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Feasibility study reveals little benefit in lake turbines

A feasibility study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority released late last week does not support the placement of turbines in the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario.

“Great Lakes Wind currently does not offer a unique, critical, or cost-effective contribution toward the achievement of New York State’s Climate Act goals beyond what existing, more cost-competitive programs are currently expected to deliver,” the study says. “This conclusion is based on a fulsome analysis of the resource development costs, ratepayer impacts, expected State benefits, transmission and interconnection limitations, infrastructure and supply chain constraints, visual impacts, and potential environmental impacts of Great Lakes Wind, as discussed below and throughout the Feasibility Study.”

How this report will impact projects being eyed for Western New York waters is uncertain. Since the report was made public right before the holiday weekend, little has been said publicly by those who have previously backed the placement of turbines in Lake Erie.

In creating the analysis, the authority took into consideration a number of factors that included: physical siting, geophysical and geohazards characterization, fixed and floating technology options, interconnection, environmental risk and benefit as well as public feedback.

In reaching its conclusion, NYSERDA found that overall “Great Lakes Wind does not provide the same electric and reliability benefits that offshore wind offers” in downstate locations.

The study analyzed physical characteristics of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario to determine the waters would require a combination of fixed offshore wind foundations in Lake Erie and floating offshore wind foundations in Lake Ontario. The study further noted the potential generation capacity of up to 1,600 megawatts in Lake Erie and up to 15,000 MW in Lake Ontario. “But this theoretical and technical potential faces numerous practical considerations that would need to be addressed before such projects can be successfully commercialized and benefit the state,” the study noted.

“These practical considerations include higher relative costs compared to alternative renewable energy generation, risks associated with new technologies (e.g., floating wind platforms and ice loading), lack of an existing supply chain, lack S-3 of adequate port facilities and specialized vessels, limited Points of Interconnection and associated transmission headroom, and challenges related to visual impacts, wildlife impacts, and uncertainties with regards to environmental risks as well as conflicts with other lake uses including commercial and recreational fishing, shipping, and navigation,” the study said.

Over the summer an Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the placement of wind turbines in Lake Erie as part of the Icebreaker wind project off the shores of Cleveland. By a 6-1 margin in August, the justices ruled the power siting board employed “a flexible standing in granting the requested certificate (that) poses no legal problem.”

Plans to the west call for a six-turbine wind-powered electric-generation facility on approximately 4.2 acres of submerged land in Lake Erie located between 8 and 10 miles off the shore of Cleveland that is expected to generate 20.7 megawatts of electricity. Work on that project, however, has not yet begun.

Closer to home, a turbine project has been considered by Diamond Generating Corp. from Dunkirk to Buffalo that could include 50 industrial turbines being placed in the Great Lakes waters. This proposal has led to rallies in the region that oppose the effort and an engaged group of some 4,900 Facebook followers who make up the Citizens against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie.

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