The musings may seem nonsensical: If wind turbines come to Lake Erie, which county owns the wind? And the energy that results: Does it belong to the nearest county ashore or to the city of Cleveland?
But the questions are actually real, important and even potentially contentious. That’s why a regional approach to wind energy in Northeast Ohio is a near necessity.
“Our goal is to have the entire region profit from wind projects, not just one county or city,” says Lorry Wagner, president of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., which advances offshore wind projects in Lake Erie. “This effort requires collaboration by many entities, and we want each of them to benefit from this project.”
LEEDCo is a nonprofit organization, not a private operator, so it hopes to harness the potential of wind power for the region’s benefit, not for one company’s power grid.
The initial pilot project — five to seven turbines generating 20 to 30 megawatts by 2013 — will be located seven miles off the shore of downtown Cleveland.
But instead of being possessive of the leasing rights and energy generation these turbines will produce, the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority has signed on to LEEDCo’s regional mindset.
“We believe that we can develop an alternative energy economic cluster that can be a competitive advantage for the region,” says Will Friedman, the port’s president and CEO. “If we can attract companies to conduct their R&D and build the turbine equipment here, that could have a really big job-creation benefit. We want to be a catalyst for that.”
The feather in LEEDCo’s regionalism cap is a unique revenue-sharing agreement that divides wind-energy income among Cleveland and Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake and Ashtabula counties.
The agreement looks like this: Submerged land is owned by the state of Ohio. LEEDCo leased the land for turbine development. Half the payment goes to the state, and the other half goes to the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority. The port agreed to share that revenue with the surrounding counties, and likewise, all counties may get a share of the electricity generated.
“That kind of thing doesn’t happen very often,” Friedman says. “It’s an enlightened way of doing business and really puts some substance behind the concept of regionalism.”
But discussions of leases and energy generation only skim the surface of wind’s regional benefits. A study commissioned last year by NorTech predicts that full-scale implementation of the wind farm — 5,000 megawatts by 2030 — can produce 8,000 jobs, $7.8 billion in wages and salaries, $22.6 billion in sales, and $586.5 million in public revenues.
That’s because the massive scale of wind turbines practically necessitates local production.
“If you’re building an industry, there’s the engineering jobs, the boat-building jobs, the surveyor jobs, the transport jobs,” Wagner says. “It’s so expensive to move them; you want to make the parts near where they’re going to be built. So there’s a real incentive to making this a successful model.”
Wagner hesitated to even offer a number of how many partners have signed on to support the project. “It would only change tomorrow,” he says. “We hope to grow to our fullest organizational capacity and include dozens of partners from our member counties and from around the state. … The ceiling of opportunity is quite high.”
While this regional approach has helped to build public and governmental support for wind energy, significant hurdles remain.
But its prospects? “I think it will happen,” Friedman says. “It might not be on [LEEDCo’s] optimistic schedule, but I think it will happen, and wind energy will be our future.”
Conneaut Port Authority
PROJECT: Collaboration with Erie Economic Development Corp.
It started, as many good collaborations do, with a chain of introductions leading to a partnership of like minds.
Conneaut Port Authority chairman Denver Spieldenner and economic development chairman Joe Raisin reached out to local politicians to position the port as a tool in local economic development. That sparked a chain of introductions that eventually put the port in touch with Pennsylvania’s Erie Economic Development Corp.
The two groups agreed to work together on achieving their joint goals: growth of their respective ports and redevelopment of existing resources and land.
Specifically, the newly created partnership formed objectives around increasing service into Erie’s and Conneaut’s ports, developing 400-plus acres of light-rail-accessible land in Western Erie County, revitalizing the Conneaut Port and redeveloping unused existing rail yards and an intermodal terminal.
In early 2011, this collaboration launched the Erie Shippers Association, an organization designed to unite carriers, cargo owners, port authorities and other interested parties in joint development projects.
The association will unite 12 counties in Northwest Pennsylvania, Northeast Ohio and Western New York, a shoreline distance of approximately 120 miles.
City of Cleveland and the First Suburbs Development Council
PROJECT: Northeast Ohio Advanced Energy District
Two years AGO, Ohio’s legislature authorized financial assistance for clean energy improvements. The funds were available to any city, but the 16 member communities of the First Suburbs Development Council saw it as an opportunity for collaboration.
They teamed up with the city of Cleveland to launch the Northeast Ohio Advanced Energy District, providing financing through bond sale to commercial or industrial properties investing in green energy improvements.
The formation of the advanced energy district was no small task. As the first truly collaborative project between Cleveland and First Suburbs, it required buy-in from all the cities’ councils, mayors, and law and finance directors. To determine whether property owners would even be interested in the program required presentations before chambers of commerce, trade associations and commercial property owners.
Despite these hurdles, the communities passed legislation in 2010, creating Ohio’s first advanced energy special improvement district. It’s one of only a few nationwide and the first in the country to be formed through multi-jurisdictional urban-suburban collaboration. It’s too soon to tell what the district will yield, but it recently scored a $100,000 grant from the Fund for our Economic Future. — JK