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Sunday, 31 March 2013 22:00

Blown Away? Offshore wind study could end this year without more funding

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The research buoy deployed in Lake Michigan by Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center to study offshore wind potential is one of three such platforms in existence. The 20-foot-by-10-foot buoy weighs approximately 8 tons and can measure wind characteristics up to 150 meters above the water using advanced wind sensor technology. The research buoy deployed in Lake Michigan by Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center to study offshore wind potential is one of three such platforms in existence. The 20-foot-by-10-foot buoy weighs approximately 8 tons and can measure wind characteristics up to 150 meters above the water using advanced wind sensor technology. COURTESY PHOTO

MUSKEGON — Money for wind sentinel buoy research at the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center is running out.

The Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Assessment Project, a collaborative study including Grand Valley State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, was originally award $1.4 million from the U.S Department of Energy, most of which was allocated to purchasing the buoy.

The Michigan Public Service Commission added an additional $1.33 million grant. However, that money was rescinded due to a lawsuit filed by former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE). The Michigan Court of Appeals found that the MPSC did not to have the authority to administer money collected for the now defunct Low-Income Energy Efficiency Fund, from which the research money was earmarked.

Still, the project went forward with $250,000 from Wisconsin-based utility We Energies, $260,084 from U of M and a $30,000 grant from the Great Lakes office of the Sierra Club.

With the 2011-2012 research season in the bag, a “truck load” of data is being processed and plans for the 2012-2013 research season are moving ahead, said Arn Boezaart, director of MAREC. But that is where the buck stops.

“We have enough federal funds left to put the buoy back in the water for 2013,” he said. “After that, we have no money left for research. We may see some research assistance, perhaps in the next 30 days, but we’re definitely operating on the cheap for sure.”

Boezaart estimates it costs about $500,000 to complete a full year’s worth of research. After spending what little funds remained to refurbish the buoy for the upcoming season, the budget for 2014 is dry, he said.

Discussions with potential future funding sources are ongoing, Boezaart said. While MAREC has received some interest from groups in Illinois looking to do wind energy research, it’s too early to say whether the buoy will leave West Michigan, he said.

The research buoy is one of only three in existence, and as such, its data isn’t easily duplicated in other ways, said Boezaart, who noted keeping the buoy in use is a priority for MAREC. In addition to collecting wind and water data, the buoy can also collect bird and bat migration information, which MSU is studying.

“This is a tremendous body of data that has never been collected before,” Boezaart said. “Right now, especially on the offshore side of things, we’re the only game in town.”

For the 2013 research season, MAREC is setting up a test site 10 miles offshore in Lake Michigan to get comparison data to put against what was documented from the middle of the lake in the previous season. Part of the reason for distance is that it will be easier and cheaper to collect data and perform any maintenance the buoy might need, Boezaart said.

With inexpensive natural gas taking center stage in much of the energy discussion at the moment, the state seems to have turned its attention from wind development, said sources in the industry. Regardless, MAREC’s project follows up on the work and study results of the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Council.

GLOW and other research outfits believe that Great Lakes can provide a significant portion of the region’s renewable energy needs in the coming decades. The Lake Michigan Offshore Wind Assessment Project is a major piece in understanding how to best utilize the resource, Boezaart said.  

“We’re going to continue to try to do the work and collect the data,” Boezaart said. “There will be a time when (wind energy development) becomes a higher profile activity in state and will find its way to the front. We’ll be ready with the data technology. Our efforts will still be valuable and quite viable.” 

Read 4030 times Last modified on Friday, 29 March 2013 15:54

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