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Wind Industry in Northeast Ohio Making Progress but Still Uncertain

Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:00 AM

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The effort to bring wind energy to North East Ohio got a lift last week. Cuyahoga Country recently raised just over a million dollars to study the possibility of building wind turbines in Lake Erie. Also, a recently completed study of the lake's wind speeds offers some promising data. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports.

Anyone who’s braved a winter storm in downtown Cleveland knows wind blowing off of the lake can be intense. But is it enough to generate electricity? For the answer wind energy experts have spent the last two years measuring wind speeds three and a half miles off the shore of Lake Erie, at the historic Water Intake Crib.  The data shows that the wind is stronger in the winter than the summer, with an average speed of just over 16 miles per hour. 

Jaycox: What that means is it’s classified as a strong class 4 wind sight.

That’s Kemp Jaycox, he manages wind programs for Green Energy Ohio, an environmental advocacy group. A class 4 ranking is right in the middle of the wind-speed scale. Jaycox says this proves wind maps of the state are correct for Lake Erie. In addition, he says data shows the Lake’s wind is steady no matter what height the measurement is taken at.

JAYCOX: If they develop turbines on the lake they may not have to be as tall as they would have to be on land so that would reduce installation costs.

But the six turbines for the proposed for a demonstration wind-farm would still have to be built in water- and that’s an expensive proposition.  Whether or not building the farm is feasible or worth the cost, is a question the Cuyahoga County Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force plans to answer. It secured just over a million dollars to determine the project’s economic feasibility in the next 15 months. The Cleveland Foundation, Case Western Reserve University, and the City of Cleveland, among others are paying for the study. Paul Oyaski Director of Cuyahoga County’s Development Department says there are a number of critical questions to answer.

OYASKI: About where the turbines should be built, what sort of economic development possibilities exist …we still have to study the effects of ice, make sure the state and the Army Corp. are amenable to this project …

Despite the uncertainties, Oyaski says the prospect of an Off-Shore Wind Farm in Lake Erie has remarkable momentum, due in part to other states’ plans to build their own off-shore projects, including Texas, Massachusetts and New York.  And Oyaski says, some other states have an advantage. 

Oysaki: There’s some competition and I’ve got to be honest with you, the taskforce believes that if Ohio doesn’t pass Renewable portfolio standards that this opportunity could dissipate.

28 states have adopted such standards, which require utility companies to provide some of their energy from renewable sources like wind.  Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill that would mandate that 12 and a half percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources.  But some are concerned the market for renewable energy right now is too uncertain. So the bill that’s passed the Ohio Senate and is being debated in the House wouldn’t require anything of utility companies until 2025. Wind advocate Richard Stuebi of the Cleveland Foundation says that delays creating a renewable energy market for 2 decades, and even then, he says, there are no enforcement provisions. 

Stubei: It’s not a question of whether the portfolio standard I think it will be. It’s a question of how much teeth, how much backbone will the portfolio standard that gets passed…actually have. Right now there aren’t any implications if the utilities fail to comply with the 12.5 percent target.

But that could change, as the Bill makes it’s way though committee in the House.  One encouraging sign for wind advocates is at least a nod of support from Speaker of the House John Husted, who says he’d like to see the bill strengthened.  But he won’t say exactly how - the renewable energy standard is only part of a larger energy regulation bill, and Husted says he’ll let the committee process run its course and approach changes as they arise.  A house vote on the energy regulation measure is expected sometime this spring.

For 90.3, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.

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