Icebreaker Wind project: The future of clean energy or bird-killer? The two sides weigh in at public hearing
CLEVELAND, Ohio – A procession of speakers argued the pros and cons of the Icebreaker Wind project Wednesday night, touting the clean energy and job-creating benefits of North America’s first freshwater offshore wind farm versus the potential lethal impact of the twirling turbines on wildlife.
For more than three hours, the speakers delivered their emotional pleas to two administrative law judges at Cleveland City Hall’s council chambers. The judges will present their impressions from the hearing to the full Ohio Power Siting Board at a later date.
Certification by the Siting Board is required before the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. can proceed with construction of the $126 million, six-turbine wind farm planned for a site about eight to 10 miles northwest of Cleveland.
Supporters of the project comprised the clear majority of about 150 people in attendance at the hearing, including more than 60 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 38.
“Icebreaker can help make Northeast Ohio the epicenter of the wind industry in North America,” said Dennis Meaney, the union’s business manager. “We are here and we’re ready to build this project.”
The Cleveland Foundation has been at the forefront of Icebreaker, and has invested $1.7 million in the project, said Ronn Richard, the foundation’s president and CEO. He said Cleveland missed its opportunity to join the high-technology revolution, and he doesn’t want to see the city fail like that again.
“Icebreaker is about being a part of the wave of the future, not having this clean energy wave wash over us,” Richard said. “We think this is vital for Cleveland’s future.”
Leading the anti-Icebreaker charge was Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, which successfully blocked the construction of an on-shore wind turbine at Camp Perry near Port Clinton earlier this year. She said the group fears the potential for high mortality rates due to collisions by birds and bats into the spinning fan blades.
“We see no evidence to support the claim that the project poses little to no risk to birds and bats,” Kaufman said in prepared remarks. “We believe the six-turbine Icebreaker project would pose a significant threat to wildlife.”
Those dangers would be increased exponentially with the expected expansion of the Icebreaker pilot project to more than 1,000 turbines in Lake Erie, Kaufman said.
But in contrast to Kaufman’s birding group, a representative of the National Audubon Society reserved judgment on Icebreaker.
[modified by reporter after original posting]
Garry George, renewable energy director for Audubon, said fossil fuels and climate change pose greater threats to birds and wildlife than wind turbines. But he contended more onsite data collection is necessary to determine the risk to birds and bats before the project moves forward.
He noted that the project is located in an Important Bird Area where hundreds of millions of birds migrate each year, making pre-construction mortality data “critical in order to avoid, minimize or mitigate effectively for the impacts on these birds.”
“We urge the Board and other permitting agencies of the U.S. and Canada to form a working group to develop standards for wind energy development and protection of natural resources in the Great Lakes region,” George said.
Nearly a dozen business representatives spoke in support of the economic benefits of the pilot project, recognizing the potential to create more than 500 jobs, add $168 million to the region’s economy, and cheap green electricity for decades.
The power siting board will hold a second public hearing at a later date after the board’s staff publishes its investigation report.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding