CLEVELAND, Ohio – Birding groups and environmentalists are heralding the state’s decision this week to reject a request to certify construction of a wind turbine project planned for Lake Erie in 2018.
Officials at the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., however, said they considered the rejection a “bump in the road” to certification, and they plan to file updated documents in a few weeks that they expect will be approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board.
The certification is required before the $120 million Icebreaker project can move forward with plans to build six wind turbines about eight to 10 miles off the coast of Cleveland – the nation’s first offshore fresh water wind farm.
In a letter to LEEDCO President Lorry Wagner, siting board Chairman Asim Hague said the application “has been found not to comply” with Ohio law due to insufficient information.
LEEDCO must obtain two Memorandums of Understanding involving monitoring studies and analyses of the project’s impact on birds, bats and fisheries. The memos must first be endorsed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve been in contact with ODNR to finalize these quickly and to move on to the next step,” said Dave Karpinski, LEEDCO’s vice president of operations.
“We obviously wished that everything would have sailed through. But we’ve filed several thousand papers, and all they found out of place were these two documents,” Karpinski said. “It’s a technicality of timing that we want to remedy quickly with the ODNR.”
The opposing sides could hardly disagree more over the potential impact the wind turbines would have on birds, bats and fish.
The Oak Harbor, Ohio-based Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the American Bird Conservancy filed documents with the siting board last week in which they argued that the wind project would pose a devastating threat to birds and bats passing through one of the nation’s busiest migratory flyways.
They noted that Icebreaker is only the tip of the iceberg: at least 2,700 wind turbines could be erected in Lake Erie if LEEDCO’s pilot project is permitted to go through.
“It is therefore essential that every effort be made by LEEDCo to prepare a fundamentally sound, quantitative risk assessment of mortality to bird and bat species known to be in the area, especially protected species covered by the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” their letter read.
Recent tracking studies found that the endangered Kirtland’s warbler passes directly over the proposed site of the Icebreaker wind farms during spring and fall migrations, the birding groups wrote.
In a letter to the siting board, chief scientist Gary Langham and eight other representatives of the National Audubon Society, acknowledged that wind energy is a key part of combating the effects of climate change on birds. But they emphasized it’s essential that the Icebreaker wind project mitigate any environmental impacts on birds and wildlife because it will likely provide the standard for future wind farms on the Great Lakes.
Langham criticized LEEDCO’s application as incomplete in its data collection and faulty in its analyses of environmental impacts to birds and other wildlife.
Langham cited two studies LEEDCO submitted in support of its contention that the wind project would have no destructive environmental impact. They included an analysis of radar to predict impacts to nocturnal migratory birds, and a Risk Assessment for Birds and Bats culled from published European studies on land-based wind projects.
“We find no data collected at the project site itself,” Langham wrote.
In a report filed last November, however, Caleb Gordon, an ornithologist from Houston hired as a consultant to LEEDCO, called Icebreaker the lowest-risk project of any he has worked on during eight years of studying wind farms.
Gordon praised the offshore Cleveland site as the best location for safeguarding migrating birds and bats.
If the siting board approves LEEDCO’s application, the agency then will have 90 days to decide the merits of the project, Karpinski said. Public hearings would follow.
“What we really need is a ruling that puts Lake Erie off-limits for wind development,” said wind-power opponent Laura Jackson, president of Save Our Allegheny Ridges.