rates that make bor­row­ing money for cap­i­tal costs more expen­sive, Wag­n­er said.

”It could help you do a lot of what-ifs,” he said.

Sus­tain­able wind, sus­tain­able fish
Con­ser­va­tion­ists have their own set of what-ifs, as do com­mer­cial fish­ers.

A sys­tem­at­ic map­ping approach could help them meet their goals as well, said Sally McGee, who directs the North­east Marine Pro­gram for the Nature Con­ser­van­cy and serves on the New Eng­land Fish­ery Man­age­ment Coun­cil, the major region­al plan­ning body for the fish­ing indus­try.

To plan off­shore wind well, you need to know “where the wind is, where the fish are, and where are the impor­tant places for conservation,” she said.

She pre­sent­ed a map that over­lapped the three types of infor­ma­tion. Wind speed data came the Depart­ment of Ener­gy, fish gath­er­ing spots came by aggre­gat­ing fish­ing ves­sel trip reports between 2007 and 2011, and con­ser­va­tion hotspots came from the North­west Atlantic Marine Ecore­gion­al Assess­ment.

The con­ser­va­tion maps can “turn on the light on places that are most impor­tant for con­serv­ing ecosystems,” she said.

McGee offered two exam­ples to illus­trate the use­ful­ness of this approach—and the impor­tance of get­ting all the key par­ties talk­ing early.

Off the coast of Mass­a­chu­setts, the state gov­ern­ment was push­ing for wind ener­gy to be sited off­shore, and a map of promis­ing wind areas hap­pened to over­lap with scal­lop­ing grounds that pro­duce more than $60 mil­lion worth of scal­lops each year.

“That real­ly put the fish­ing indus­try on edge,” and pro­mul­gat­ed a lot of mis­trust, McGee said.

For the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, how­ev­er, the plan­ning went more smooth­ly. State offi­cials talked to fish­ers early, and ruled out one tract of water with good wind that was also a major fish­ing area.

Mean­while, con­ser­va­tion­ists were con­cerned that many of the world’s crit­i­cal­ly endan­geredright whales fed each April in Rhode Island Sound, where the wind farm would be built. The devel­op­er, Deep­wa­ter Wind, and Con­ser­va­tion Law Foun­da­tion (CLF) agreed last month to delay pile dri­ving in April of the wind farm’s con­struc­tion year, even though that’s prime con­struc­tion sea­son.

Lessons for the Great Lakes
The Great Lakes region is at least sev­er­al years behind New Eng­land in plan­ning for off­shore wind, and devel­op­ment has pro­ceed­ed in stops and starts.

At the time of the Scan­dia tus­sle, then-Michigan Gov. Jen­nifer Granholm was pro­mot­ing the devel­op­ment of off­shore wind. Michi­gan owns 40 per­cent of the ter­ri­to­r­i­al waters of the Great Lakes, and much of that area is windy.

In 2009, “we had all sorts of peo­ple [in Michi­gan] cheer­ing us on,” Boezaart said. Under an exec­u­tive order from Granhom, the state estab­lished the now-inactive Great Lakes Off­shore Wind Coun­cil (GLOW), which iden­ti­fied five pri­or­i­ty areas for wind devel­op­ment in Michi­gan’s Great Lakes waters.

There was sim­i­lar sup­port in Wis­con­sin, Ohio and Illi­nois, and Ohio con­duct­ed a map­ping exer­cise for its Great Lakes waters, con­sid­er­ing fac­tors such as wind resources, water depth, and the loca­tion of Lake Erie’s ship­ping lanes and ship­wrecks.

But in the 2010 elec­tions vot­ers replaced Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nors with Repub­li­can ones in Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Ohio.

“It was like some­body flipped the switch and the resound­ing col­lec­tive inter­est in wind ener­gy on the Great Lakes dis­ap­peared overnight,” he said.

Nev­er­the­less, those push­ing off­shore wind are not sit­ting idle. The states and provinces of the region have a rich his­to­ry of col­lab­o­rat­ing on Great Lakes issues, said Vic­to­ria Peb­bles, who runs the Great Lakes Wind Col­lab­o­ra­tive, which brings togeth­er wind devel­op­ers, util­i­ties, aca­d­e­mics, con­ser­va­tion groups and gov­ern­ment.

“We’ve man­aged to work through things,” she said.

Peb­bles sug­gest­ed emu­lat­ing the fed­er­al Bureau of Ocean Ener­gy Man­age­ment to help agen­cies devel­op and stream­line per­mit­ting before the inevitable off­shore wind pro­pos­als turn up. BOEM’s Smart from the Start pro­gram, launched in 2010, aims to speed off­shore wind devel­op­ment by get­ting states and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment talk­ing. That’s what Michi­gan’s GLOW Coun­cil was try­ing to do, she said.

Great Lakes wind devel­op­ers will also have to learn how to build wind farms in waters that freeze each win­ter, but that shouldn’t be too much of a hur­dle, Wag­n­er, of LEED­Co, said.

“The abil­i­ty to build struc­tures in water with ice has been known for hun­dreds of years, but the chal­lenge is to do it as cost-effectively as pos­si­ble” with­out over­build­ing, he explained.

A shift in the wind?
The recent head­winds faced by off­shore wind devel­op­ers may be shift­ing.

“Despite the fact that we have pol­i­tics at state level that are wind-resistant, we have a great push for off­shore wind at fed­er­al level,” Boezaart said.

In 2010, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama issued Exec­u­tive Order 13537, man­dat­ing a new nation­al ocean pol­i­cy that pro­motes mul­ti­ple uses of U.S. coastal waters, includ­ing off­shore wind. The Depart­ment of Ener­gy has a five-year plan in place to devel­op off­shore wind nation­al­ly, and a strat­e­gy that com­mits to devel­op­ing in-water wind tech­nolo­gies by 2015, he said.

In March 2012, the heads of ten fed­er­al agen­cies and five Great Lakes states—Illi­nois, Michi­gan, Min­neso­ta, New York and Penn­syl­va­nia—signed a Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing to coor­di­nate review and per­mit­ting of off­shore wind projects in the Great Lakes, which could reduce bureau­crat­ic hur­dles.

In Decem­ber, the Depart­ment of Ener­gy has also thrown in some cash to get seven off­shore wind projects up to speed.

These includ­ed a $4 mil­lion invest­ment for LEED­Co’s Lake Erie project. The com­pa­ny will obtain an addi­tion­al $1 mil­lion from pri­vate investors.

In Europe, Wag­n­er said, $200 mil­lion is being invest­ed in off­shore wind, and big com­pa­nies like Lego, Ikea, and Black­stone are invest­ing as well, as are pen­sion funds.

“We’re start­ing to get a lot of pri­vate money involved,” he said.

And both he and Boezaart are opti­mists about the future of large-scale off­shore wind in the lakes.

“Soon­er or later,” Boezaart said, “we’ll take a look at the mas­sive amount of wind ener­gy avail­able in the Great Lakes.”

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