The Ohio Power Siting Board has recommended the state allow the construction of the first-ever wind turbine project in Lake Erie, but developers must have a still-to-be-approved bird monitoring plan in order to operate at night, except during the deep of winter.
The Lake Erie Energy Development Co., or LEEDCo, has spent more than five years negotiating with the OPSB in response to its demands for additional information on the impact of the wind farm on the environment. Construction is now tentatively set to begin in 2021 – 18 years from the initial discussions that were financed in part by the Cleveland Foundation and Cuyahoga County.
The conditional approval of the project also comes just 15 days before a 6 p.m. July 19 public hearing at Cleveland City Hall.
The issue is the impact of the $126-million “Icebreaker” project on the migrations of birds and bats. And the OPSB staff wants LEEDCo to install collision detectors on the turbines to determine whether birds and bats are running into the spinning blades.
In addition, the OPSB staff wants additional radar studies, including radar studies at the site before and after the six-turbine wind farm is built and operating 8-to-10 miles northwest of downtown Cleveland. LEEDCo has previously commissioned radar studies from Cleveland’s water in-take crib, several miles from the proposed wind turbine site.
The siting board staff analysis determined that the project as now proposed will generally have a minimum environmental impact and recommends that the board approve it – provided that LEEDCo can meet nearly three dozen conditions.
Of those, one condition is the elimination of overnight operations from March 1 to Jan. 1 initially, unless LEEDCo can prove it has developed a monitoring plan that can prove to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the siting board staff that the six wind turbines are not a threat to migrating birds and bats.
“Turbines shall be feathered completely from dusk to dawn from March 1 through Jan. 1 until the applicant has demonstrated that the post-construction avian and bat collision monitoring plan is sufficient as determined by the ODNR with the [OPSB] staff,” the report recommends.
The conditional recommendations appear to demand that LEEDCo install sophisticated radar equipment at the site in the lake before the six turbines are installed and remain operating for at least two years once operations begin.
The demanded on-site radar system:
- Must be able to detect and track directional movement and altitude of individual 10-gram [0.35 ounces] and larger vertebrates.
- Must have must have the ability to collect data continuously, due to the pulsed nature of migration.
- Must suppress false detections from insects, wave clutter, and weather and without downtime bias with respect to biological periods (dawn, dusk, night) (80 percent or greater of survey time producing viable data, including during heavy precipitation events).
- Must be able to determine flight altitude of migrants at altitudes near and entirely within the rotor-swept zone at the project site to quantify collision risk.
- Must be able to provide information that can be used to determine and quantify behavioral avoidance or attraction to turbines in the open water setting.
- Must collect data for both small bird migratory seasons and bat migratory seasons (April to mid-June; August to mid-November) pre-construction.
- Must collect data for at least two spring/fall migratory seasons post-construction to determine behavioral changes that make collision more or less likely.
Beth Nagusky, LEEDCo’s director of sustainable development, was upbeat in her initial response to the staff report and its recommendations.
“We are very pleased with the findings of minimal environmental impact and the public good,” she said of the staff’s general findings “And we are confident we can reach an agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that will allow us to operate with minimal impact.”
LEEDCo will anchor a barge at the site equipped with the sophisticated radar equipment for one winter and one spring before construction begins, she said.
And the non-profit company is working with ODNR to select “the best collision monitoring technology available. We have been considering a number of technologies, from cameras to [a device] that measures the impact of a collision on the blade. When we get that we can operate at night.”
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