CLEVELAND, Ohio –The Ohio Power Siting Board on Thursday approved six Icebreaker wind turbines in Lake Erie, in what could be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in North America.
But the board placed 33 conditions – including that the turbines could not turn at night between March 1 and November 1, to limit risk to birds and bats. The developer, the nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo.) says the limits may kill the demonstration project.
“This Order is not an approval,” said a statement from the company. “A condition added by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) may well be fatal to the entire project. We are extremely disappointed the Board took this unfortunate step backward for clean energy in Ohio.”
The $126 million, 20.7-megawatt project has been on the horizon for a decade and a half, six turbines planned for 8 miles north of Cleveland, with a 12-mile long submerged cable to transmit the electricity to Cleveland Public Power’s onshore Lake Road Substation.
But fervor over the issue revved up last spring, opposed by the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, the nonprofit Lake Erie Foundation and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
“We understand and support many of the conditions set forth in the permit but the OPSB Board should have gone farther in assessing the potential long-term threats to Ohio’s most important natural resource,” said Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “The members of the OPSB have failed the people of Ohio. This is a sad day for Lake Erie.”
The association is considering appealing the decision.
Icebreaker is a pilot project, with a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. But the fight is not just over the six turbines up for state approval; it’s for the wind farm it could precipitate: thousands of spinning blades they fear will desecrate Lake Erie.
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 Lake Erie Foundation says the project deserves a deeper, more independent analysis – an environmental impact statement.
The foundation is disappointed with the vote, arguing that “the health of Lake Erie is too important to all of us to gamble with placing basically a demonstrator wind project in it,” said John Lipaj.
The Ohio Environmental Council and Sierra Club supported the project and criticized the siting board’s stipulations.
“From a process standpoint, today’s decision sends another chilling message to renewable energy companies wanting to do business in Ohio,” said Miranda Leppla, the council’s vice president of energy policy.
The state’s approval requires LEEDCo. and its partner, Norway-based Fred Olsen Renewables, to conduct radar studies and provide the OPSB with a bird and bat impact mitigation plan, including a collision monitoring plan. Once it has submitted monitoring information, it could possibly begin operating at night between March and November, the siting board says. Until then, it must be “feathered,” or stopped overnight.
“After a thorough review of the record, the OPSB today authorized a certificate that provides an opportunity for the project to move forward in accordance with specified conditions that are responsive to our statutory responsibilities and the public interest,” stated OPSB Chairman Sam Randazzo. “The conditions are responsive to the issues raised and evidence presented in this contested proceeding. As the Icebreaker project represents the first of its kind in North America, the order approved by the Board today includes a public and transparent data collection and submission process to better inform the Board stakeholders and the public on questions and risks related to the construction and operation of the turbines.”
Lipaj fears that the feathering stipulations could be negotiated.
“I’m not sure if the stipulations for night-time feathering really means the project is dead in the water,” Lipaj said. “It could be just a negotiating ploy to get that stipulation removed or reduced.”
LEEDCo. – a partnership which includes City of Cleveland, the Port of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation and Cuyahoga, Lake, Ashtabula and Lorain counties in Ohio and Erie County, Pennsylvania – says it will consider its options in the next few days.
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