Cleveland may win the race to build offshore turbines, but why have others stopped trying?

Tilting at Windmills 

Cleveland may win the race to build offshore turbines, but why have others stopped trying?

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Audubon groups are also generally in favor of renewable energy efforts, and evaluate each project on a case-by-case basis.

"We want to make sure any development, particulary with wind, is properly sited and that the appropriate testing is done to ensure birds and wildlife are protected," says Marnie Urso, Cleveland coordinator for Audubon Ohio. "I think that remains to be seen for Lake Erie."

Even with local support, there remains one sizable challenge to LEEDCo's progress: money. So far, there isn't much.

The group's development arm is running on about $1 to $1.5 million, most of it granted from the Cleveland Foundation and NorTech. It has applied for U.S. Department of Energy grants to, among other things, fund studies on keeping costs down.

"The development money is a far cry from the money necessary to build the project," says Freshwater Wind's Wisseman.

The five initial turbines will cost $100 million to purchase and install. A ship capable of carrying the foundations and turbine parts to their watery home will cost $20 to $30 million to build, or about $15 million to rent.

"If we only have $15 million," says Wagner matter-of-factly, "then we will rent."

Then there is the issue of Cleveland's port. LEEDCo recently formed a commission to determine what modifications will be needed to ensure the port can handle turbine traffic — and, of course, to determine how much those modifications might cost.

Freshwater Wind aims to woo private investors, and KeyBank is onboard to finance the initial five turbines and their installation, according to Wisseman. Key has supported wind projects nationwide since 2007. Company officials did not respond to interview requests for this story.

But any company's commitment to financing the project depends on Freshwater Wind guaranteeing it has buyers for all the electricity that will be created.

Cleveland Public Power is likely to buy up to 5 percent of its electricity through the project, according to Councilman Matt Zone. There have been discussions with First Energy, but nothing more.

"It's a little premature," First Energy spokeswoman Ellen Raines told Scene.

Where discussions go will depend on whether Ohio legislators add financial incentives to the renewable energy credits that utility companies get for buying offshore wind.

Ohio previously decided that credits for buying solar power are worth more to utility companies because solar energy costs more to produce; credits for buying wind energy are worth the same as credits for less costly forms of renewable energy. Because it costs twice as much to develop offshore wind as it does to install wind farms on land, LEEDCo is lobbying for offshore wind credits to be worth more.

Without legislation to grant offshore wind preferential (and more valuable) renewable energy credits, there may be no buyers for offshore wind power. If that happens, the first five turbines may not even be built.

LEEDCo tried to have legislation introduced with the current Ohio budget bill, but failed.

"There was pushback because it was a budget bill, not an energy bill," Wisseman says. So the legislation will be considered with a planned energy bill in the fall, which is also likely to include the very controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing.

"We've been working with the folks in Columbus, and it looks like things will be kind of lively in the fall," he says.

While he waits for the state legislature's decision, Wagner will keep talking about wind turbines to whomever will listen. With the sailing season in full swing, much of his summer will be spent at Ohio's marinas and yacht clubs.

"I'm sure we will run into people who say, 'You're ruining our lake,'" Wagner admits. "Everything has validity. With anything anyone tries to do, there's always many sides to the story.

"People don't want nuclear, they don't want coal because of the mercury in the water, they don't want natural gas because of the fracking. But you've got to use something!" he says. "We're hoping, and we believe, that this is it."

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