During a meeting inside the Dunkirk Lighthouse in May 2019, volunteers learned of a project that could forever change the landscape of Lake Erie while offering the promise of $500 in revenue monthly. All that needed to happen was for an approval of a wind monitoring station at the historic site.
Desperate for cash, the Lighthouse could have taken the funds being offered at the time by Diamond Offshore Wind. But members of the board of directors sided with history, rejecting the offer while sending a message that turbines were not welcome in the waters.
A decision made in Ohio could change all that.
Last week, the Supreme Court affirmed the placement of wind turbines in Lake Erie as part of the Icebreaker wind project off the shores of Cleveland. By a 6-1 margin, the justices ruled the power siting board employed “a flexible standing in granting the requested certificate (that) poses no legal problem.”
For now, the ruling allows the first freshwater offshore wind-powered electric-generation facility in North America to move forward. This has residents across this region – and in Canada – concerned about the possible impacts to wildlife and the precious commodity. “It’s drinking water,” said Sharen Trembath, spokeswoman for the Citizens Against Wind Turnbines in Lake Erie. “It’s too delicate for this experiment.”
Trembath is not alone in her worries. New York state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, has been one of the most outspoken regarding renewable energy. He said shortly after the Buckeye state ruling there is “no justification for risking the world’s largest source of freshwater.”
Ohio’s decision is significant to Western New York. The Icebreaker plan to the west includes a six-turbine wind-powered electric-generation facility on approximately 4.2 acres of submerged land in Lake Erie located between 8 and 10 miles off the shore of Cleveland that is expected to generate 20.7 megawatts of electricity. Supporters hope this small-scale demonstration project will provide information as to how offshore wind facilities interact with the environment and that will test the viability of large-scale wind facilities on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes.
Diamond Wind, which made a presentation to Dunkirk’s Lighthouse board three years ago, has not backed off of plans for 50 turbines in waters from Dunkirk to Buffalo. With Ohio’s approval – and New York state’s relentless push for renewables – Lake Erie has become an environmental battleground for proponents and critics.
“The dissenting justice, Sharon Kennedy, summarized how the project is dangerously uniformed and senseless. This is a setback in our fight to protect the Great Lakes,” Borrello said. “But the fight is far from over. It’s those who believe we must destroy the environment in order the save the planet that are the ‘useful idiots’ for Big Wind and corrupt politicians. They are unwittingly assisting those who are profiting off of the massive taxpayer-funded boondoggle that is ‘green’ energy.
Adding one more layer to this complex issue is the Great Lakes shared by the countries of the United States and Canada. Word of the Ohio decision is not sitting well with some north of the border. “The environmental review if you can call it that, is more than incomplete,” said Sherri Lange, chief executive officer of North American Platform Against Wind Power.
Lange notes the province of Ontario is continuing an offshore moratorium in the Lakes since 2011. She said at the present time there is no intention by the government to change the edict.
“It is hard for us to imagine that with shared wildlife, water, and communities, fishing and water drinking, that there will ever be a common purpose to placing huge oil leaking bird killing economy bruising wind turbines in 20% of the world’s fresh water,” Lange said.
Last fall, the New York State Conservation Council went on record as calling for a “permanent moratorium on offshore industrial wind turbine development in any Great Lakes waters.” The group noted that 11 million people are dependent upon Lake Erie for drinking water and cites a dramatic increase in the fishing in the waters over the last half century.
Proponents, however, continue to cite a need to get away from fossil fuels. Ellen Cardone Banks, who is chair of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club and an Erie County, N.Y., resident, recently noted the group’s continued support of placing the structures in water. “Wind turbine blades do not deposit micro plastics into water bodies,” she wrote in a letter to The Buffalo News on Aug. 9. “They are made of fiberglass, epoxy and sometimes balsa wood. They are inert, increasingly recyclable, and pose no harm to our drinking water; neither do the structures on which they are mounted. Mapping of the lake bed would avoid areas of significant deposits from past pollution, and lake bed impact would be minimal at most and only during a brief construction period. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is conducting a comprehensive study to ensure water safety before any wind tower construction would be permitted.”
New York currently has five offshore wind projects in active development that are located off the southern and eastern shores of Long Island in the saltwater Atlantic Ocean, NYSERDA notes. The effort is the largest offshore wind pipeline in the nation totaling more than 4,300 megawatts and representing nearly 50 percent of the capacity needed to meet New York’s nation-leading offshore wind goal of 9,000 megawatts by 2035.
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