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Harnessing America’s Energy Future in the Great Lakes

Representatives of five states and ten Federal agencies, together comprising the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium, met for the first time last week with the goal of promoting the development of offshore wind power projects in the Great Lakes.

Editor’s Note: This blog introduces readers to Victoria Pebbles, Program Director at the Great Lakes Commission based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Last week, the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium met for the first time. This fledging group is comprised of representatives of five states (Il, MI, MN, NY and PA) and 10 federal agencies that signed a federal-state Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on March 30 this year to cooperate on siting offshore wind in the Great Lakes. Not dissimilar to international protocols which set forth rules for intergovernmental cooperation, the three non-signatory states can sign the MOU at any time in the future.

The MOU aims to “promote the efficient, expeditious, orderly and responsible evaluation of offshore wind power projects in the Great Lakes.” Signatories are committed to documenting their existing regulatory frameworks for offshore wind by June 30, 2013. This “regulatory roadmap” will provide a starting point for identifying opportunities to improve coordination and efficiencies with evaluating applications for offshore wind projects. The agreement also commits the signatories participate in pre-application consultations and joint application reviews — a practice that sometimes occurs with other projects but one that should become more standard practice as a result of the MOU. Ultimately, signatories are also committed to applying lessons through the Consortium when evaluating future offshore wind proposals. 

The best lessons are learned from actual experience. At this time, all eyes are on Lake Erie where the only active Great Lakes offshore wind project is being planned for a 20-30 megawatt (MW) pilot project seven miles offshore downtown Cleveland. The developer, Freshwater Wind, enjoys broad-based community support from the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo), a private, non-profit regional corporation working to build wind turbines in Lake Erie and stimulate an offshore freshwater wind industry.

Companies all around the Great Lakes see the offshore wind industry as a catalyst for employing the region’s outstanding engineering and manufacturing assets to design and build the offshore wind turbines; and using the region’s natural assets, the Great Lakes and connecting waterways, to move these large products to other parts of the country and overseas. 

That is why it is important for the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to carefully complete its work. Then, when more proposals for offshore wind in the Great Lakes come, and they will come, states and federal agencies will have a rational policy framework for evaluating proposed offshore wind power projects in the Great Lakes that is efficient, expeditious, fair, and responsible. 

Victoria Pebbles is Program Director at the Great Lakes Commission