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Q & A: Dave Karpinski, new VP of Operations at LEEDCo

LeedCo VP of operations Dave Karpinski
LeedCo VP of operations Dave Karpinski - Bob Perkoski

A favorable breeze may be blowing in the direction of a local nonprofit organization that seeks to build the nation’s first freshwater offshore wind project.
In December, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp (LEEDCo) won a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) and secured another $1 million from its private partners to erect five to nine wind turbines about seven miles off the coast of Cleveland in Lake Erie.
Now comes the tricky part. LeedCo, with its first round of financing in tow, must compete for a critical second infusion of funding -- upwards of $46.7 million -- against six other projects across the country. The first DOE award has allowed LEEDCo to expand its management team with the hiring of new VP of operations Dave Karpinski, who took the position on January 28.
As NorTech vice president, and director of its Energy Enterprise initiative, Karpinski has worked closely with LEEDCo to accelerate growth of the advanced energy cluster in Northeast Ohio. In his new role, Karpinski, whose 25 years in manufacturing include experience in advanced energy, will guide the organization through the next phase in the process of building those power-producing wind turbines in Lake Erie.
Starting February 15, the group has one year to bring the project forward to the point where actual construction can take place. That means completing design studies on turbine foundations and other complex engineering matters.
Fresh Water spoke with Karpinski about LEEDCO's latest plans to warm up to the project known as "Icebreaker."
Why were your brought on board as LEEDCO's vice president of operations?
I've been involved with the organization since its creation by the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force. I was a board chair with LEEDCo and am extremely intimate with the [turbine] project. This investment from DOE is a major sea change for us. We have 12 months to perform excellently in competition with six other projects to win the next round of investment. We have a clock in the office that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until our deadline. It's a reminder of the mode we're in here. With my experience I was in a position to hit the ground running and contribute from Day One.
What is your vision for the organization moving forward?
All we're doing over the next 12 months is aimed at the target of that next round of funding. The idea is to position the project so it's distinctive among the other six. What sets us apart? We're the only project in the Great Lakes, which gives us options for innovation and deployment technologies. We also want to develop this so it's the lowest cost of energy among the other six.
Long term, this is about more than this one project. In a couple of decades, we want to implement 5,000 megawatts of wind energy in Lake Erie. Getting this first project built can turn into momentum for more activity.
Where are you in the initial efforts?
We're submitting all permits required to put turbines in the lake. It sounds like a simple task, but it's pretty complex, as there are so many agencies to work with. Our other main thrust is to evaluate cost-benefit analysis of design concepts and pick the best one for the Great Lakes. How do we get the turbines into the water? What infrastructure might be needed?  What's the local supply chain that can build the necessary components? What's the financing picture? We're looking at the whole system from top to bottom. We'll be working closely with the DOE. We expect to learn a lot more as we execute the project.

Why do you believe LEEDCo can finish what it started?
Lorry [Wagner, LEEDCo President] has assembled a great team. The culture is very collaborative; that will be our "secret sauce" as we know a project like this cannot be done under the umbrella of one organization. This has never been done before in the U.S., so we coupled local resources with world-class experts from Europe who've done projects involving thousands of megawatts of wind energy. Lake Erie is also a tremendous asset that positions us in a cost effective way. Another asset we value is the public support that's been developing over a number of years. We can't take that for granted. It's going to be important in the process moving forward.
What are the potential benefits of wind energy for the region?
It's about jobs -- new businesses springing up and employing local construction workers, engineers, attorneys and accountants. Wind energy has the potential to be a robust, thriving industry that can be a long-term job engine in a variety of sectors. The other part of this is clean energy. We are reliant on coal, but the EPA is limiting emissions for coal burning. I don't see that easing up. The state is facing a challenge on how to keep its energy industry strong. This can be one part of a portfolio of energy solutions for the state. We just have to get the turbines in the water.
If you had to guess, when will we see wind turbines off the shore in Lake Erie?
That's always a tough one. It's going to be a few years off. We'll be nailing that time frame down over the course of this year. There's an awful lot of work to be done, but we're excited to start the work that will answer that question. We're at the ground floor of an emerging industry. Our partners are excited to be involved, and in our view this [industry] can be really big. There will be a lot of pie for everyone at this point.

Photos Bob Perkoski
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