Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Farms

  • While the tower is around 3 miles north of Cleveland's shore, a viable wind farm would need to be at least 6 times farther out in Lake Erie. The wind monitoring tower measures the speed, direction, and height of Lake Erie's wind to determine if wind power generation on the lake is economically viable. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Ann Pinkerton)

Proposals for offshore wind farms, from the coasts of Texas to New England have the potential to generate more electricity than land turbines do. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports these projects face various hurdles to becoming reality, but they’re not completely insurmountable:


Proposals for offshore wind farms, from the coasts of Texas to New England have the potential to generate more electricity than land turbines do. Lisa Ann Pinkerton reports these projects face various hurdles to becoming reality but they’re not completely insurmountable:

Over the past few months, whenever the weather is favorable, Aaron Godwin of Green Energy Ohio rides a power boat several miles out into Lake Erie. Out on the on the city of Cleveland’s century old water intake structure he’s built a tall wind monitoring tower.

“The upper part of the tower is about 168 feet above the water, so we’re measuring at about 30, 40 and 50 meters, and dual instrumentation at each level, anemometers that measure wind speed and vanes that measure direction.”

Godwin’s got almost a year of wind data and today he’s installing a small wind turbine to confirm what he’s discovered: that the lake’s wind is roughly twice as strong as wind on land. So to Godwin offshore wind farms are inevitable, especially since 75 percent of the nation’s energy use is near coastal cities.

However, proposed projects everywhere face a number of hurdles. One of them is bird and bat migration. Some land turbines have killed creatures that flew too close. But in Denmark, where offshore wind is 15 years old, extensive water foul surveys show little change in bird behavior. Charlotte Boesen is an environmental planner for Dong Energy in Denmark.

“These birds, they do fly around the wind farm. They do not like flying over land you can say and maybe they in some sort they perceive the turbines or wind farm as a similar object.”

Even so, no wind project in the US will ever get off the ground without a full assessment of potential wildlife impacts. That’s why 60% of Lake Erie has already been ruled out by a preliminary study conducted by the wind consulting firm AWS True Wind. Its Executive Director Bruce Bailey says that leaves most of eastern Lake Erie still available, with the best wind about 15 miles northwest of Cleveland.

“That’s where the strongest winds would be found. With water depths still being under say 70 feet.”

Bailey adds the shallow depth of Lake Erie combined with its solid lake bottom and fresh water makes it more friendly to offshore wind generation than oceans.

“You wouldn’t have to deal with the corrosion or the extra cost to safeguard your hardware from corrosion if you’re sighted in a fresh water lake.”

Bailey adds designing against hurricanes makes ocean projects more expensive. On the flip side, Lake Erie’s been known to freeze.

“There are ways to deflect the ice from actually pushing too strongly against or lifting out a turbine foundation. Some of them have already been deployed already in offshore projects in Northern Europe, and some of them are located in locations where you might even get icebergs.”

Another concern is whether these turbines will ruin the natural beauty of America’s Coastlines, even though on the horizon a turbine might only look a big as a thumbnail. Walt Musel of the US Department of Energy says this worry is unfounded.

“It’s worth noting there are no projects in the United States, so most people who object to offshore wind have never seen one.”

Fifteen years ago, projects in Denmark faced the same prejudice. Today tourists rent boats to go see them.

Above all, perhaps the largest impediment to offshore wind power is its high cost. Installation in water is expected to be double the cost of on land construction. However, once farms are producing power, electricity companies are open to buying it.

Out on Lake Erie, Aaron Godwin is packing up his tools for the day. He says there is an up side to those high capital costs. He says in the future, turbines will be so large it’ll make more sense to manufacture the parts locally, giving America’s manufacturing industry a ray of hope.

“Energy is a guaranteed growth market. Wind power is the fastest growing energy sector in the entire world. Why would you not want to get involved in that guaranteed growth market? It just does not make sense.”

Godwin says if the US can clear these hurdles of public perception, engineering, and environmental impacts, he thinks the US economy might find a pleasant surprise: consistent, green energy, built and harnessed off the blue coasts of America.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lisa Ann Pinkerton.

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