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Future of Lake Erie wind turbine project may be decided this week

The Ohio Power Siting Board is set to meet on Thursday to hear Icebreaker Wind's appeal to be allowed to operate at night between March and November.
Credit: Boat Ohio Foundation

CLEVELAND — The question of whether there will be wind turbines on Lake Erie near the shores of Cleveland may finally be decided this week. 

The Ohio Power Siting Board has a meeting scheduled for Thursday in Columbus. Near the top of its agenda is a second hearing on Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation's (LEEDCo) Icebreaker Wind project. 

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In May, the board gave LEEDCo approval for the construction of six wind turbines. That approval contained a "shutdown condition," mandating that the turbines cease operation every night from March until November. LEEDCo leaders say the provision makes the Icebreaker Wind project financially unfeasible. 

The 'shutdown condition' stunned both LEEDCo and advocates of the project. They believe it represented a reversal of an agreement developers reached with state leaders last year after the state’s own expert testified under oath the shutdown mandate was not needed. 

LEEDCo in June asked the Siting Board to reconsider its decision, saying the OPSB stepped outside its statutory authority and violated Ohio law. They have appealed to Gov. Mike DeWine to weigh in as well.

"The efforts to justify this decision simply don’t wash," LEEDCo president Dave Karpinski said. "This dooming condition was added to the permit at the 11th hour after we spent years hammering out every detail of our operations with the OPSB Staff and the wildlife experts at ODNR. Why?"

Since the May decision, stakeholders on both sides have been gearing up for another debate over the question of having wind turbines on Lake Erie. A bipartisan group of 32 legislators from across Northeast Ohio sent a letter to the Ohio Power Siting Board in July asking it to reconsider operating restrictions placed on Icebreaker Wind.  

Sen. Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) slammed the board’s shutdown order, saying it was “a tragic mistake.” She said also that it was “arbitrary, unnecessary and unsupported, and the rationale provided for it - that it would protect migratory birds – contradict{ed} the evidence we have on record.’’ 

Icebreaker Wind is projected to deliver $250 million to the Northeast Ohio local economy and create over 500 jobs. It would also serve the region’s environmental interests, delivering 20 megawatts of clean power.

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley wrote a letter to both Gov. Mike DeWine and Siting Board Chairman Sam Randazzo last month and expressed fears of outside interests influencing the board's decision.

“As we’ve seen recently, some in the energy industry have found a way to impart undue and outsized influence in governmental decision making. While I hope that is not the case here, I have trouble discerning a rational basis for the recent actions of the OPSB," Kelley wrote.

The six-turbine demonstration project was planned to be eight miles off Cleveland’s shoreline. The concept was reviewed by more than a dozen state and federal agencies, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Ohio EPA. It has the support of many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Ohio Environmental Council.

Meanwhile, opposing groups including some conservationists, environmentalists, boaters, fishermen, lakefront property owners and tourism businesses have cheered the OPSB’s conditions, saying the question of financing is a business decision, not a problem to be solved at the expense of Ohio’s most cherished natural resource.

“LEEDCo has totally failed to demonstrate that the benefit of industrializing our lake with turbines outweighs the immense ecological and environmental costs,” says Michelle Burke, executive director of the Boat Ohio Foundation which is running a barrage of radio commercials around the state urging people to go to a special website – www.DefendLakeErie.com – to say no to the turbines.

Learn more about the history of the Icebreaker Wind project from this 2018 story below: