JEFFERSON – The Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners have shown support for a wind energy project off the shores of Cleveland that aims to put six wind turbines in Lake Erie.
The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, or LEEDCo, is a non-profit corporation formed in 2009 that plans to construct the first freshwater offshore wind project in North America, according to information provided by LEEDCo vice-president of operations David Karpinski.
Commissioners recently passed a resolution in support of the project, known as Icebreaker Windpower.
Pending approval by the Ohio Power Siting Board, the project, located eight miles off the coast of Cleveland, would construct six windmills that LEEDCo says will produce enough electricity to power approximately 7,000 homes.
In May of 2016, LEEDCo received a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for permitting and construction. The project has been in the works since 2009.
The project is nearing the final steps of the legal process and LEEDCo officials were expected to file one final brief in regards to the project Friday, Karpinski said. From there administrative judges will consider evidence pertaining to the project in order to make a recommendation to the Ohio Power Siting Board, Karpinski said.
LEEDCo spent several years negotiating with the siting board in response to demands for additional information on the impact of the wind farm on the environment, according to various news reports.
It applied for approval with the Ohio Power Siting Board in 2017, and that step is the last that is needed before the project can move forward, Karpinski said. If the board approves the project some construction could begin in 2021 with the wind farm operational in 2022, Karpinski said.
“We think it will be a couple of months for the judges to do their work and get this to the board for review,” Karpinski said. “We’re anticipating at either the January or February meeting of the siting board our case will come up for approval.”
Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners President J.P. Ducro, who serves on the LEEDCo Board, which has commissioner representatives from the counties that border Lake Erie, said this “seed” project would help determine if it could be scaled into a larger project.
Ducro has served on the LEEDCo Board since taking the place of prior commissioner Dan Claypool, who also served on the board.
Fred Olson Renewable Energies, a European company which is partnering with LEEDCo on the project, has sunk money into the project and they are frustrated that it hasn’t yet happened, Ducro said. It’s getting to the point where another partner might need to be found if the project doesn’t move forward soon, Ducro said.
Various county commissioners and other local governments have been encouraged by LEEDCo to pass resolutions of support to encourage the Ohio Power Siting Board to make a decision, Ducro said.
“I think all of these types of projects, the more backing or approval or support from multiple entities, the more likely the people making those decisions will see it is important,” Ducro said.
Ducro said Ashtabula County has potential for its own wind energy projects down the road, and the LEEDCo project will serve as a starting point regionally to find out how well such a project works.
“For me, I think we have to continue to look at clean and safe energy alternatives moving into the future,” Ducro said. “We just had all the issues with the Perry nuclear plant and we know that coal is not going to be a viable product for future energy use. We always have to continue to explore things.”
Not all are on board with the LEEDCo project. John Lipaj, a member of the board of the Lake Erie Foundation, said there is a need for alternative energy projects but there are too many outstanding questions regarding this project.
The Lake Erie Foundation has circulated petitions seeking an independent environmental impact statement regarding the project.
“Our first concern is that Lake Erie is the source of fresh water for 11 million people,” Lipaj said. “It’s a fresh water resource that the rest of the country needs and we have it.”
The Lake Erie Foundation is not opposed to wind power at all, Lipaj said. It is there stance, however, that placing an industrial wind facility in the water doesn’t make sense when there is plenty of on-shore land to use.
Millions of birds migrate across Lake Erie and it is considered a globally important migration route by the Audobon Society, Lipaj said. LEEDCo has in the past used studies it paid for to say birds migrate along the shores of Lake Erie and fly around it which isn’t true, Lipaj said.
“What LEEDCo has said is factually incorrect,” Lipaj said. “What we believe is that an environmental impact statement absolutely must be prepared so that the right studies have been done by the right organizations.”
Lipaj believes there are also potential conflicts of interest at play in terms of local officials serving on the board of a private entity.
One of the first things LEEDCo did nearly a decade ago was to stock a board with lakefront county commissioners as a way to help move the project forward, Lipaj said. This was a smart move on their part because it helped them frame their message through official channels, he said.
Those who support wind energy are either those who stand to benefit financially or those who feel that wind power will save the environment, Lipaj said.
While Lipaj said wind power could have advantages for the area and environment, he believes there are flaws with this project, one of which is potential conflicts of interest, the other of which is environmental. The project shouldn’t move forward until such issues are examined, Lipaj said.
“No one will listen because LEEEDCo loaded their board with local officials,” Lipaj said. “We feel that before anyone starts building wind turbines or anything else on Lake Erie there needs to be a thorough, independent and objective environmental impact statement done.”
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