COLUMBUS, Ohio—The Ohio Power Siting Board is preparing to rule that it will not revisit its decision to allow the construction of Icebreaker Wind, the nation’s first freshwater offshore wind farm, in Lake Erie, with restrictions that backers say would doom the project.
According to a draft ruling obtained by cleveland.com, the board is set during its meeting Thursday to reject calls by both supporters and opponents of the six-turbine, 20-megawatt wind farm to reconsider its May 21 ruling.
Icebreaker Wind proponents objected to the board’s requirement that the turbine blades can’t move at night between March 1 and Nov. 1, which was aimed at limiting risk to birds and bats. Such a limitation would be a “poison pill” to the entire project, they argued, as it would make the wind farm financially infeasible.
Supporters of the project took issue with other things as well, including that the board overrode a recommendation by staff on the Siting Board and Ohio Department of Natural Resources to approve the project without the limit, among other objections.
The draft ruling states that the limits on nighttime operation and other conditions set by the board “were necessary because of the incompleteness of work that…must be completed to properly identify and mitigate the project’s risk to bird and bat populations.”
The draft ruling went on to state that the Power Siting Board doesn’t have to rely on its staff’s recommendations and instead opted to create a “transparent and public process that allows for thorough review by the board staff and the parties.”
Meanwhile, the draft ruling also sides against two Bratenahl residents who oppose the wind farm and asked the Power Siting Board to reject the project outright. They’ve expressed concern that the turbines would be both a hazard to birds and that it would open the door to turbines popping up elsewhere around Lake Erie.
The draft ruling rejects those arguments, asserting that the board’s approval order included a provision to set up a radar monitoring system to study the wind farm’s impact on birds and bats.
In a separate draft concurring opinion, Power Siting Board Chair Sam Randazzo compared the “passion” shown on both sides to the fight a few years ago over whether to drill for oil and natural gas under Lake Erie.
“At times, the passionate advocacy tends to resemble advice rooted in theology rather than policy or advice that is unhinged from controlling statutory requirements,” Randazzo wrote in his draft opinion. “But passion is no substitute for evidence or reasoning properly aligned with the facts and the law.”
Randazzo, replying to the complaint about the board’s rejection of its staff’s recommendation, wrote that “the board has no duty to accept a settlement, contested or uncontested.”
As for the “poison pill” argument, Randazzo wrote that the staff recommendation would have blocked the construction of the wind farm until the wildlife risks “are adequately identified and mitigated.” The board’s ruling, he asserted, is a way for Icebreaker Wind to begin construction sooner.
“To the extent that our initial order might be fairly or unfairly characterized as the delivering a ‘poison pill,’ the applicant and the other settlement signatory parties wrote the prescription,” Randazzo wrote, referring to the Icebreaker Wind developer and the staffers.
State Rep. Jeff Crossman, a Parma Democrat, non-voting member of the Power Siting Board, and one of 32 Northeast Ohio lawmakers to ask the board to approve Icebreaker Wind without conditions, said it’s standard for the board to come up with a decision ahead of time behind closed doors.
“They send a packet of information over prior to the board meeting, and then in that packet is sort of a pre-baked decision,” Crossman said in an interview. “How do they know what the board’s going to do?”
Matt Schilling, a spokesman for the Power Siting Board, confirmed the board is slated to vote on the draft order on Thursday. Asked whether drawing up the order ahead of time might run afoul of state open-meetings laws, Schilling noted that the document was only a draft and that board members would deliberate on it during their upcoming public meeting.
One additional issue that could arise in the fight over Icebreaker Wind is whether the Power Siting Board has jurisdiction to regulate the wind farm. A provision in House Bill 6, the controversial nuclear-bailout law passed last year, gives local authorities control over wind farms that provide up to 20 megawatts of power to a single customer.
Icebreaker Wind’s nameplate capacity is 20.7 megawatts of power. But HB6 requires the power be measured “at the customer’s point of interconnection to the electrical grid,” and it’s not yet clear what the power output would be at that point, according to Randazzo.
Cleveland Public Power is set to purchase two-thirds of Icebreaker Wind’s output. Whether that qualifies as a “single customer” under HB6 would be an open question for the Power Siting Board, Randazzo wrote.
Read the full draft ruling:
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding