CLEVELAND, Ohio – The first official public airing of the project to build a pilot wind farm on Lake Erie proved it won’t all be smooth sailing.
Nearly 50 people – many with critical questions – attended the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.’s state-mandated public meeting late Thursday afternoon at the Cleveland Public Library. The Ohio Power Siting Board, which must approve the project, called the meeting.
They lobbed more than 30 questions at David Karpinski, LEEDCo vice president, repeatedly interrupting his 45-minute presentation, turning the event into a two-hour dialogue.
LEEDCo wants to build 6 turbines, each generating 3 megawatts (3 million watts) on a site seven miles northwest of downtown. The power would be transmitted in a buried cable to Cleveland Public Power’s substation on North Marginal Road near Burke Lakefront Airport.
Karpinski tried to wrap up the last nine years of the project’s history, starting with the Cleveland Foundation’s funding and a Cuyahoga County task force, ending with LEEDCo’s current $4.6 million in federal funding, its partnership with a group of experienced European engineering firms and its drive now to land a large federal grant next year.
His audience’s questions ranged from benign to thoughtful – to sharply critical.
Thomas Sullivan of Bay Village challenged the cost of the project – $127.2 million, about $80 million of which would have to be raised from European banks, assuming LEEDCo wins a $46.7 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
LEEDCo is one of seven offshore projects competing for funding. The DOE intends to make three awards.
Karpinski and David Nash, an environmental attorney with McMahon DeGulis, LLP and a LEEDCo consultant, argued the small project’s purpose is not only to prove it can be done in freshwater but also to develop the engineering expertise to make future projects less costly.
Sullivan worried that the project would contaminate the quality of the lake water and that it would kills birds and fish. Nash’s counter to that amorphous concern was that the turbines would displace coal-fired power plants, which spew mercury into the air and ultimately the water.
Willoughby resident Leslie Lloyd, an environmental scientist, questioned the impact of laying the power cable from the turbines to the shore, especially the plan to drill horizontally under the breakwall to reach the city substation.
Lloyd, joined by birder Donna Kayne Owen of Lyndhurst, questioned a just-released study done by a consultant for LEEDCo that concluded the turbines would not have a significant impact on bird populations.
Owen and Lloyd wanted to know how the data for the study – radar records and acoustic recordings – had been collected, whether data had been collected at night when birds migrate, and whether data had been backed up with observations.
Nash said the radar and acoustic data had been collected 24 hours a day, seven days a week during migration season. Observers in boats patrolled the site but only during the day, he said.
Some wondered whether the project would be endangered by the the battle in Columbus over renewable energy requirements.
One man wondered whether climate change would make the winds over the lake stronger and the turbines more productive. The theory, said Karpinski, is that wind will become more volatile.
Still another man, a supporter, worried about unintended consequences, things that maybe LEEDCO had not even thought of.
“We are doing a very small project to learn about the risks,” said Nash “We are sacrificing financial sustainability to gain environmental sustainability.”
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