Bechtel Corp. moved into the renewable-energy sector in a big way on Sept. 14, announcing it would develop and own an offshore wind farm on Lake Erie with partners Cavallo Energy LLC and Great Lakes Wind Energy. The five-turbine, $100-million project, seven miles from Cleveland, could become the first offshore wind farm in the United States.

“There is no question that renewables is a growth area … we are moving into,” says Sprague Cook, vice president and manager of renewable power for Bechtel. The San Francisco-based multinational engineering-construction firm is looking into both onshore and offshore wind development, he says. Bechtel, Houston-based Cavallo and Great Lakes Wind, Cleveland, want to develop another 1,000 MW of wind on Lake Erie.

Bechtel expects to begin construction on the 20-MW wind farm in 2012 or 2013, with construction lasting one season. In addition to handling engineering, procurement and construction for the project, Bechtel also is involved in the project’s finance and development.

The non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) has been pushing Lake Erie wind energy for four years. The Bechtel group was one of three that responded to a LEEDCo request for proposals for the development earlier this year.

Unlike Atlantic Ocean offshore wind-farm proposals in which the permitting process has been long and litigious, the Great Lakes group only needs the approval of the state of Ohio to build a wind farm.

Chris Wisseman, manager of Great Lakes Wind Energy and a former executive with Atlantic-based Deepwater Wind, said, in contrast with Atlantic states, the Great Lakes area has a greater acceptance of the development of heavy industries. The port facilities around the Great Lakes have large industrial ports that can be used to build an offshore wind farm.

Wisseman says the existing jack-up barges as well as simply modified construction equipment likely will be used to build the first Great Lakes wind farm.

The lake’s geology likely will allow for gravity-based turbines, which would mitigate the need for pilings. The overall cost is expected to be lower than offshore Atlantic wind farms, but that advantage will be offset by the fact that wind on the Great Lakes isn’t quite as strong as on the Atlantic.