CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding $40 million to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. to build a six-turbine pilot wind farm in Lake Erie by the end of 2018.
The award caps a 10-year struggle that began as an idea in the mind of Cleveland Foundation President and CEO Ronn Richard upon his arrival in Cleveland.
The money will be delivered in three $13.3 million grants, provided LEEDCo. continues to meet engineering, permitting and construction goals set by the DOE.
To make the award, the DOE withdrew funding from two offshore ocean projects that had not kept up with the department’s interim engineering benchmarks.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the ranking member of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, announced the $40 million grant Friday morning on a patio at the Great Lakes Science Museum overlooking the lake.
Unlike so many previous LEEDCo hopeful announcements at the same location, this one had more of a tone of victory, instead of merely another update.
Mayor Frank Jackson, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and LEEDCo President Lorry Wagner spoke about solving the engineering problems and overcoming political obstacles to get the project this far.
Richard talked about jobs, about re-branding the city and about the intent of Ohio’s state lawmakers who are now trying to permanently freeze the state’s renewable energy standards.
Kaptur said the small wind farm should be the beginning of a new wind-powered energy grid along the southern shores of the Great Lakes from Buffalo to Toledo initially, but extending into Canada and points west, as well.
“There is something that will be born here that is larger than this installation. What will be born is the concept of a new grid, not just for this region but for the entire Great Lakes,” she said.
“It isn’t every day that a place in America receives $40 million. I congratulate the collaboration that you have managed to achieve here and the perseverance that allowed this project to both be funded and carried forward.”
Wagner said LEEDCo already has 15 local companies involved in the project and hopes to attract more. Fabrication and construction will create 500 jobs, he said.
Agreeing with Kaptur, Wagner said the underlying goal of the project “is to position us to take hold of the future, whatever that future is, whether it is manufacturing for the Atlantic coast or putting wind turbines in the lake, if we are not a leader in the industry, then we cannot control our future. This project is about leading the nation in clean energy.”
Jackson and Budish focused on the potential economic impact of the project, which from the very beginning has been seen as a way to jump-start manufacturing and create jobs.
“This is about positioning Cleveland and the region for the future,” said Jackson. “We already have manufacturing of [turbine] parts in this region. This will give us the ability to not only manufacture parts but to assemble turbines here. We want to position Cleveland to be an exporter . . . to provide this technology to North America.”
Budish said the project “represents the best in collaboration” in this community and between the county and the city. So many people, so many organizations worked together to make this happen,” he said.
Budish recalled sitting in an office listening to Richard talk about building hundreds, even thousands, of turbines in the lake and thinking to himself, “I don’t know about this guy.”
Richard credited the bi-partisan efforts by not only Kaptur and Republican U.S. Rep. David Joyce, but also by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Sen. Rob Portman. He also credited Gov. John Kasich and his Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland.
Calling Lake Erie “our greatest fixed asset,” Richard said thousands of lake-based wind turbines would be an environmental asset because they help replace coal-burning, a national security asset and a powerful economic stimulus.
“I think it will also change the brand of Cleveland to ‘Cleveland, powered by wind,’” he said.
“Someday, I would like to see Cleveland off the grid, so that if we have a cyber attack, we will be immune — which will help us attract more companies, especially defense industry companies.”
Richard also used the occasion to talk about the wisdom of state lawmakers who seem intent on permanently freezing Ohio’s renewable energy standards. Created in 2008, the standards would require that 12.5 percent of the electricity sold in the state be generated with renewable technologies.
“Ohio was first in flight … and we need to be first in advanced energy. if you think of the Wright Brothers in 1903, if the state legislature then had decided to not allow planes to take off or land in Ohio, it would not have prevented the aviation industry from occurring in the United States, it would just have ensured that it did not happen in Ohio,” he said.
LEEDCo’s decision to adopt the European-designed “Mono Bucket” foundation, which eliminates pile driving in the bedrock below the lake bed, may have been crucial to the DOE’s decision to fully fund the project.
“The innovative Mono Bucket foundation will reduce installation time, costs, and environmental impacts compared to traditional foundations that require pile driving,” a DOE analysis states. “The Mono Bucket not only is a solution for the Great Lakes, but also has broader national applicability for offshore wind installations off the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.”
LEEDCo previously received three DOE grants totaling $10.7 million. The $40 million award will take the federal share to more than $50 million.
The Cleveland Foundation has given LEEDCo, or its predecessor, $1.7 million.
Total cost of the project to prove that a fresh-water wind farm can survive ice floes has been estimated at about $120 million.
LEEDCo’s European partner, Fred. Olsen Renewables, the largest independent power producer in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in Europe, is expected to raise the remaining $70 million through a combination of bank loans and private equity investors.