Over and over again, Lorry Wagner has heard Northeast Ohio business and government officials asking, “Why offshore wind and why Ohio?” Wagner and his team at Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. are asking those people, “Why not?”

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. or LEEDCo, is a regional non-profit and economic development organization building an offshore wind energy industry in Ohio. Offshore wind refers to the construction of wind farms in bodies of water to generate electricity. Wagner, a seasoned wind energy engineer and a longstanding member of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, is president of Cleveland-based LEEDCo, a position he assumed in May 2010.

“The Cleveland Foundation had been looking at expanding their role in the community through economic development and they identified energy as one of the areas that made sense for them to support,” Wagner says. “The particular aspect of the energy industry that fit our skill set the best was offshore wind.”

From 2004 until 2009 when LEEDCo was formed, Cuyahoga County and Lorain County officials were involved in an energy task force to explore whether or not this idea made sense. They concluded that there was no reason not to develop offshore wind in the region.

“LEEDCo was an outgrowth of the task force because they realized they needed a business to push this forward,” Wagner says.

Now Wagner and his team are fighting for federal funding as well as the support of local officials to help people realize the benefits of offshore wind to the Northeast Ohio region.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of LEEDCo’s efforts is the standoffish attitude of some key people who could help bring offshore wind to the region.

“The biggest challenge is that many people around here think that if we just work harder and the economy comes back, life will be like it used to be,” Wagner says. “In 1950, we had 914,000 people in Cleveland. Today we’ve got 393,000 and we went from No. 7 to No. 47 in the country because of that thinking.

“We just keep skating where the puck is instead of skating to where the puck is going to be.” That’s the biggest challenge facing LEEDCo — the attitude of people who refuse to see the benefit of a new energy source that is booming in places like Europe.

“We’re trying to do something that’s a $200 billion business around the world,” he says. “Wouldn’t you think that somebody would say, ‘It’s a $200 billion business and all these major companies around the world are doing it, shouldn’t we try it and see if it works?’”

Offshore wind energy is a matter of doing something that this region is going to benefit from.

“It is a proven job generation engine,” he says. “Over 50,000 jobs in Europe have been created and given the pathway Europe is on now, it will probably create upward of 200,000 jobs. If it can be competitive, there is no doubt it will create jobs.”

The kind of jobs offshore wind would create is mostly in the services industry. They are good paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

“Once you develop the jobs in a region, they stay there,” Wagner says.

Offshore wind energy is also renewable, cleans up the environment, has a stable price for 20 years, and doesn’t have a fuel cost. It’s a game changer in the utility industry.

“It certainly isn’t the earth-shaking industry that the Internet has been, but look at what’s happened to all of the traditional companies who ruled the world 20 years ago,” Wagner says. “Many of those have changed. We’re in a similar situation when it comes to energy, because the major utilities are used to being a monopoly and running the show. That is shifting.”

According to Wagner, most people under the age of 40 understand offshore wind energy and support the idea. Many retired people do as well.

“The challenge is getting people 40 to 65 to do something different and if I had the answer to that, I’d be king of the world,” he says.

To help push their effort forward, LEEDCo has been on a mission to receive federal funding.

“Right now we have about 12 partners working on the first phase of a federal grant,” Wagner says. “Out of 60-some applicants, seven projects were chosen for Department of Energy funding. We were one of those projects and the only one in the Great Lakes.”

LEEDCo has a target of February 12, 2014 to submit its next proposal to the Department of Energy.

“We compete against six other teams for the final round of funding and three projects will be funded,” he says. “That’s what we are focused on.”

How to reach: Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., (216) 241-9201 or www.leedco.org

Published in Cleveland