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Offshore Wind on the Lakes

Wind developers off the Atlantic Seaboard may be jealous someday of their colleagues developing projects in the Great Lakes.

The operative word is 'may', as no projects have been built in any bodies of water in the United States. But the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) held a recent webinar to focus on the challenges of offshore development with an emphasis on the Great Lakes.

First and foremost, the most striking difference is the regulatory regime considered by "Offshore Wind Projects: Site Control Issues, Regulatory Hurdles, and the Leasing and Permitting Process."

"The Great Lakes have not really figured into the national debate and until recently. The regulatory pathway to secure seabed leases and permits is really very different between the lakes and the Atlantic," said Chris Wisseman of Great Lakes Offshore Wind. "The states largely control the seabed through the Army Corps of Engineers' permitting. There's a huge difference in the timeline for permitting and in each jurisdictions."

The federal government controls regulation exclusively of the outer continental shelf, which extends from 3 miles to 200 miles, with a couple notable exceptions in the South.

In lakes development, the federal Army Corps is the lead agency that coordinates the work of other federal agencies and states in the process

"In comparison to the eight to 10-year process of the old Minerals Management Service, some of us are very enamored of the old-fashioned Army Corps process. That seems to result in a more predictable and expedited path," he said.

What this means practically, is that even with many Atlantic projects beginning their processes, lakes development is likely to occur sooner than their ocean counterparts, with the exception of Cape Wind in Massachusetts, the template for how reviews and timelines should not be done.

The jurisdiction derives essentially from its jurisdiction over the nation's waterways. And the process is seen taking three or four-year process, with large scale projects going five years.

One regulatory consideration is the structural components of towers, turbines and transmission that would potentially impact shipping lanes, said Ashley Arvin of URS Corporation

"The Corps currently is compiling a recommended list of required items for its surveys," she said.

Other agencies it would guide include the fish and wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, Federal aviation Administration and state historic preservation offices.

"We are seeing a lot of state historic preservation offices playing a part. Just because it's not on the land there are historic and aesthetic impacts as well," she said. And avian studies will play a key role because the lakes are important locations for migratory patterns.

In many ways the Europeans are ahead in terms of technology and policy. But the backdrop in times of economic distress is the development potential for these projects.

The European Wind Energy Association is projecting 230,000 by 2030 jobs for offshore wind in operations, maintenance and manufacturing for offshore wind turbines. A similar potential exists here but the policy framework is not certain.

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