CLEVELAND – The first Battle of Lake Erie played out 200 years ago. It lasted a single day as U.S. forces crushed the British Royal Navy in the War of 1812.
For the past decade, another much quieter battle over Lake Erie has raged on.
At stake are six wind turbines that a company wants to plant in the lake, about eight miles off the Cleveland shoreline.
The proposal by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. [LEEDCo] is a test run to determine if the lake is a good match for turbines to generate electrical power. If all goes as planned, more turbines could pop up in future development.
“The idea is that we need clean energy here in Cleveland and we need jobs,” said David Karpinski, LEEDCo’s vice president of operations. “We think this is a great marriage to kind of fuel economic growth for years to come here in Cleveland.”
The six turbines are expected to create enough wind to power 7,000 homes. Construction would mean 500 jobs and LEEDCo estimates about $168 million in economic impact.
The plan, however, is not without opposition. Some residents, and in a low-key level, coal industry leaders, have fought the plan for various reasons.
Susan Dempsey, a Bratenahl resident whose condominium sits lakeside, said the plan concerns her on several levels.
“This is precedence-setting. This is the first fresh water installation and it affects not just Lake Erie, but all of the Great Lakes,” she said. “I just don’t think we should use our lake, the most beautiful natural resource of this state, as some common industrial park.”
“We should protect it with every possible bone in our body.”
The turbines would barely be visible from shore. Close up, however, each turbine is imposing. A turbine is about 500 feet high with wing spans of 300 feet, the size of a football field.
Aesthetics aside, no one disputes the six wind turbines will threaten wildlife, especially migrating birds and bats that cross Lake Erie. Exactly how many birds will die as a result of flying into a turbine is unknown.
Turbine supporters point out that studies show household cats and downtown buildings kill more birds every year.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a non-profit agency set up to safeguard the state’s natural resources, studied LEEDCo’s plans before giving it a thumbs up. The project also has the support of many government leaders.
It has not been a smooth process. The Ohio Siting Board, which regulates such projects, has held hours of meetings and heard hours of testimony from both sides of the issue. Details and restrictions continue to stall the project, such as a request that the turbines be shutdown at night for months at a time in order to closer study the impact.
“We looked at this project, the most important thing for us looking at the application, was balancing our need for clean energy, as I said, with wildlife protections and making sure that our natural resources, our lake erie, is protected,” Miranda Leppla of the Ohio Environmental Council said.
Leppla added the group would not support the project if it compromised the agency’s clean air objectives. And she pointed out that the state would need to approve any future expansion beyond the six turbines. Some have speculated that LEEDCo could put hundreds of turbines on the lake. Karpinski would not speculate on any future project.
Leppla, however, said if the expansion doesn’t protect the environment, “then we won’t support it.”
If the project is approved, the turbines could be twirling by 2021.
For more information, visit the LEEDCo website at http://www.leedco.org/
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