A Cleveland-based energy development corporation has asked for Lorain County’s support for an offshore wind-turbine project – one that is quickly gaining ground.
The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. – LEEDCo, for short – a nonprofit organization focused on creating offshore wind energy in Ohio, has been meeting with local stakeholders to gain support for the six-turbine demonstration project to be built seven miles from the Cleveland shore.
On Wednesday, a LEEDCo representative asked Lorain County commissioners to enter into a supportive agreement of the project.
County Commissioner Tom Williams said commissioners are waiting for the results of a report to determine if the project would be economically beneficial to the county. The results of that report should be available next year.
“If they can show economic development and it’s beneficial for Lorain County, then we’ll get on board,” he said.
“The hard part to get everybody involved is to prove it’s going to work.”
LEEDCo has already garnered the support of Environment Ohio, The Nature Conservatory, the Ohio Environmental Council and Interfaith Power and Light. Last month, Avon Lake City Council voiced its support of the offshore wind-energy project, known as Icebreaker.
The organization has received $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and is competing against six other offshore wind projects for one of three $46.7 million investments to be announced in May.
The total cost of the project is approximately $127 million, with additional funding to come from a combination of private sector equity and debt to be financed by the revenues of electricity sales, according to LEEDCo spokesman Eric Ritter.
LEEDCo President Lorry Wagner said the project is important because it could lead the way for more alternative-energy sources.
“There isn’t anyone in the region or the country who’s doing this,” he said.
Proponents of Icebreaker say that a focus on wind energy will help the country become less dependent on polluting energy sources such as coal. If LEEDCo receives the funding it needs, construction of the turbines will move forward in 2017.
But Icebreaker is not without its opponents.
New York resident Suzanne Albright is desperately trying to stop the project before turbines can be installed in Lake Erie.
Albright, who has been sending letters of opposition to local leaders, said the turbines will pollute, kill a large number of birds and are not a stand-alone energy source.
Albright, who said she is part of the Great Lakes Wind Truth and NA-PAW organizations, said she is hoping to receive a response from Ohio leaders.
“This issue will destroy those communities for this generation and the future if we allow this to go on,” she said.
“Wind turbines are not clean energy… if you’re going to put one in the lake, you have to excavate the lake bottom…
Each one of these will disrupt the lake with all of its buried sediment.”
Albright said she began researching wind energy when the New York Power Authority proposed building similar offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes.
The New York Power Authority Board of Trustees scrapped its plans in September 2011 due to the high costs of the proposed Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project, known as GLOW.
The project was technically feasible, but the energy output from the turbines – 120 to 500 megawatts – would have cost two to four times more than land-based wind, according to a NYPA news release. The NYPA said annual subsidies of between $60 million and $100 million would result in high costs to the New York Power Authority.
Great Lakes Wind Truth and NA-PAW were outspoken against the GLOW project, with hundreds of residents in the town of Greece, N.Y., signing a petition against it.
Albright said other countries’ ventures into wind-energy development has led to high costs for consumers.
In Europe, top executives of companies that provide half of Europe’s electricity production capacity said “distorting” subsidies for wind and solar power have led to whopping bills for households and businesses and could cause continent-wide blackouts, according to an October Wall Street Journal article by Geraldine Amiel.
Albright said her research shows wind turbines kill a large number of birds, which fly into the blades.
She added that turbines could pollute the water. She referred to an March 2009 incident in Altona, N.Y., in which a wind turbine tower collapsed, setting off a small fire.
According to The Associated Press, the turbine was part of Noble Environmental Power, a privately owned company with wind parks in eight states.
Ritter dismissed Albright’s claims, saying her group has no support from recognizable local or national environmental organizations.
He said LEEDCo is backed by numerous environmental groups.
Ritter added that several studies conducted regarding LEEDCo’s proposal have shown favorable outcomes.
A study conducted by wildlife expert Dr. Paul Kerlinger concluded the Icebreaker project will have “no biologically significant impact on the birds and bats that frequent the area.”
The study outlined construction tips to minimize the risks.
Kerlinger drew upon extensive survey data collected at the project location and reviewed the impacts on birds and bats of offshore wind farms in Europe and onshore facilities in the United States.
Cuyahoga County began using radar at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to track bird migration patterns across Lake Erie in 2008. In 2010, the county installed additional radar equipment and an acoustical monitoring station four miles from the project location at the Cleveland water intake crib.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources also conducted visual surveys at the project site and along the shoreline.
Wagner said buildings and cars have been shown to kill more birds than wind turbines, although LEEDCo is taking steps to reduce avian fatalities.
“Of course, there are always concerns with birds and bats. One of the reasons that we are working on such a small project is so we can collect that data,” Wagner said.
Trish Demeter, director of clean-energy campaigns for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the Ohio Environmental Council believes that LEEDCo is taking all the appropriate precautions to ensure the best environmental outcome.
“We’re very confident that LEEDCo is taking environmental issues into concern,” she said.
Oberlin College professor John Scofield said there are uncertainties with any trailblazing project such as Icebreaker.
He said there are wind farms across the U.S., but he is unaware of any offshore, freshwater wind turbines in the U.S. Wind energy, including offshore wind, is prevalent in Europe, however.
Scofield, a physicist, works at Oberlin College’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, teaching physics and energy-technology classes. His current research focuses on energy efficiency and wind power, and he has conducted wind turbine feasibility studies at the college.
As an outside observer of the Icebreaker project, he said he is curious to see whether LEEDCo’s wind turbine design can withstand Ohio’s harsh winters.
LEEDCo consulted with a design team that has worked on more than 1,000 offshore wind-turbine designs in Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the U.S. The “monopole design” will include technology to break up large sheets of ice and enhance the lake’s soil characteristics to increase stability, according to LEEDCo.
Scofield said while there are several uncertainties with offshore wind, the risks of wind energy are minimal.
He said there is an advantage to alternative energy sources.
While wind energy may not be a stand-alone energy source, it can reduce the reliance on other forms of energy, according to Scofield. “We need some other form of power to supplement the power grid,” he said.
Scofield criticized arguments against wind turbines. He said, while old technologies killed birds, studies have been done to implement different strategies to reduce fatalities. New wind-turbine designs, which feature slower-turning blades, reduce those deaths. Numerous studies must be completed to determine the migratory patterns of birds before a turbine can be built.
“When someone wants to put in offshore wind, there’s a tremendous push-back from people who live on the shore, because it’s very expensive property and they don’t want to look out on the lake and see wind turbines,” he said.
“No one will say to you that I’m fighting the wind turbines because I don’t want to look at them.”
Scofield said the LEEDCo project could be successful if it can secure private investors. He said in Germany, for instance, there have been “tremendous” subsidies for renewable energy, which has shifted the market.
“You don’t want to distort the market so much that you live with it for years and years,” he said. “I really do think we’ve got to encourage private industry… If private industry doesn’t think they can make money from it, we should be very, very wary of the government putting money into it.”
Christian Adams, state associate for Environment Ohio, said it is important to look for alternatives to coal-fired power plants. The American Lung Association estimated that coal plants kill approximately 13,000 people a year.
“I think the big picture is that renewables account for just a tiny percentage of Ohio’s energy supply… so I do support offshore wind development,” he said.
Supporters believe the project could be an economic boon for the state.
A 2011 Economic Impact Study completed by Kleinhenz & Associates indicates Icebreaker will create 500 jobs and result in $80 million of gross regional product for Ohio.
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