12:09pm

Thu October 20, 2011
Energy

As GLOW dims, Lake Erie chosen to host offshore wind tests

The possibility of large scale offshore wind on Lake Erie was shelved late this summer, but a group of international scientists still believe the site has potential.

Through a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE), half a dozen researchers from the U.S. and Europe will test new methods of better harnessing wind energy, especially in farms with more than a few rows of turbines.

The team will employ remote sensing technologies, like unmanned aerial vehicles controlled from offshore. The custom devices will produce a three-dimensional analysis of the behavior of winds in Lake Erie.

Turbines and wind farms could be designed differently in the future as a result.

"A bit ironic"

Two years ago, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) solicited bids for a round of studies and proposals for a large wind farm project either on Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. The project was known as "Great Lake Offshore Wind," or GLOW.  Anywhere from 40 to 200 wind turbines could have been part of the installation.

Eventually, five detailed bids were submitted to NYPA in summer 2010. Hopes were high, and so was secrecy about the bids. State officials promised to pick a company and start the project by the end of 2010. Then, delays pushed that deadline back a few times.

Here's how NYPA's Sharon Laudisi explained the holdup to the Innovation Trail in April: 

"We are in the final stages. I can't pinpoint an exact date. But we are on schedule - still looking at second quarter," says Laudisi.

Eventually, the departure of NYPA CEO Richard Kessel - GLOW's chief champion - fueled rumors the proposal was headed in the same direction as its booster.

By July 2011, it became apparent that GLOW had no wind at its back, with the state unwilling to invest the $1 billion initially estimated as necessary to make the project a reality.

At nearly the same time, the DOE awarded the group of international scientists $700,000 to use a windy part of Lake Erie as a testing site.

But that award clashed directly with what New York State had just determined - that offshore wind in either of the Great Lakes in New York wasn't economically viable.

"It is a bit ironic," admits Rebecca Barthelmie, a member of the research team and a professor at Indiana University. "We wouldn't be making measurements in a place that's unsuitable because we're looking at wind characteristics that are important to wind technology."

The half dozen researchers will set up camp in the Buffalo area early next year and will continue through 2013, right around the time construction on GLOW was originally supposed to begin.

While wind farms will improve in efficiency and cost in the future, possibly as a result of this research, Barthelmie says New York is missing out on a great opportunity.

"There's already two gigawatts of offshore wind in Europe. So clearly the idea of offshore wind energy and the idea of generating clean electricity from wind in offshore environments has already taken off in other places," Barthelmie says. "It's a shame if we have a chance to use a renewable resource and yet we keep delaying it."