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Drilling for wind on Lake Erie
Soil sampling is an important step in choosing a design for the foundations of five massive wind turbines planned for a Lake Erie wind farm
by WKSU's JEFF ST. CLAIR


Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
 
The jack-up barge and tug traveled from Muskegon, Michigan. A drilling rig is sampling lake bed soils under 60 feet of water. The soil samples will determine the design of foundations for five massive turbines planned for a Lake Erie wind farm.
Courtesy of Howard Tucker
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Crews are wrapping up today a week of taking samples of soil layers deep under Lake Erie. It’s a crucial step in designing what could be the nation’s first fresh water wind farm.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair visited the drilling platform and has this audio postcard.

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The Cuyahoga is serene as we shove off from the flats, heading toward the lake. We pass crumbling wharfs, and rusted bulkheads, and signs of renewal, a new bridge, and the gleaming Ernst & Young office tower. 

The breeze picks up once we hit the open water of Lake Erie. 

And it’s this wind we’re chasing as we chug out toward a dot on the horizon.

Jack-up barge and 12-hours shifts
David Karpinski is vice president of LEEDCo, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation.  We’re now eight miles out and the dot has become a crowded drilling platform pushed by a tugboat.

“This is the first step getting this expertise in the Great Lakes for the wind turbine industry.” 

We’ve arrived at the spot where LEEDCo plans to plant one of five massive wind turbines in sixty feet of water. 

The 90’ jack-up barge carries a drilling rig and 12 member crew to five locations on the lake.  The crew works 12 hour shifts, the tug takes them back to Cleveland for the shift change. They're bringing up a core sample of the lake bottom.

Lake bed soil will determine foundations design
One of the crew interrupts Karpinski as we idle up to the platform. The drillers go into action for a photo op, part of the reason we’re here.

“It's a very small step, but it’s pretty exciting because it’s... the the first time we’re actually seeing vessels and equipment deployed to do work.”

The drillers send section after section of pipe down into the lake bed. Eventually they begin pulling up a core sample of the layered lake bottom which Karpinski says will help engineers design the base that will support the turbines out in the water.

“Knowing the specific soil conditions you’ll be able to better assess which foundations are most appropriate and once you make that assessment you can really fine tune the design even more.”

Other tests on the barge measure the density of soils on the lake bottom.

Baby steps to a wind energy industry 
Soon it’s time to head back to Cleveland, as our captain toots his horn, and the tugboat pushing the barge answers back.

For me and the other passengers it was a few hours out on the lake on a windy spring day, but a drilling barge and a tugboat eight miles out means much more to Karpinski.

“It's a very small step here but it’s pretty exciting because it’s the first physical work that we’re doing, the first time we’re actually seeing vessels and equipment deployed to do work for the project.”

It’s an hour back to shore. 

We pass two resolute fishermen in a small boat, the only other people on the water today. But two years from now, Dave Karpinski says the planned Lake Erie wind farm will create bustling ports, bring hundreds of workers to assemble wind turbines, attract ship crews to ferry them, and engineers to install them. 

Right now Karpinski and LEEDCo are facing a sink or swim deadline - they’ve got to have their wind farm plans and permits in place by next February to compete for one of three 50 million dollar Department of Energy offshore wind grants. Testing the soil beneath Lake Erie is the first step in testing the waters of Ohio’s offshore wind dreams.

(Click image for larger view.)

From left to right Caroline Grossi, LEEDCo public relations; David Karpinski, VP of operations; Richard Steubi, energy consultant; Eric Ritter, LEEDCo marketing; Sylvia Perez, Cleveland Foundation.
 
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