Regulators are preparing to draft rules for the development of offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes, even though no official projects have been proposed just yet. Cuyahoga County in Ohio is spending $1 million on an offshore wind task force to create a feasibility study on the potential for a wind farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland. But before any turbines go up, regulators and lawmakers will have figure out zoning and leasing rights, and with eight states and two Canadian provinces bordering the lakes, it will take a coordinated interstate and international effort to lay the ground rules.
Regulators and wind energy companies have been eying the Great Lakes for years. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy hosted the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Technical Gathering, and just last month a study from the Michigan State University Land Policy Institute estimated that 100,000 turbines in Lake Michigan could generate 321,000 megawatts of energy. But if the progress of offshore wind projects in Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts is any indication, it will be years before any turbines start spinning up on the Great Lakes.
The AP reports that Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality processed a mock offshore wind farm application earlier this year, which brought up questions that will likely have to be addressed by new laws and regulations. Siting turbines will have to cleared with fishery managers, shipping lane managers and the regulators of the Lakes’ bottomlands, which are currently held in public trust.
Calls to the Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources regarding how offshore wind will be regulated were greeted with chuckles and the same response: “That is a good question.” Clearly the regulatory entities are still figuring out jurisdictions. Further complicating matters is the international border running through the Great Lakes, which brings the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers into the mix.
The Great Lakes and Rust Belt states are primed to supply the potential regional offshore wind business with turbines from a growing number of manufacturing centers that are filling the void left behind by the slow collapse of the auto and steel industries. We mapped out nearly a dozen new wind turbine manufacturing plants opening up across the Midwest and Great Plains and the NYTimes recently picked up on the trend with a story about wind companies revitalizing the Rust Belt.