Lake Erie groups rev up opposition to Cleveland wind turbine project, as developers negotiate with state
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The project has been on the horizon for a decade and a half: six wind turbines erected in Lake Erie, in the first freshwater wind project in North America.
But fervor over the issue is revving up now among boaters, as the developer, the nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Co., works through stipulations with the state.
The Lake Erie Marine Trades Association – made up of boat dealers, clubs and other enthusiasts – opposes the $126 million, 20.7-megawatt project dubbed Icebreaker, planned for 8 miles north of Cleveland. So does the nonprofit Lake Erie Foundation.
Both LEEDCo. and its opponents point to hundreds of pages of documents they say prove their points.
The fight is not so much over the six turbines up for state approval right now – but for the wind farm it could precipitate: thousands of spinning blades the Lake Erie Foundation fears will desecrate Lake Erie.
LEEDCo. CEO Lorry Wagner says there are “currently no plans” for more turbines. “You can have all the dreams and aspirations you want, but until you climb that first hill and see what’s out there, you better focus on that first hill.”
But Icebreaker is a pilot project, with a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. LEEDCo. has partnered with Norway-based Fred Olsen Renewables, and its website says “we can build an industry and supply chain in Northeast Ohio that will creation 8,000 new good paying jobs and pump nearly $14 billion into our economy by 2030… as the industry grows here.”
An expansion would require more studies and more approvals.
Said foundation board member John Lipaj: “You cannot treat this as a six-turbine stand-alone project. We have to be realistic and treat it for what it is.”
Meanwhile, here are the facts about the current project, and some of the issues the sides disagree on.
Icebreaker has received approvals from 14 federal, state and local agencies, Wagner said.
In July, the staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board recommended approval, with 34 stipulations, including the ability to study bird and bat migration.
LEEDCo. and the state are currently working through those stipulations.
The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year signed off a 180-page environmental assessment, finding no significant environmental impact.
“The impression we get is a few boaters have rattled the cage,” Wagner said. “It has created, shall we say, hysteria that something is going to be done that will impact the environment in a negative way.”
The Lake Erie Foundation says the project deserves a deeper, more independent analysis – an environmental impact statement.
“None of us are against wind turbines,” Lipaj said. “We’re saying because this project has such huge ramifications for Lake Erie forever that we just need to slow this thing down and research this the right way.”
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field inspector in a 2017 letter also pushed for an environmental impact statement, urging “an analysis of the potential cumulative impacts of facilitating accelerated development of utility-scale wind power in Lake Erie.”
The Ohio Power Siting Board has the final say.
The two sides disagree about economic impact and jobs numbers.
A LEEDCo. study predicts the six turbines will create 500 jobs and $41.2 million in earnings during construction. Those jobs are broken down:
• 159 on-site construction jobs
• 187 specialized jobs, likely from experts outside the area
• 150 jobs “created through the spending of additional household income”
That’s not a windfall, says Lipaj.
“Unions have been manipulated to believe there are going to be 500 real jobs,” he said.
Wagner said the project could lead to investment in the wind industry in Cleveland – though Lipaj said wind farms in Ontario have not brought new manufacturing jobs.
“You gotta be at the table if you want to get anything out of it,” Wagner said.
The light gray V126 turbines, each of which would generate 3.45 megawatts of energy, would be 479 feet tall, with the lowest point of the blade 65 feet above the water.
So how big is that?
According to Wagner, if you stand on the shore downtown and extend your arm and give a thumbs up, the turbines would be half the size of your thumbnail.
The turbines will probably look bigger from the shore of Rocky River or Lakewood, since the turbines will be built northwest of downtown.
Opponents show different simulations, where turbines would be much more visible on the horizon.
Visitors to Ohio’s Lake Erie region spend more than $10.7 billion annually – nearly 30 percent of Ohio’s total tourism dollars, according to the Lake Erie Commission.
The Lake Erie Foundation says wind turbines would harm tourism, and quote a North Carolina State University Study that says vacationers wouldn’t rent homes in view of offshore turbines.
“They’re not coming here to look at wind turbines. They’re here to look at a beautiful lake.”
LEEDCo. points to Block Island, where five turbines off the coast of Rhode Island have increased visitors.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory is opposed to Icebreaker because of possible deaths of birds migrating across the lake. The Lake Erie Foundation worries a cable buried at the bottom of the lake, from the land to the turbines, could cause problems for fish.
Opponents also worry about what would happen if the turbines fall into disrepair or the chemicals and lubricants inside the turbines leaked?
LEEDCo. says the turbines are safe, and all of the issues have been addressed with plans. The turbines will have bird-safe lighting and collision detection equipment and stop operations during peak migration season. It is working on a radar study check how high migratory birds fly.
The Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council have signed off on the project. There is money in place to cover safely removing turbines from the lake in about 25 years.
“Lake Erie will not be a ‘windmill graveyard,’ Wagner said. “There are strict requirements to safely remove turbines when they are no longer functional…and there must be funding in place to pay for that during the life of the project.”
Besides, Wagner said, what about leakage from gas tanks of power boats, running all over the lake?
The city of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation and Lorain, Cuyahoga and Lake counties are among partners on the project. LEEDCo. has given more than 400 public presentations since 2006, and public hearings have drawn both positive and negative speakers.
So have the written comments.
Negative: “What is everyone thinking? We have a beautiful natural resource. This idea will make certain people rich through tax breaks, etc. It does nothing for the residents of this community,” writes Nancy McCann.
Positive: “I have recently purchased a home that sits on the shores of lake Erie in the city of Bay Village and I have come to learn firsthand, the power of the winds that come off of our lake. It is only logical to harness the power of the winds that stream over Lake Erie,” writes Julie Sullivan.
There’s back and forth even on the boaters.
Though the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association opposes the project, LEEDCo. has a survey that shows high support for wind turbines.
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