Offshore Wind Energy Development in the Great Lakes

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A team at the University of Michigan has published a study related to the possibility of offshore wind energy development in the Great Lakes. The report identifies a number of policy options for supporting the expansion of transmissions infrastructure for delivering clean, renewable energy to the grid.  It also warns that the limiting factor to offshore wind development will soon be the opportunity for integration into the current power transmission infrastructure.

The United Kingdom already has 1.3 gigawatts of energy being generated by offshore wind technology.  As the costs of offshore wind decline and technology advances, the rate of achievable growth here in the United States increases.  Until then, the cost of developing offshore power generation will be illustrated to the public by increased costs for the electricity itself, which may stir opposition.

There will be both social and environmental impacts playing a role in gathering public support for these projects.  Coastal habitat disturbance is one impact of transmission development that will have to be carefully considered.  Other barriers include the ability to deliver power generated offshore to onshore transmission systems, and also then transporting that power to where it’s needed.

Transmission companies and wind developers are caught in a stand-still.  Transmission companies are unlikely to upgrade infrastructure until the need arises, i.e. there is sufficient wind development to necessitate the upgrade, and the wind developers are unlikely to build the turbines without the infrastructure present to deliver the power to the grid.  If this dilemma continues, wind development may only occur near areas that currently have the capacity to take in the extra power generated.

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