Ask most people about the U.S. offshore wind industry and they think of the recently-launched Block Island project and eastern ports in New York City, Norfolk, and Charleston. But those aren’t the only U.S. projects making progress. For instance, there is a wind project in Lake Erie, and ports along the Great Lakes are participating as well.
While other coastal offshore wind projects struggle with their plans, North America’s Great Lakes offer a notable alternative as the next site for offshore wind-farm construction. The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) is planning to construct and install an offshore wind project in spring 2018 called “Icebreaker.” According to LEEDCo president Lorry Wagner, building the wind farm in fresh water will be easier than building along the East coast
“Lake Erie offers a more benign environment than the Atlantic,” Wagner said. “Wave heights, swell periods, and wind speeds are lower on average. In addition, water depth is a consistent average of 23 m, and the problem of foundation scour is lessened by the lack of current.”
Because Lake Erie is fresh water, corrosion and marine growth is significantly lower, and no marine mammals are present to limit construction activities.
The project’s nearness to Cleveland gives it access to heavy manufacturing, machining, fabrication, as well as the country’s largest heavy steel rolling mill and crane-rental company. The distance to the “best wind” in Lake Erie is less than 20 miles from where service craft can be docked, according to Wagner.
Furthermore, over 2 GW of abandoned substations are available for offshore wind interconnection into the PJM grid, which offers significant construction-cost advantages.
Onshore wind farms also benefit from the Great Lakes, especially when wind-turbine components are shipped to the U.S. from overseas. Selecting a port to handle the cargo will depend on final destination. For turbine components sent to the upper Midwest region of the country, shipments primarily come through the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway system.
“The Port of Duluth is strategically situated at the western end of the St. Lawrence Seaway to service the North American ‘heartland,’” said Jonathan Lamb, president of Lake Superior Warehousing Company in Duluth, Minnesota. Lamb has served projects as far west as Montana and Wyoming, southwest to Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as Iowa, Illinois, and Manitoba, Canada. “Particularly with clearance and permitting issues, most shippers try to minimize overland carriage and maximize waterborne transport,” he added.
A few recent changes in turbine design make transport by road difficult. “There is a trend to make everything bigger, it seems,” said Lamb. Larger designs also pose transport challenges in terms of weight. Bridge clearances and axle-weight distribution are heavy factors in states’ truck routes.
“On the flip side, recent innovations in turbine design use lighter construction materials to mitigate weight problems,” Lamb noted.
In other areas, modular engineering methods show that companies are thinking about overland clearances. One example is shipping drivetrains separate from nacelles. Modular designs often make offloading and handling easier for all transport modes, said Lamb.