Monday, 17 August 2009

Wind of change blows across the Great Lakes

The New York Power Authority hopes to create a giant wind farm as it looks to new and sustainable technologies

Alexandra Frean, US Business Correspondent
The New York Power Authority (NYPA), America’s largest state-owned power organisation, is appealing to the private sector, including Britain's National Grid, to help it to generate electricity from one of its most prized assets — by turning a corner of the Great Lakes into a giant wind farm.
With an ageing power infrastructure, energy imports running at $700b illion (£423 billion) a year and with projected electricity demand in the United States expected to double by 2030 and to triple by 2050, utility companies have little choice but to invest in new sustainable technologies.
The NYPA hopes that its Great Lakes Offshore Wind project, harnessing the winds blowing on the New York State waters of Lakes Erie and Ontario, will excite private sector interest worldwide.
It is developing the project in response to a target set by David Paterson, the New York Governor, for the state to meet 45 per cent of its electricity needs through energy efficiency and renewable sources by 2015.
“Harnessing the power of wind is critical to achieving that goal and the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project will help us to reach it,” Mr Paterson has said.
According to Energy Composites Corporation, a Canadian engineering company firm keen on promoting offshore wind generation on the lakes, nearly 23 per cent of the US population lives within 25 miles of the Great Lakes, allowing for short transmission lengths without power loss.
National Grid, which does half its business in the US and is the second-biggest energy supplier in America, said that it had given a commitment to the NYPA to work with it on the project, subject to the results of five feasibility studies.
National Grid already has experience in other countries of bringing energy onshore from offshore sites.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, offshore wind power is probably the region’s largest untapped renewable energy resource.
As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie has already drawn interest from developers along its shoreline and there is an existing onshore wind project on a 30 acre site in Lackawanna just south of Buffalo, New York.
A Michigan State University study last year found that Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes alone could theoretically produce nearly 322,000 megawatts of power from wind, equal to roughly one-third of all electricity generated in the US, although that would require nearly 100,000 turbines.
But despite the obvious attractions of ‘free’ energy, harnessing the offshore wind power of the lakes will not be without problems. Turbines and offshore transmission lines will have to withstand ice pack and ice floes in winter. There are also enormous environmental concerns about the impact on fish habitats and flight paths for birds and planes.
NYPA said it intends to hold public and community forums to address these and other concerns.