State and federal agencies are getting their ducks in a row to regulate offshore wind farms.
Wind turbines scheduled to be built in Lake Erie off Cleveland in 2012 may be the first in the water in the Great Lakes, and aren’t likely to be the last.
Wind energy companies are proposing to build thousands of offshore turbines to harvest alternative energy from the wind-swept lakes. And Lake Erie, because of its shallow depths, is considered prime underwater real estate, developers said Monday in Erie.
Neither Pennsylvania nor the federal government so far requires a specific permit to build a wind farm offshore in Lake Erie, or on land.
But existing regulations will protect water quality, wildlife, coastlines, navigation, shipwrecks, and maybe even sunset views from Presque Isle, said Geoff Bristow, chief of energy and technology development for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s northwestern region.
Developers will have to address all of those concerns to obtain a lake bottom lease and the water obstruction and encroachment permits required to build wind turbines and electric transmission lines in the lake, Bristow said.
Additional permits would be required from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and federal fish and wildlife agencies.
It won’t be a simple or quick process, said Scott Hans, chief of the Corps of Engineers regional regulatory branch in Pittsburgh.
“The review process alone will take a couple of years,” Hans said.
No development companies so far have applied for a permit to construct an offshore wind farm in Lake Erie. The state must authorize the lease of land under lake waters before construction plans can move forward, Bristow said.
State Rep. John Hornaman, of Millcreek Township, D-3rd Dist., introduced legislation to permit such land leases in 2010. The bill was unanimously approved by the House but did not reach the Senate floor by the end of the last legislative session.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission isn’t waiting for the bill to become law or for permit applications to look at the impacts of wind farms on wildlife.
The commission has been working with wind developers to study wildlife in potential wind farm sites on land and offshore, and to protect birds, bats and habitats, said William Capouillez, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management.
“It’s an opportunity to find out what the issues are early,” Capouillez said.
Those issues so far include bats and birds killed by the 422 wind turbines installed and operated on land in Pennsylvania, Capouillez said.
The commission estimates that each wind turbine kills an average of 24 bats and 4 birds each year, Capouillez said.
The effect on the large and varied bird populations that visit Presque Isle and migrate across the lake could be much larger, environmentalists said during a public hearing on wind development at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center on Monday.
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