Offshore wind in PA?

By Scott Whittemore 10/12/2018

Pennsylvania currently has 1,369 megawatts (MW) of installed wind capacity. However, the state’s wind resource could provide nearly 100 times that. This map roughly shows the areas that are best suited for wind installation. Notice the northwest corner. Lake Erie has some of the greatest wind speeds not just in the state, but in the entire northeast region. So, why does this matter?

Well, just recently the largest offshore wind farm in the world came online, adding 659 MW of capacity to the UK’s grid. This particular project created thousands of jobs and now generates record levels of renewable electricity when compared to all other wind farms, both onshore and off. This project represents just a part of the huge growth of offshore wind installed in Europe in the past year, with 3,000 MW of capacity added in 2017 alone.

But, is it possible to transition these developments to a smaller scale and develop offshore wind in the Great Lakes? This is exactly what the non-profit partnership Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) and the Clean Air Council’s advocacy group Northwest Pennsylvania Green Economy Task Force (NWPAGE) are attempting to do with LEEDCo’s ‘Icebreaker’ project. LEEDCo will bring 18 MW of capacity to the Great Lakes, and NWPAGE is campaigning to bring a total of 300 MW of offshore wind online by 2022. Just a tiny part of what offshore wind could mean for the states surrounding the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes offer a unique opportunity for wind power. Not only are they located near major cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, making transmission easy and keeping costs low, but the turbines and equipment will not be subjected to harsh salt water or ocean waves, allowing for longevity and reducing maintenance costs. Obviously there are drawbacks, such as frozen water and concerns about bird migration, but it is clear that, by accounting for these conditions in the development process and potentially shutting the turbines off during peak migrations, these risks can be managed and are far outweighed by the immense benefits.

It is estimated that LEEDCo’s ‘Icebreaker’ project will not only bring 18 MW of capacity online, but will create 500 local jobs, bring $168 million to the region, and provide cheap, clean electricity to the region for decades. It is incredibly likely that when this comes online it will kick US offshore wind development into overdrive. This kick will drive the prices of renewables down, create jobs, and stimulate the economy.

The creation and advancement of wind energy is something that we are constantly interested in and excited for. This offshore wind potential could have immense, wide-reaching benefits for the region and the state of Pennsylvania in particular. Joy Knapp of the Clean Air Council says it better than we can:

“Pennsylvania stands to benefit greatly when this happens. There are a number of coal-fired power plants around the shores of Lake Erie, and offshore wind would help reduce the demand for those plants’ dirty power. Not only would this have significant effects on the region’s public health, but it would also serve as another step towards reducing the CO2 emissions that are warming our planet.”