A national study of wind energy points out what advocates of a Lake Erie wind farm have emphasized – the lack of policies and guidelines at all levels of government adds complexity and time to wind projects.
Despite patchwork regulation, wind power is picking up speed. Since 1980, wind energy has grown from almost nothing to more than 11,000 megawatts in the United States, according to an environmental-impact study released Thursday by the National Research Council.
That’s still less than 1 percent of the nation’s power output. But experts say wind could supply up to 7 percent of the nation’s electrical power by 2022 and reduce greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide – by 4.5 percent.
Ohio generates a mere 7 megawatts of wind power. But an alternative-energy task force, appointed by the Cuyahoga County commissioners, is pursuing a wind project of five to 10 turbines, generating up to 20 megawatts three miles off the shore of downtown Cleveland.
It would be part of a proposed wind-research center, envisioned as a world-class testing facility and knowledge repository for offshore wind turbines.
At the same time, Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration is gauging the feasibility of wind turbines on city-owned land, linked to Cleveland Public Power.
The county task force found it would need nearly a dozen approvals at the state and federal levels, from agencies that have never dealt with offshore windmills.
Wind-power projects have bogged down in lawsuits over aesthetics and the environmental impact, including bird and bat kills. The process suffers for lack of a regulatory framework, officials say.
“Decisions could be made much more efficiently, if guidelines were available,” said Paul Risser, head of the National Research Council’s Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy. “Our belief is it will really help the process to have clearer expectations of all the parties.”
Locally, task force head Bill Mason, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said he wants to “blaze a trail” for regulation of wind turbines.
That would include a model wind-power ordinance for local governments, similar to those crafted for regulating cellular-phone towers in the 1990s, Mason said.
Most important, Mason and the task force are urging the state legislature to adopt a law requiring electric utilities to obtain a percentage of their power from renewable sources. That would encourage wind-power development.
“States around us have that,” Mason said. “We need that here.”
The possibility of erecting windmills in Lake Erie raises a number of environmental concerns, including the destruction of migrating birds.
“We want to isolate the issues and study them,” Mason said. “Maybe that’s what stops the project, or not.”
The National Research Council study found no evidence that wind turbines have done significant damage to bird populations, but it called for more study.
By Tom Breckenridge
Plain Dealer Reporter
4 May 2007
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