Over 4,500 customers in northeast Ohio have pledged to buy electricity from offshore wind turbines seven miles off of Cleveland’s shore in Lake Erie, according to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), the nonprofit organization planning the project. The announcement was made last week during the “POWER UP for Offshore Wind” event in Cleveland.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Rep. Mary Kaptur (D-OH) both were in attendance and praised the project. “Wind power is an important source of energy and jobs in Northern Ohio’s future,” Kaptur said.
Since April, LEEDCo has been collecting signatures from supporters who say they will buy electricity, even at higher prices, from the offshore wind farm called, “Icebreaker.” The goal of having potential customers sign the POWER Pledge is to show power companies the growing consumer demand for wind energy. Kaptur even signed the pledge at the event.
Icebreaker is one of seven offshore wind demonstration projects that received $4 million in direct support from the Department of Energy last year, and could be the first freshwater project to be built in North America. The Department of Energy will select up to three of the seven initial projects in May 2014 for additional funding that focuses on construction and installation. The selected projects would aim to begin commercial operation in 2017.
Coal currently fuels 72 percent of Ohio’s net electricity generation, while natural gas provides 16 percent. The electricity produced at power plants is the single-largest domestic source of climate pollution. Additionally, the emissions contaminate the water and air, threatening public health of Ohioans.
The Icebreaker project will generate 20 megawatts of power, is estimated to create 600 construction jobs, and then 60 permanent jobs. LEEDCo has chosen Siemens Corp. of Germany to build the turbines, but in U.S. factories — benefiting the wind supply chain in America. The power generated won’t significantly change Ohio’s electricity portfolio, but it does set the stage for Ohio to lead the Great Lakes region in renewable energy.
Illinois has also expressed interest in developing offshore wind energy on Lake Michigan. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the “Lake Michigan Wind Energy Act” into law on August 7. The law created a council to study offshore wind energy projects. Wind turbines will not be popping up on Lake Michigan anytime soon, but Illinois has taken a major step in the process of developing the energy source.
Enthusiasm for offshore wind on the Great Lakes disappeared after the 2010 elections when voters replaced Democratic governors with Republican ones in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Michigan, in particular, was making progress thanks to former Governor Jennifer Granholm. Gov. Granholm created the Great Lakes Wind Council in 2009, which issued a report just before the 2010 elections locating 13,339 square miles that are most favorable to offshore wind development.
Nevertheless, support for offshore wind appears to be building again in the Great Lakes region. Offshore wind represents a large, untapped energy resource of the United States with the potential to supply over 4,000 gigawatts of clean electricity. According to a report commissioned by the Department of Energy, the U.S. offshore wind industry could support up to 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation and supply chain jobs, which would drive $70 billion in annual investments by 2030.
Recently, the Department of the Interior held a competitive lease sale for renewable energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The first-ever auction was held on July 31 for 164,750 acres offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Deepwater Wind New England, LLC. won the auction and has the potential to supply nearly 3,500 megawatts of wind energy. The second auction will take place on September 4, and will offer nearly 112,800 acres offshore Virginia; an area with the potential to support more than 2,000 megawatts of wind energy.
Matt Kasper is the Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress.