COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio is giving a green light to the proposal to put wind turbines in Lake Erie.
In his last official act Friday, Gov. Ted Strickland signed an iron-clad lease option giving the Lake Erie Energy Development Co. the legal right to conduct extensive testing in the lake toward the construction in 2014 of five very large wind turbines.
Strickland has consistently supported the $100 million pilot project as a way to jump-start a new industry in Northeast Ohio. That industry would build turbines for the entire Great Lakes – and create potentially thousands of new industrial jobs, many in companies already here and already building parts for turbines elsewhere.
The state owns the lake bottom and Strickland created an inter-agency task early on in his administration, for example, to speed up state permitting.
“I feel strongly about renewable energy and the potential of wind power on Lake Erie,” Strickland said in an interview Thursday when asked if he was rushing to sign the document to frustrate incoming Gov. John Kasich.
“This is not being rushed. I think this is right for Ohio. And anything I can do while I have the authority vested in me as governor I am going to do. Until the very last minute.”
After signing the lease on Friday, Strickland said the project would build “on the strengths of Ohio’s manufacturing and maritime industries.”
“I am very proud of the partnership we’ve developed with local and civic leaders to help us reach this point, and I strongly encourage the state to continue this collaborative effort.”
By signing the lease option, Strickland has prevented Kasich from immediately withdrawing state support – if that is in fact his intention.
Democratic strategists and green energy advocates across the state fear that the Republican maverick will try to undo green initiatives championed by Strickland and some Republican lawmakers.
They point to his remarks on the campaign trail about lake-based wind turbines last August.
“They’re talking about putting some sort of wind turbine in Lake Erie in a spawning area. Not if I’m Governor,” Kasich said in remarks that were videotaped.
“There’s a spawning area that helps the fishing industry in Lake Erie work. . . . If the facts of that hold to be true, it isn’t going to happen. We’re going to fight it.”
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said those remarks were about a proposal in western Lake Erie and the new governor has not decided to oppose the Cleveland lake project or renewable energy in general.
“He has said renewable energy is part of the portfolio, that we need it, but not to look at it as a panacea,” Nichols said. Because the project holds so much manufacturing potential, it has been supported by manufacturers around the state, manufacturers who typically would support a Republican candidate.
If successful and on time, the project would be the first freshwater wind turbine farm in the nation. The lease option gives LEEDCo exclusive rights to 5,707 acres of Lake bottom about six miles offshore, north of Lakewood.
The test site chosen in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is the result of an extensive and sophisticated coastal wind mapping project that included known bird migration patterns and best wind speeds.
The lease option contract, previously signed by Attorney General Richard Cordray and Department of Natural Resources Director Sean Logan, will allow LEEDCo and its project builder, Fresh Water Wind I, to conduct extensive testing of the lake bottom and bedrock and to complete bird, bat and fish environmental studies.
All of that work must be done in order to apply for a long-term lease from the state for the permanent placement of the turbines.
For those exclusive rights, LEEDCo is paying $45,000 per year, or $90,000 for the first two years – financed by foundations and government grants.
In the coming two years, the contract requires the developers to:
• File for permission from interstate agencies that manage the nation’s high-voltage grid to connect the turbines to high-voltage lines here.
• Complete bird, bat and fish studies (such as the effect of turbine foundations on spawning).
• Map the lake bottom of the leased acreage and its geological “substrate” to determine how best to anchor such huge structures.
• Apply and receive permits to build temporary foundations in the lake for further testing.
After two years, if LEEDCo has met these “performance metrics,” it can extend its lease for another year and meet a new set of metrics. It can do this three times. In other words, if things go as planned, the project developers would have a lease for up to five years.
During these five years, the developers would not only have to prove the project is feasible but also obtain building permits from state and federal agencies, negotiate a power purchase agreement with a utility and apply for a long-term lease from the state.
In all, the document contains 25 such metrics stretching out through 2015.
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