CLEVELAND, Ohio – The first-ever wind farm in Lake Erie cannot be financed, say developers, if the state insists on keeping the farm’s six wind turbines shut down overnight for most of the year while experts determine if bird and bat monitoring equipment is effective.
The proviso is one of many unusually stringent preconditions the staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board included in its recommendation in July that the OPSB approve the project.
“This condition…is a serious problem and in my opinion makes financing the project virtually impossible,” said David Karpinski, vice president of operations for the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp, or LEEDCo, in testimony submitted Thursday to the OPSB.
Karpinski noted an even more draconian condition would kill the project before it even begins – that the siting board, working with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, retain broad authority to “prescribe” how the wind farm operates if its operation has a significant impact on any “wild animal.”
“This condition grants seemingly unlimited authority to [OPSB] staff and ODNR to order [the wind farm] to comply with any measure they specify, without limits, at their sole discretion, with no requirement to justify the measures or explain the rationale, and with no due process,” he said, adding that some might consider a mosquito a “wild animal.”
His testimony was among hundreds of pages of written comment submitted by LEEDCo and experts it has retained, in preparation for what could be an adversarial hearing at the siting board later this month.
The testimony came a day after LEEDCo filed a “joint stipulation and recommendation” with the OPSB aimed at convincing its voting members to approve the project, which could begin in 2021 and cost well over its initially estimated $126 million.
LEEDCo negotiated the agreement with the Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Business Network for Offshore Wind and the Regional Council of Carpenters for Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
The four organizations formally intervened last May. None of the four has opposed the project.
The agreement does not include the staff of the OPSB, though LEEDCo noted that the OPSB staff took part in July and August discussions about the staff’s proposal following its generally supportive report issued July 3.
That report recommended the OPSB approve the project, providing it could meet nearly 50 conditions, many of them the typical bureaucratic requirements included in every wind farm project the siting board approves. LEEDCo has agreed to those conditions.
While not an absolute demand, the recommended shutdown of the turbines at night for 10 months out of the year, at least initially but longer if necessary, is one of several conditions that have stalled the project, which would be financed largely by private investors.
IceBreaker Windpower, Inc. a for-profit company incorporated by Fred. Olsen Renewables, of Norway, would build and own the pilot project. LEEDCo is a non-profit organization.
The proposed nocturnal feathering, or shutdown, of the turbine blades would run from March 1 through the following Jan. 1, until the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the OPSB staff could determine if bird and bat “collision monitoring” equipment IceBreaker has agreed to install on the turbines is effective.
Proving the collision detection equipment effective is only part of the staff provision. Coming up with techniques to reduce bird and bat kills if they are occurring and proving their effectiveness is the larger staff condition for approving the project.
Another provision that has rankled LEEDCo is a request for additional radar studies both before and after construction of the wind farm.
LEEDCo has agreed to radar studies before construction at the site. The radar would be installed on a large, flat-decked barge that would be towed and anchored on-site.
The OPSB staff wants “viable” radar data collected during at least 80 percent of the time the equipment is operating, even during heavy rain and when waves exceed 6 feet. LEEDCo’s advisors say reaching the 80 percent mark is not a problem except during heavy rain or high seas when the barges would have to be towed to shore.
The OPSB staff also wants two years of spring and fall studies after the wind farm begins operating.
“Radar must collect data for at least two spring and fall migratory seasons post-construction to determine behavioral changes that make collision more or less likely,” the staff wrote.
LEEDCo wants the OPSB to give the ODNR the “sole discretion” to end the studies after the first year if the first-year study “demonstrates to the ODNR’s satisfaction” that a second year of studies “is unlikely to result in the collection of additional data to inform the question of avoidance-attract effects.”
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