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Land-based wind projects offer advantages over offshore projects, experts say

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by Vince Versace

Lifting a moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a green-friendly initiative, but companies with expertise in wind energy see rough waters ahead for the concept.

Power Generation

Lifting of Ontario’s offshore moratorium will little effect on plans

Lifting a moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a green-friendly initiative, but companies with expertise in wind energy see rough waters ahead for the concept.

“We shelved our plan for offshore wind for a lot of reasons,” says Jay Wilgar, vice-president of AIM Group.“When you have a mega-project offshore there are considerable costs and how can you feasibly recover them? There are considerable constraints just on the construction end.”

Reports indicate that the Ontario government plans to allow development of offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes after a 14-month moratorium. The government used the time to study potential environmental impacts on wildlife, aquatic species and on bird migration routes.

AIM currently leases parcels of Lake Erie from the province totalling roughly 10 square kilometres in size. AIM intended to develop the area into an offshore wind farm that could produce 100 megawatts.

It lobbied the province for the leases because a main company objective was to build an offshore wind farm.

“We might revisit it but we are now adding 18 turbines to our 66-turbine wind farm in Port Burwell instead,” Wilgar says.

Offshore wind farms have been built or are being constructed near Denmark, Britain and British Columbia.

Boris Baslan of Northland Power says offshore wind power developments are not on the horizon for his company, which specializes in the financing, construction and operation of power projects, including wind-powered facilities. “It is a good idea to develop and popular in Europe but it would be interesting to see the cost of developing it here,” says Baslan. “There are basic issues as well, such as the collecting of the energy and its transmission, shipping lanes and environmental effects.”

The size of the turbines required for offshore wind alone pose a logistical problem, says Wilgar. The turbines used are considerably larger than land-based ones. A 3.6 MW turbine needed for offshore has a hub height of 100 metres.

“Also, the availability of turbines around the world is tight. Some turbine companies are three years behind meeting demand,” he said.

Construction on the Great Lakes would require proper sized ports to house and move the equipment and parts needed to build the offshore wind farm. Acquiring suitable cranes and a jack-up barge to build in the water also brings unforeseen costs, says Wilgar.

A jack-up barge is needed because it can stand still on the lake bed on three or four supporting columns. These columns can move up and down via hydraulics as the barge acts as a diving or construction platform.

“It is not like a jack-up barge is a regular sight on the Great Lakes,” adds Wilgar.

Bermingham Foundations has specialized in project planning, supplying equipment, contracting, or testing foundations worldwide.

Bermingham once drove a conductor to a depth of over 500 feet in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic. The concept of offshore wind farm construction is attractive, says its president.

“We have clients in Northern Europe, England and Holland involved in such projects,” says Patrick Bermingham.

“We would like the opportunity to work on something like that. We have the technology and expertise [to work on such projects].”

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