Ohio's energy plans may be more focused on coal and shale than on renewable energy these days, but that's not stopping Cleveland-based nonprofit LEEDco. The wind-energy firm is now seeking federal support for its planned 20-30 MW offshore wind farm in Lake Erie.

Following the U.S. Dept. of Energy's March 1 unveiling of a $180-million fund to support four off-shore wind projects, LEEDco joined the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University to apply jointly for a grant, which is due by May 31.

"We are optimistic we can receive up to $50 million if we can install two turbines in Lake Erie between 2015 and 2017," says Lorry Wagner, president of LEEDco.

Also buoying LEEDco's hopes is a March 30 agreement between the Obama Administration and five Great Lakes states—Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania—to streamline wind-farm regulatory review. The development has wind energy proponents envisioning vast energy-generating potential in the Great Lakes. According to the Obama Administration, the region's offshore winds could generate more than 700 GW or one-fifth of all potential wind energy nationwide.

But opponents argue that erecting offshore wind turbines would result in higher energy costs and disturb the lakes' natural environment, making it difficult for wind projects to gain traction.

Recent events have not helped. Last February, the Canadian province of Ontario halted wind-energy development in its Great Lakes as it awaits more environmental study. Last fall, the New York Power Authority abandoned its plan to install 200 turbines in lakes Erie and Ontario. The developments leave LEEDco as the first wind developer to obtain a submerged-land-lease option (in January 2011) in the Great Lakes with fewer options than thought.

"LEEDco is engaged with other municipal power systems, investor-owned utilities, and private businesses, but we are not at liberty to disclose any specifics," Wagner says.

Last August, Cleveland Public Power (CPP) signed an informal agreement to purchase 25% of LEEDco's power, but CPP Commissioner Ivan Henderson said on March 9, "We are not getting close to cost validation since the project is not fully subscribed."

Similar concerns about lack of subscribers led San Francisco-based Bechtel to depart last summer as a developer partner for LEEDco's pilot project, a Bechtel spokeswoman confirms.

Ohio has been less than enthusiastic about wind energy as well. On March 14, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) unveiled his energy reform plan, which includes $30 million in funding for coal and a proposal to allow cogeneration plants to qualify as renewables.

"Coal R&D on a national level is two times that of renewables, so it is curious that the state feels [it has] to invest [its] own money in coal," Wagner says.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are trying to repeal Ohio's alternative energy mandate. Last September, State Sen. Kris Jordan (R) introduced a bill that would repeal Ohio's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. AEPS requires electric utilities to provide 25% of their retail power from renewables by 2025. Jordan says AEPS would increase energy costs, destroy jobs and be a burden for consumers.

Power generated by LEEDco's planned facility should be about 24.4 cents per KWh for a 20-year agreement, Wagner claims.

But if another utility picks up transmission and receives rate recovery from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the cost could fall 10% to 15%, he notes. DOE funding could also help lower the cost of wind energy.

Despite LEEDco's challenges, Fishermen's Energy CEO Chris Wisseman, formerly of Great Lakes Wind Energy, says the Great Lakes region still has greater potential for offshore wind on a commercial scale than the federal waters of the mid-Atlantic, which require a lengthy permitting process.

Wisseman left Great Lakes Wind Energy on Feb. 7 to take the helm at Fishermen's Energy, Atlantic City, N.J., competing to build the first grid-connected offshore wind farm in the U.S