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Lake Erie Wind Farm:

There is increasing interest in a potential offshore wind farm in Lake Erie. While there are sea-based wind turbines in Europe, proposals for such projects of the U.S. coast have been blocked, often by the same folks who call for greater investments in alternative energy sources (see, e.g., the ill-fated Cape Wind project off of Massachusetts). As a result, a Lake Erie wind project has the potential both to be the first offland wind project in the U.S., as well as the first fresh water wind project in the world. All offshore wind projects to date have been built in salt water.

In my conversations from local wind energy experts, I've learned that a fresh water wind farm might present unique design challenges. Constructing ocean-based wind turbines is rather easy, in large part because constructing ocean-based platforms is nothing new. Engineers know how to address the problems caused by currents, corrosion, and inclement weather. In fresh water, however, the potential problems are different. As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie's depth is a definite plus from a construciton standpoint. On the other hand, the surface of Lake Erie can freeze. Also, as I understand it, drifting ice on the surface can build up substantial momentum, and present different problems than ocean waves. As reported in the story to which I linked above:

Engineering challenges include anchoring towers in a lake that's 50 to 60 feet deep. The towers would stretch 240 feet or more above the water and hold rotating blades that, tip to tip, are longer than a football field. The towers must withstand waves and winter ice.

But encountering the difficulties would generate unique research and development, potentially making the region a hub for off-shore wind power, said Richard Stuebi, the Cleveland Foundation's energy expert.

If VC readers know more about this subject, I would be interested to learn their perspectives on the engineering challenges of such a project, and how they might be overcome.

Reggae:
I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me that some similar engineering challenges might have been present during the construction of the Mackinaw Bridge. See: http://www.mackinacbridge.org/
1.12.2007 12:03pm
Hattio (mail):
As to offshore platforms and moving ice, there are offshore platforms in Cook Inlet between the Kenai Peninsula and the mainland. There is freezing in the Inlet every year, so there would be moving ice. It could be that ice moves more quickly and unpredictably in Lake Erie, or that masses of ice get bigger in fresh-water.
1.12.2007 12:35pm
Antares79:
Zebra mussels may be a problem for any narrow water inlet/flow areas. They also tend to form on submersed foundations and make access difficult.
1.12.2007 12:41pm
Mr. Bingley (www):
There shouldn't be any inlet areas, should there? It's not like they need any cooling. A greater threat might be from people skidooing out to them in January and stealing the copper wire.
1.12.2007 12:50pm
FantasiaWHT:
Just wanted to add another ill-fated wind project... in Wisconsin there were plans to build a wind farm in the Horicon marsh, northwest of Milwaukee. Who opposed it? The same environmentalists who call for alternative energy sources. They fought and defeated the plan because migratory birds would be killed by the rotating turbine blades.
1.12.2007 12:50pm
Mr. Bingley (www):
If these things will be guaranteed to puree canadian geese than I know many a golf course that will gladly offer land to build one on.
1.12.2007 12:52pm
JB:
The blades are longer than a football field? And the towers are only 240 feet high? Something doesn't compute here.
1.12.2007 1:11pm
Aultimer:
JB -

It's a football field "tip-to-tip" so the radius is at most 150 ft. That fits just fine on a 240 ft. tower.
1.12.2007 1:17pm
Tek Jansen:
JB: If the blades are 300 ft long and the tower is 240 ft high, then the blades will always be 90 ft above the ground (half the blade will be above the tower).

I don't understand the need for offshore wind farms, at least in this country. We have a lot of open space, and it would seem much cheaper to build wind farms on land than on water.
1.12.2007 1:18pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
hey they stand a chance of doing this because Walter Cronkite doesn't live there.


The blades are longer than a football field?


What's that in Dog Years?
1.12.2007 1:42pm
Steven A.:
Having worked for a hydro power company, I can say the ice problem isn't so bad, all you have to do is agitate the water around the base of the windmill. For dams this is usually done with an air pump and a system of air tubes which release air near the surface of the water along the length of the dam. similar methods can be used. Older methods involved a wooden buffer between the cement and the ice, the wood would have to be replaced which can be a hassle and I don't know if this method would work well for something like the base of a windmill. I imagine a combination of the two can help prevent drifting ice and freezing water.
1.12.2007 2:18pm
KenG (mail):
In response to a couple of the questions above:

The water location is much preferable to on shore locations, regardless of land availability because the wind is much more constant over the water. Availability and lack of predictable output is the problem with wind power.

Ice is probably not an insurmountable problem but will add cost. Given the size of these units, the anchorage will probably have to be substantial and relatively rigid. This raises questions about the impact of changing lake levels, which fluctuate a lot more in the Great Lakes than most people realize.
1.12.2007 2:31pm
Tony2 (mail):
Who opposed it? The same environmentalists who call for alternative energy sources.

I tend to get grumpy at such claims. "Environmentalists" are not a single monolithic group. Unless you can point to a SPECIFIC person or a SPECIFIC group that both call for alternative energy sources while also opposing them, I see no reason to believe that this is anything other than supposition on your part. Ditto for Adler's comment along the same lines.
1.12.2007 3:08pm
snoey (mail):
Walter Cronkite withdrew his opposition to Cape Wind in august of 2003.
1.12.2007 3:15pm
Dick King:

I tend to get grumpy at such claims. "Environmentalists" are not a single monolithic group. Unless you can point to a SPECIFIC person or a SPECIFIC group that both call for alternative energy sources while also opposing them ...


Kennedy.

-dk
1.12.2007 3:19pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Just for the fun of it, look at the weather in Cleveland, and then in the Orkneys. Being a zillion miles further north means---warmer. It's the Gulf Stream. So off Cape Cod won't be a problem. Try living on the shore of one of the Great Lakes in January. Especially one where the prevailing wind is onshore. Everything gets iced.
What about fresh water icing on the blades? Freezing temp is higher. Weather is colder. Frequent sleet/snow/rain mix.
Maybe they're figuring it will be the same on each blade arm and not get out of balance.
1.12.2007 3:24pm
Nanonymous:
YOu're right about the possible ice problems - many of the old screw-pile lighthouses in the Chesapeake Bay were destroyed by the force of pack ice shearing off their support columns; there are only a few left today.
1.12.2007 3:27pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
All of the opposition to the wind farm in my county came from the enviros who yap endlessly about alternative energy.

Not a peep from the oil interests.
1.12.2007 3:33pm
Dis:
The problems are probably less engineering and more economic.

Oil platforms operate in artic conditions and in far deeper water, but an big oil field generates far more revenue than a wind tower.
1.12.2007 4:42pm
Anon Y. Mous:

I don't understand the need for offshore wind farms, at least in this country. We have a lot of open space, and it would seem much cheaper to build wind farms on land than on water.


The evidence of the pureed birds disappears much quicker.
:)
1.12.2007 5:53pm
BobNSF (mail):

All of the opposition to the wind farm in my county came from the enviros who yap endlessly about alternative energy.

Not a peep from the oil interests.


Yes, those folks in the oil business are all about making local sacrifices for the greater good. That's why you find so many refineries in Dallas' upscale neighborhoods.
1.12.2007 6:18pm
Randomizer (mail):
Lake Erie has what's called the 5-mile Crib, which is a 100 ft in diameter, steel and concrete platform which 3.5 miles out in the lake and is the main water intake for the Cleveland Muni water system. Its been there since 1904 and apparently is being studied as a test site for a wind mill.

Here's an article on the Crib and wind power.
Green Energy
1.12.2007 7:55pm
dearieme:
The main engineering problem is penning the poor suckers who are going to subsidise this.
1.12.2007 8:07pm
MnZ (mail):

I tend to get grumpy at such claims. "Environmentalists" are not a single monolithic group. Unless you can point to a SPECIFIC person or a SPECIFIC group that both call for alternative energy sources while also opposing them ...


Oooh...ooh...can I play too?

Here's another one: MA Attorney General Tom Reilly

Yes, the same Tom Reilly that is suing the EPA over greenhouse gases. See Massachusetts vs. EPA.
1.12.2007 11:05pm
Mr. Bingley (www):
Random, here's the right link: Crib Story

Neat stuff!
1.13.2007 8:21am
Jay Manifold (mail) (www):
Yes, those folks in the oil business are all about making local sacrifices for the greater good. That's why you find so many refineries in Dallas' upscale neighborhoods.


No, that's why you find so many upscale neighborhoods built around oil refineries. Those eeeevil corporations!

Do some reading on the impact of regulation restricting refinery construction and driving up the price of petrochemicals, then get back to us.
1.13.2007 2:52pm
Lev:

refineries in Dallas


I haven't looked, but I suspect there are as many in Dallas as there are in New England.

Does New York have any any more?
1.14.2007 12:23am