energy
9:45 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Floating wind farm in the Great Lakes?

One major investor could make all the difference for a group hoping to test a prototype of a floating offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes. The group needs about $3 million to apply for a federal matching grant to support testing the floating wind farm concept.

The group is a partnership between Michigan Technological University, Grand Valley State University and a handful of interested business partners.

The turbines would sit on top of individual platforms that stay submerged about 50 feet below the surface. The platforms would be anchored in the middle of Lakes Michigan and Superior. The project requires the electricity get into a grid onshore.

The group hopes it’ll be more viable than previously proposed offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes. “But in order to demonstrate that it will require a substantial amount of capital,” Arn Boezaart said.

Boezaart directs GVSU’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center. Yes, these are the same people behind this offshore wind energy research platform. The data the buoy is collecting now could prove important to this proposed project, if it is accepted.  

Boezaart believes people living on the lakeshore would be more accepting of wind farms that float out of sight in the middle of the lake. 

“There’s a subset of people that just don’t want wind turbines in the water for other reasons. But I think that primarily the big pushback has been ‘I don’t want to stand on the beach at Lake Michigan and see a bunch of wind turbines on the horizon,” Boezaart said.

The federal government is offering to pay a 50-percent match on the more expensive implementation of the prototype. But the incentive requires a major investor to commit at least $2.5 million to the project up front.

“Somebody has to be willing to provide a letter on their letterhead that says, you know, the x-y-z company is prepared to back this project. That’s a big ask,” Boezaart said. 

He says it won’t bring an instant return on investment, but that it could be a first step toward a “substantial investment opportunity”. The Department of Energy estimates the "total offshore wind power is over 700 gigawatts in the Great Lakes region".

They’ve only got about three weeks to get a serious investor because the paperwork is complicated and needs to be finalized by May 31st; six weeks from now. Boezaart says he gives the project a fifty-fifty chance of working out at best.

The State of Michigan, other Great Lakes states, and several federal agencies signed an agreement to help frame some process for offshore wind in the lakes.