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New York mulls Great Lakes wind farm

The state will weigh five proposals to build an offshore wind farm that could be operating in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario by the middle of the decade.

The New York Power Authority on Friday kicked off a multiyear review process for an offshore wind farm in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario.

The state has received five applications to build a wind farm, in a planning process that began in April 2009. The earliest that a functioning offshore facility could be operating is by 2015, according to the New York Power Authority.

A pilot offshore farm in Europe GE

The outlined review process underscores the difficulty of siting energy facilities in the U.S. Even with growing support for renewable energy, large projects face a tangle of environmental and regulatory reviews as well as the possibilities of financial shortfalls and public opposition.

Having received proposals for the wind farms this month, state power authorities and specialist consultants will spend the next six or seven months picking a developer.

The project developer will then spend about two years undergoing environmental and regulatory reviews and seeking community input, a process that is estimated to go until about 2013. In that same period, the project developer will need to try to secure a power purchase agreement with a utility to buy the power generated by the turbines.

Project construction, estimated to start in 2013, would take two to three years with operations beginning in 2015 or 2016, according to the New York Power Authority.

If successful, this timeline would be significantly faster than that of the Cape Wind project off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, a planned project dating back to 2001 and, despite federal approval, still facing legal and regulatory challenges.

In addition to challenges based on environmental laws, Cape Wind needs to get the approval of state regulators for its power purchase agreements. In Rhode Island, a pilot offshore wind farm, which would have been in deeper waters than Cape Wind, was blocked by regulators because of the high cost of electricity.

There is another Great Lakes offshore wind farm project also going through the reviews process. Last month, General Electric and an Ohio-based developer said they hope to have a project built in Lake Erie by 2012.