Ontario may allow offshore wind farms in Great Lakes

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Ontario is lifting a ban on offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes, according to a report at RenewableEnergyAccess.com. The Canadian province’s decision to consider applications comes after a study with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory on wind speeds and the potential impact on wildlife in the region. An Ontario official says the province has already received proposals for 14 offshore wind farms, and there’s growing interest on the U.S. side of the border, too.

But don’t expect to see swooping turbines off the North Shore your next drive up scenic Highway 61. For now, Lake Superior isn’t a prime candidate for offshore wind development. That’s because it’s deep, it drops off quickly and its shores are sparsely populated compared to the other Great Lakes, said Jeff Gosse, regional wind power coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

“I do not expect that wind development will occur up there until it’s been well-established in the lower lakes,” Gosse said.

Europe is experimenting with floating turbines, but for now it’s much easier to work in shallower waters. A wind farm in the lower Great Lakes would also have the advantage of close proximity to major urban hubs like Chicago and Cleveland, which would eliminate the need to transmit the power long distances.

Gosse said there have been inquiries about building offshore wind farms on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, but he’s not aware of any formal applications yet. The Fish & Wildlife Service and Renewable Energy Laboratory hosted a meeting in Chicago last May to discuss forming Great Lakes wind collaboratives that would share wind data with developers, regulators and other stakeholders.

“We’re starting the dialog,” Gosse said. “I think it would take at least a year or two before we had anything that was a real solid product.”

Any offshore wind projects would require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, in some cases, state agencies, too. Depending on the size of the project, developers would need to develop an environmental assessment or larger environmental impact statements. The approval process would take at very minimum a year to complete before construction started, Gosse said.

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