By GRACE WYLER
A Youngstown company is at the forefront of a $100 million plan to build the country’s first offshore wind farm on Lake Erie.
Great Lakes Wind Energy, a Youngstown-based renewable energy company, will partner with Bechtel Corp. — the company that built the Hoover Dam, among other behemoth projects — and Houston-based private-equity firm Cavallo Energy to build five wind turbines off the lake’s Cleveland coast.
The “demonstration project” is the first step in a 10-year plan to build 200 turbines on the lake, giving a kick-start to the region’s renewable-energy industry.
The project development team, which brings together some of the biggest players in the energy industry, was assembled by lifelong Youngstown resident Gene Ameduri, the managing director of Great Lakes Wind Energy.
Great Lakes Wind Energy was formed earlier this year to submit a proposal to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., the nonprofit organization that is spearheading the wind turbine project.
Amerduri, along with a team of offshore wind professionals from Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, then approached Bechtel and Cavallo, companies with a track record of building and investing in massive energy projects.
“We needed a team that could construct the project and finance it,” Ameduri said. “So we brought all these parties together and wrote a very competitive proposal.”
The partners have formed a new development company, Great Lakes Ohio Wind, which will be managed by Great Lakes Wind Energy manager Chris Wisseman, a New Jersey-based offshore wind expert.
The involvement of Bechtel and Cavallo is “an indictor that the Ohio wind industry is organized and real,” Wisseman said. “This is the fastest pathway for an offshore wind project.”
In addition to funding, Bechtel will supply engineering and build the massive structures that will hold the turbines. Cavallo, which is in the process of building a power transmission line under the Hudson River, will develop the energy generation and transmission.
Great Lakes Wind Energy will be responsible for managing the project “on the ground,” Wisseman said. The company will coordinate activities among the partners involved, including General Electric, which is supplying the turbines.
“We are effectively the conductor of the talent,” he said. “We are in charge of pulling together all of the pieces to get the project ready to go to construction.”
The company will also be responsible for securing financing for the project and working with 18 government agencies overseeing the project, he said.
The project, set to be completed by the end of 2012, will likely create 600 jobs, Ameduri said. The long-term proposal, due to be finished in 2020, will create between 6,000 and 9,000 jobs as the state builds a wind-industry supply chain, he said.
“The thrust of this is really job creation,” Ameduri said. “We are not just building a demonstration project, we are building a new industry in Ohio.”
The Lake Erie wind project has received praise from elected officials, including Gov. Ted Strickland and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said he is particularly pleased that a Youngstown company is involved in the plan.
“These types of connections between the Mahoning Valley and the rest of Northeast Ohio are integral parts of building the Tech Belt – and rebuilding our local economy,” Ryan said.