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Floating wind turbines in Lake Ontario? State agency will study the idea
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ENERGY

Floating wind turbines in Lake Ontario? State agency will study the idea

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Lake Erie

Sailboats cruise past the wind turbines on the Lake Erie shore in Blasdell. 

You may have seen wind turbines along the shorelines of the Great Lakes. But you might soon see them in those lakes.

A state agency will spend $1 million this year on a study of the feasibility of building wind turbines in the Great Lakes, including whether they can be placed on floating platforms instead of being anchored to the lake beds.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority was ordered to complete a study for release in early 2022 on whether wind power on the lakes should be part of New York's green energy portfolio.

"We are considering both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario as parts of the feasibility study," Gregory Lampman, NYSERDA's program manager for environmental research, said during a public webinar earlier this month.

The state already has awarded contracts for five wind turbine farms in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island.

Wind power in Lakes Erie and Ontario involves different challenges not seen in the ocean, including winter ice, much shallower water and sloping lake beds, Lampman said.

"Certain site conditions will allow for fixed foundations, while other site conditions may require floating foundations. They may be on different development timelines," Lampman said. "That plays into their relative costs. That also plays into where they can be deployed, whether the power generated at those sites can be interconnected, and so forth."

An extended period of freezing temperatures has caused the ice cover to expand rapidly on Lake Erie. Only a sliver of water remains open, caused by icebreaking activity in the Buffalo Harbor. Here's how it looks in a view from #BNDrone as of Feb. 10, 2020.

In any location for waterborne turbines, large cables would need to run through shoreline communities to move the electricity to the power grid.

The state envisions such cables being buried beneath the lake or sea beds, and running underground onshore, too, according to a NYSERDA "fact sheet."

Public opposition and litigation from the super-rich residents of the Hamptons are trying to block the Long Island cable projects, although the proposed turbines are many miles offshore.

Lampman said the lake study will take into account what he called "viewsheds" – how the presence of large numbers of offshore wind turbines might affect the view from the lakeshore – as well as the impact on homeowners along the lakes.

Companies already have expressed interest in building turbines in Lake Erie. California-based Diamond Offshore Wind Development stirred up local opposition in Hamburg and Evans when it pitched an offshore wind project in 2019.

The Public Service Commission, which ordered and funded the Great Lakes wind study in October, wants the study carried out "in an evenhanded manner," Lampman said.

He said large numbers of public comments already have been received, both positive and negative.

"NYSERDA, in partnership with our state colleagues, remains technologically agnostic when it comes to selecting the best solutions to help us reach our climate goals," Doreen Harris, the authority's acting president and CEO, said during the webinar.

A law passed in 2019 committed New York State to generating 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and all of its electricity from sources that don't produce any carbon emissions by 2040.

Those goals include 9,000 megawatts of power from offshore wind by 2035 – enough to power 6 million homes, NYSERDA says.

"We don't know exactly what mix of solutions will get us to carbon neutrality," Harris said, "but we do know we need a broad set of options, including many that are not yet being deployed."

"Some of these we know of today, and some are the subject of future innovations," said Adrienne Downey, the authority's principal offshore wind engineer.

Fixed foundations for offshore wind turbines are "market-ready" now, Lampman said. But he noted that driving piles into the lake or sea beds and digging trenches for cables would stir up sediment that might produce environmental problems.

Thus, the state is interested in seeing how feasible floating turbines might be.

Several consultants will work on the study, with the general contractor being the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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