BUFFALO, N.Y.–A New York state utility is exploring whether it is possible to put electricity-generating wind turbines in the Great Lakes, rather than inland or along the shoreline.
The state-owned New York Power Authority on Wednesday began asking potential developers how they would go about constructing an offshore wind project in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario and what the environmental, technical and other hurdles might be.
“The goal here is to develop within the next five years an offshore wind project in the Great Lakes that will produce a minimum of 120 megawatts of clean, renewable energy,” said NYPA President and Chief Executive Richard Kessel, who announced the plans Wednesday on the windy Lake Erie shore in Buffalo.
Several similar projects are being considered in Canada, on the northern side of Lake Erie, as well as off the Toronto shoreline of Lake Ontario, but nothing has been built so far, said Terry Yonker, chairman of the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative Steering Committee, a binational group pursuing wind development in the United States and Canada.
President Barack Obama has made wind energy a key part of his energy plan, estimating that it could generate as much as 20 percent of the U.S. electricity demand by 2030. The Interior Department issued long-awaited regulations Wednesday governing offshore renewable energy projects that would tap wind, ocean currents and waves to produce electricity.
In New York, Gov. David Patersonas set a goal for New York to meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through renewable power by 2015.”Harnessing the power of wind is critical to achieving that goal, and the Great Lakes offshore wind project will help us reach it,” Paterson said.
Several environmental groups have signed on as early supporters of the Great Lakes project, including the Audubon Society, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
The wind turbines would be more than a mile offshore, in depths of 60 to 180 feet of water.
Kessel estimated the project would cost $700 million to $1 billion, which the developer could make back in power sales.
“It is more costly to place turbines in the lake,” Yonker said, “but on the other hand, the more you get away from land the better the wind resource becomes.”
NYPA’s request for comments, issued Wednesday, will be followed as early as next week by a similar request for technical information on the potential impact on the water, fish and birds.
One issue that must be addressed is the thick sheet of ice that often forms across much of Lake Erie in the winter and the potential impact on the turbines as the ice shifts and breaks. The deeper Lake Ontario does not freeze over.
If the project proves feasible, the authority would select a developer by the end of this year or early next year, Kessel said.
“There’s no reason why we can’t see a major offshore wind project operating here within five years,” he said.