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July 26, 2010

The Race for Great Lakes Wind Power

ENVIRONMENT - Ontario is in a race versus 8 American states to see who will get wind power factories by wind giant Vestas from Denmark. The company is planning to build factories for building offshore wind turbines which will mean thousands of jobs for the local economy, but it is really dependent on which province or state on the Great Lakes gets their act in gear first.

According to CEO Anders Soe-Jensen the company is waiting for whoever orders off shore wind turbines first. “We just need to see some orders,” he says.

There isn't a single offshore wind turbine in North America yet because there isn't any place to manufacture them... they're too big to ship from overseas, it makes more economic sense to build them here. And we can't build them until the government can agree on a funding plan worth $15 billion CDN.

In Europe they already have 830 offshore wind turbines, each roughly the height of the Statue of Liberty (50 meters). Europe has only been building them since 1992, but they're now expecting to build thousands more in the next five years because of the shortage of land but abundance of shorelines.

New York, Ohio, Michigan and several other northeast states are also in the race to be first place to make an order for offshore wind turbines, but there is several hurdles to jump.

#1. NIMBYs: Not-In-My-Back-Yarders. They whine and complain, make all sorts of excuses that wind turbines cause cancer, that they make irritating noises, that wind turbines distract from the view and make people go blind. Seriously. Blind. From their perspective they'd rather have a big dirty coal plant down the street than a wind turbine off the shore. I've got a suitable acronym response for these people: STFU or we'll build a coal plant instead. Its that or widespread brownouts because Ontario needs more electricity.

#2. Government inaction. When politicians don't know what to do or can't decide (which is ironic because they're supposed elected for their decision making capabilities) they sit on their butts and do nothing.

So whichever state or province gets their act in gear first will get thousands of jobs and become the major supplier for the other 8 states/provinces on the Great Lakes. Its going to happen eventually and whichever region tells the NIMBYs to STFU first will be the one who gets thousands of green energy jobs and will monopolize the market for the next 50+ years.

Its estimated North America will build between 2,000 and 3,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020, representing 6,000 to 10,000 megawatts of power. In the Great Lakes region alone it will be worth billions of dollars in economic benefits. Ontario does have an advantage because they have the most shoreline of any political region on the Great Lakes, but that is not a guarantee. Michigan could easily win the first factories instead if they get their act in gear.

Offshore wind turbines are larger and harness far more power than land turbines. The winds blowing in from the lake are stronger, more consistent and make them much more value for money. They are trickier to install but once they're there they require very little maintenance because the Great Lakes are fresh water and aren't salty, which causes corrosion. Its also faster and easier to install on a lake than on the ocean. They can also be built closer to cities which need more electricity.

Rival wind corporation Trillium wants to build 740 wind turbines in northeast Lake Ontario and has 3 other projects they're building which will add 3,700 megawatts to Ontario's electricity grid.

There's also Windstream Energy which is the 1st company in North America to get a power purchase agreement. They're building a 300 megawatt offshore wind farm in Lake Ontario.

Both Trillium and Windstream represent a whole industry of investment in Ontario, everything from the manufacturers of the wind turbines to the barges, drill rigs, jacks and cables for installing and transporting the electricity they make.

But Vestas' plans is 50% bigger than both Trillium and Windstream combined. Being the first province or state to win their contract will be the dominating factor in where the huge factories will be built.

Rivals Siemens and General Electric are two more huge corporations with their eye on the Great Lakes region. General Electric already has a deal with Ohio to build turbines off the shores of Cleveland. And New York state is going to begin receiving applications in December 2010 to build wind turbines on both the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Ontario. Both Ohio and New York want to become the central hubs for wind turbine factories.

But the US states face lots of problems, especially from NIMBYs who are trigger happy with lawyers. Its actually easier to build an offshore oil rig in the states then it is to build a wind turbine.

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