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It turns out Ontario is not the only jurisdiction getting cold feet about offshore wind development – in the Great Lakes, at least. In October, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo released a new energy blueprint – known as The Energy Highway – that inadvertently put a wet blanket over plans to install wind turbines in either Lake Erie or the deeper waters of Lake Ontario.

Cuomo has left the door open to future development in lakes Erie and Ontario, should developers show greater interest in potential offshore projects in the future. But he has indicated that if the state chooses to pursue offshore wind, it would likely investigate installing offshore wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off the New York City coast before moving forward with Great Lakes-based projects.

“The energy highway will ensure that businesses and residential consumers across New York State have access to the affordable power they need to plan for not just today, but also for the future,” Cuomo said in a release. “An economy built to last requires a power infrastructure that gives businesses the confidence and security they need to hire new workers and plan for years to come, and this Blueprint continues to position New York State as a national leader in clean energy production and investment.”

But there are some in New York’s renewable energy community that see the plan to add 3,200 megawatts of new electricity generation through $5.7-billion in private investments as a missed opportunity for the state to increase the percentage of green power in its energy mix.

“We’re at a crossroads in this state,” said Brian Smith, Program and Communications Director at the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We see power plants on the verge of retirement and the decisions we make today are going to have an impact for decades.”

“This is certainly not a signal to offshore wind developers that New York is open for business,” he said.

In late 2011, the New York Power Authority also killed a similar plan to place 150 turbines along the Lake Erie shoreline between Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania. Citing at least $1-billion in costs which was too steep for the state government, the project was shelved.

Gov. Cuomo did not go as far as Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty did in February 2011. Bending to concerns about the impact of such projects, the premier placed a moratorium on all offshore wind development in the Great Lakes, pending a further study that some in the wind community are still waiting for.

“The fact of the matter is that there is a dearth, there is a shortage of science when it comes to locating wind turbines in fresh water,” McGuinty said of his decision at the time. “If they decide to put up a thousand in a square mile, I'm not sure that would be in keeping with standards that properly protect the aquatic life in the Great Lakes.”  

McGuinty added that, “we'll take the time to do this thoughtfully and responsibly."

In some ways, the McGuinty government is still dealing with the after effects of this decision. Trillium Wind Power Corporation was in the financing stage of developing four offshore wind turbine farms in Lake Ontario (between Toronto and Kingston) when Queen’s Park flinched, leading the company to sue the government for $2.25 billion in losses.

“Our case is not frivolous,” said Trillium CEO John Kourtoff. “We have data and information and we have work that was done and we’re prepared to take it before a trial.” An Ontario judge dismissed the case in early November 2012, but Kourtoff has indicated his company is appealing the decision.  

Faced with uncertainty over the impacts of locating wind turbines offshore and mounting public opposition in an election year, McGuinty pulled the plug. Sadly, he wasn’t as fortunate as Cuomo to have another, larger body of water to shift the offshore discussion to.

And with McGuinty set to retire at the end of January 2013, the discussion of offshore wind development in the Great Lakes will be left to a new premier.

 

The Current Events blog focuses on a wide array of environmental current events in Canada, ranging from issues of politics and public policy to energy, natural resources, and environmental science.

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