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Lake Erie windmills a good thing?

The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) got a boost this past week when windmill developer Fred Olsen Renewables, headquartered in Oslo, Norway – previously slated to build the six demonstration offshore windmill units off of Cleveland’s shoreline – pledged their investment in the project. In May, the project took a hit when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notified LEEDCo that the nearly $47 million in grant money that they applied for was awarded elsewhere. However, DOE located $5 million of funding to support their technology and development efforts, including “Front End Engineering Design including foundation, turbine, electrical and data collection systems.” Last summer, they employed geologists to sample the lake’s sediments to determine the soil composition. This knowledge is necessary to properly anchor the proposed experimental windmills approximately 10 miles offshore of Cleveland. Because of their greater average wind readings, Ashtabula has frequently been discussed as an additional prime location for additional offshore windmill farm placement. The windmills originally would have been mounted on traditional sheet metal foundations sunk deeply into the sediments and anchored into the shale bedrock below. However, LEEDCo announced in June that they now plan to use newer available technology that requires less sediment disturbance. Universal Foundation, of Denmark developed a windmill foundation that uses a one piece Mono pile, suction bucket and gravity base foundation that is pushed into the sediments.

As the trapped water is pumped out, it forms a secure vacuum seal. In the meantime, none of the three other East Coast locations that beat out LEEDCo for the grants were able to secure electrical power purchase agreements because of projected kilowatt hour prices or construction bid estimates that came in grossly over budget. So, now LEEDCo is in line to claim over $40 million of these funds next year. If wind power is such a great idea, electric power companies would be tripping over themselves to invest in it, but have thus far only reluctantly bought into it because of legislative mandates. Taxpayers are the biggest investors to date, with development and research grants a euphemism for our tax money, are expected to exceed $50 million. The province of Ontario and the state of New York placed moratoriums on offshore windmill construction after residents rejected the unsightly views, expected property value losses and higher electricity costs. With natural gas prices expected to stay very low for the foreseeable future as a result of its abundance from hydraulic fracking, windmill-produced power will remain much more expensive than and only as reliable as the wind speed. The Western and Central Basins of Lake Erie have recently been designated as National Audubon Society “globally important bird areas.” According to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the Central Basin annually hosts a significant portion of the world’s Bonaparte’s Gulls, Red-breasted mergansers and Ring-billed gulls. The number of birds and bats that the offshore windmill blades will kill annually is impossible to predict.

On upland wind farms, mortality rates are substantially higher than the industry admits to while limiting access of impartial bird researchers to active sites. What is not being divulged is that there will be no boating zones established, similar to those that exist around water intakes and power plants. Though they cannot be sited in commercial shipping lanes, they will monopolize huge amounts of acreage at the expense of sport and commercial fishing and recreational boating. The London (Ontario) Free Press recently reported that LEEDCo promoters want build 1,600 windmill units, based upon the goal of Lake Erie producing five gigawatts of electricity, leading to much more lake acreage off-limits to boaters. I live near the four units onOhio 6, west of Bowling Green, where on many days one or two of them are stopped. The challenge of keeping 6-to-1,600 offshore units operational is not being publicly discussed by the project pushers, who only tout their peak output capacities. So far, the silence from Erie’s boaters, fishermen, sailors and other users of this section of Lake Erie has been deafening, with all of the press coming from the project developers and elected officials hopeful for their payoff. I am fine with windmills as an alternative energy source, when properly sited upland. However, similar to altering a river with a dam, does a private, for-profit utility still have the right to monopolize a public resource? If Lake Erie boaters and fishermen do not forcefully speak up to ask that ODNR and other agencies deny the required permits, expect construction to begin on the demonstration units as soon as 2017.