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Lake Erie Becomes Site for GE's First Ever Freshwater Wind Farm in the U.S.

wind farm

The U.S. is to see its first ever freshwater offshore wind farm, courtesy of GE and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), GE announced today. It's the culmination of a four-year campaign by The Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, and GE will provide wind turbines and maintenance for a 20-megawatt wind farm, with a long-term goal of 1,000 megawatts for the lake's Ohio waters within the decade. It's looking good for the state's economy, too, as it is hoped that some of the manufacture of the turbine parts will happen in Ohio.

Governor Ted Strickland praised the announcement, made at the American Wind Energy Association's annual WINDPOWER Conference in Dallas. "Ohio's greatest potential for creating wind energy is offshore in Lake Erie, and this partnership marks a significant step forward. In Ohio we have all the right assets to make offshore wind energy successful, including an innovative workforce and the manufacturing strengths that would allow us to build all the component parts for wind turbines."

So is this the first of a spate of freshwater offshore wind farms? It might be. GE and LEEDCo are working to develop a plan that will make offshore wind in the Great Lakes economically viable. If they're successful, the same model could be used in other lakes.

But there will always be plenty of regulatory hurdles standing in the way of freshwater offshore wind farms. Consider this: the New York Power Authority (NYPA) released a request for proposals (RFP) in 2009 to develop offshore wind power projects in the New York State waters of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. There were 12 different regulatory requirements, including a comprehensive pricing proposal that covers fixed capacity charges, fixed energy price, fixed price for renewable energy credits or other tax credits, and use of funds provided through the ARRA; a construction plan that includes all provisions for vessels and rail and port facilities to be used and that ensures no interference with the operation of either the St. Lawrence Seaway or the Welland Canal; and a site plan that includes geotechnical evaluation and lakebed leasing arrangements. The seemingly neverending (but useful) red tape clearly won't stop offshore wind completely, but it certainly slows down the pace of development.

With reporting from Ariel Schwartz