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Planned Cleveland wind turbine project on hold over application payment issue

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The long-planned project to build six wind turbines in Lake Erie eight miles off the shore of Cleveland has hit another administrative roadblock that could lead to the project being permanently shelved.

An administrative law judge for the Ohio Power Siting Board last week ordered agency staff to cease reviewing the nonprofit Lake Erie Economic Development Corp.’s application until the group pays a $150,000 bill from state regulators.

The invoice, issued on Aug. 12, was meant to cover the power siting board’s administrative costs in reviewing the project for approval. LEEDCo paid a $50,000 application fee in 2017, but the agency’s review costs have exceeded that as the approval process has dragged on, according to agency staff. The Ohio Controlling Board, a panel of governor’s staff and state lawmakers, earlier this summer authorized the power siting board, whose approval is needed to build wind farms in Ohio, to bill LEEDCo for the extra review work.

After LEEDCo failed to pay the invoice before the Aug. 26 deadline, Judge Nicholas J. Walstra on Sept. 3 ordered the agency’s review work to be suspended, and set a new payment deadline for Friday, Sept. 13. If the developers fail to pay the bill before then, their application “will be considered before the board for potential dismissal,” according to the Sept. 3 ruling. Even if the project were to halt immediately, the state would still refer a bill for $76,840 to the state attorney general’s office for collection to cover what regulators say is the cost of the review they’ve already performed, the ruling says.

In an email, LEEDCo Vice President Dave Karpinski said his group “just received the $150,000 invoice a few weeks ago and are planning to satisfy it as we move forward with our post hearing brief.” He did not say whether has had financial difficulty paying the bill. He also said LEEDCo appreciates “that we were able to reach an agreement with the staff on permitting conditions” earlier this year.

The wind turbine project seemed primed to move forward when in May, developers agreed to a list of 33 project stipulations sought by state regulators. That included promises by LEEDCo to give environmental protection plans to state agencies before beginning construction, to not put any commercial signs on the turbines and to take specific steps to notify lakeside property owners within eyesight of the project.

Construction was expected to begin as early as 2021. The project, which would be the first freshwater renewable energy project in North America, was budgeted to cost $126 million and provide 20.7 megawatts of electricity.

While it’s been cheered by renewable energy advocates, supported by local governments and endorsed by large environmentalist groups, it’s drawn opposition from groups including lakeside property owners, some environmental activists and boating enthusiasts. The project, which has received federal grants and approval from other state and federal agencies, has been the subject of hundreds of public presentations since 2006.