European company to build first-ever offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Norwegian firm with extensive experience building wind farms in Europe will construct the first U.S. offshore wind farm on the Great Lakes, supplying up to 18 megawatts of electricity from turbines sited on Lake Erie near Cleveland.

The wind farm, to be known as the Icebreaker project, is projected to cost $120 million and will be a critical test of wind power’s viability on the Great Lakes, according to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), a public-private partnership based in northeastern Ohio.

Under terms announced last week, LEEDCo will sell some of its Icebreaker project assets to Fred. Olsen Renewables of Oslo, Norway, which will assume responsibility for the permitting, construction and operation of the wind farm.

LEEDCo believes Lake Erie’s wind represents a significant opportunity for northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to embrace clean energy and wean themselves from coal-fired power generation, which has been a mainstay of the region’s energy mix for decades.

Cleveland Public Power, a municipal utility serving 80,000 ratepayers in the city of Cleveland, has agreed to purchase 25 percent of the wind farm’s output, and it will help facilitate interconnections needed to move the remaining wind power onto northeast Ohio’s regional grid.

The nonprofit has been working for more than five years to jump-start development of the wind farm roughly 10 miles offshore from downtown Cleveland. LeedCo has received $6.8 million in U.S. Energy Department grant funding for research and development but has yet to secure the level of financing to bring the project to fruition.

The addition of Fred. Olsen as a development partner greatly enhances the Icebreaker project’s chances of getting financed and built by a projected starting date of 2018, said Dave Karpinski, LEEDCo’s vice president of operations.

“Our mission from the beginning was always two-pronged,” Karpinski said in a telephone interview. “One was creating a new industry to stimulate job growth and economic prosperity. The other was to create a local source of clean energy that could be built at scale to help us make the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Cutting costs with the ‘mono bucket’

According to industry sources, Fred. Olsen is the largest independent power producer in the United Kingdom and the fifth-largest in Europe. The company operates six wind farms in Scotland and one in Norway, and it has additional projects under development in those countries, according to its website.

In July, LEEDCo announced that the Icebreaker project would use an innovative foundation design called a “mono bucket,” developed in Denmark by Universal Foundation, a Fred. Olsen subsidiary. Officials noted that the technology would substantially reduce installation costs for the project. Another subsidiary, Fred. Olsen Windcarrier, joined the LEEDCo project team last year to help with turbine installation issues, Karpinski said.

While the Icebreaker project represents a first attempt at utility-scale wind energy on the Great Lakes, the lakes have long been looked to as a possible source of renewable energy. LEEDCo has said it believes as much as 5,000 MW of wind energy could be produced on Lake Erie.

Founded to stimulate growth in four Ohio lakefront counties and the city of Cleveland, LEEDCo earlier this year added Erie County, Pa., to its membership roster. The expansion allowed LEEDCo to expand its footprint for potential offshore wind power by roughly 2.2 million acres of lake area, according to the nonprofit.

If completed on schedule, Icebreaker could be the second offshore wind project completed in the United States, after the 30-megwatt Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island. Developer Deepwater Wind began installing turbine foundations at a site about 3 miles off the Rhode Island coast earlier this year. That project is due to be completed by 2016.

The Energy Department earlier this year issued a report saying more than 15,000 MW of new offshore wind power could be developed in the United States under 21 proposals moving through planning and development stages. Globally, just under 4,000 MW of new offshore wind power capacity was on track to be completed this year, mostly in Europe.