Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives reject chance to support proposed Icebreaker wind project for Lake Erie
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives have rejected the idea of imposing a tiny surcharge on Northeast Ohio customers of FirstEnergy that would be used to support a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie known as Icebreaker.
Rep. Bill Seitz, Republican from the Cincinnati area, said Friday afternoon that when the issue came up in the Republican caucus it did not receive anywhere close to the support necessary to pass.
“It was pretty well rejected despite my best efforts,” he said.
The Icebreaker demonstration project calls for putting six-turbines in Lake Erie about 8 to 10 miles off the coast of Cleveland. It has the necessary regulatory approvals, but not all the money it needs to get started with construction.
And unless an additional source of revenue can be identified soon, the project is at risk of losing the federal funding deemed crucial to its success.
Advocates were hoping the legislature would provide support in the form of an amendment to House Bill 389, which had moved out of the Public Utilities Committee, but never came to the floor this week. The legislature is now adjourned until January.
The bill is designed to restore some of the energy efficiency programs eliminated by House Bill 6. But Republicans were contemplating an amendment to the HB 389 to allow a surcharge to be added to bills of Illuminating Co. customers. The proceeds would be used to purchase much of the electricity Icebreaker would produce.
Seitz said he believed the surcharge would have been no more than 20 cents a month “and probably less than that.”
As it stands, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have committed to buying one third of the 20.7 megawatts of electricity that Icebreaker would generate. A commitment to purchase the remainder would send a signal to the Department of Energy, which has committed $50 million to the project, that the project is moving forward.
Will Friedman, head of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., the organization behind Icebreaker, said in October that the Department of Energy had grown weary of the many delays to Icebreaker. Planning began more than a decade ago.
Seitz, who has been critical of wind farm development on land in Ohio, said he was supportive of the effort to help Icebreaker because it was offshore, had significant support in Northeast Ohio and was going to paid for by people in the area.
Also, the amendment would have allowed any of the counties along the lake to reject proposals to build future wind projects off their shorelines.
But many Republicans felt differently than Seitz. He said the principal objection seemed to be that ratepayers should not have to pay a surcharge for electricity that would be “appreciably in excess” of the current market rate.
Also, many saw the demonstration project as getting the “camel’s nose under the tent” to allow for thousands and thousands of more turbines in the lake. Another reason, he said, was that placing turbines in the lake bed might dredge up potentially toxic material.
Seitz said Rep. Jamie Callender of Concord Township and Rep. Tom Patton of Strongsville, both Republicans, supported an amendment to benefit Icebreaker. Cleveland.com has reached out to both of them.
Rep. Kent Smith, Democrat from Euclid, when told of Seitz’s comments, said that it was “really bad news.”
He said the Republicans support propping up decades-old coal plants, including one in Indiana, but won’t support a clean technology of the future that would create jobs and bring notoriety to Northeast Ohio.
“This is a Wright Brothers moment for the state of Ohio and the GOP would rather keep our energy policy 70 years in the past,” he said.
If built, the Icebreaker demonstration project would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America.
Friedman, who is also president and CEO of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, said he was “still hopeful” that accommodations can be made to make Icebreaker a reality, but he declined to comment on what Seitz told cleveland.com.
Smith said that if there are other avenues to assist Icebreaker that don’t involve state polity that they should be pursued.
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