Lake Erie Wind Farm's Permit May Prohibit its Construction

A simulation of the visual appearance of the Icebreaker Wind facility from Cleveland's Edgewater Park Beach (LEEDCo)

Published May 25, 2020 7:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

A regulatory board in Ohio has approved the construction of an "offshore" wind farm in Lake Erie, but it has imposed operating restrictions so stringent that the facility may never be built.

Last week, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) overrode objections from two environmental groups and gave the non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) permission to build its proposed Icebreaker wind farm. However, the board conditioned that permit on a unique restriction: from March to October, the wind farm may not run at night unless its operator can prove that it is safe for birds and bats. 

“We still have to evaluate things, but it’s looking like this could be the final nail in the coffin,” said LEEDCo president Dave Karpinski in a recent interview with GTM. 

The Icebreaker project would be America's first freshwater offshore wind project. With backing from Fred. Olsen Renewables and initial funding from the U.S. Energy Department, it would supply 20 megawatts of power to the Cleveland area using small 3.5 megawatt turbines. 

Karpinski contends that the board's decision contradicts an earlier arrangement that LEEDCo reached with OPSB staff. The prior agreement acknowledged that a requirement to shut down the farm for extended periods would make it commercially nonviable, and OPSB staffers agreed to take the restriction out of the permit language. "They put it back in to kill the project," asserted Karpinski. "“It’s a sad day for renewable energy in Ohio  . . . Certainly no one's going to come to Ohio soon after the way this project was treated."

The project had the support of the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council, and it had already cleared environmental reviews with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was opposed by the now-defunct coal company Murray Energy, the American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. 

"Constructing turbines in the proposed project site would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds, as well as Common Loons, globally significant populations of Red-breasted Mergansers, and other waterfowl," wrote the American Bird Conservancy in a letter of opposition in December.