A simulated view of the proposed Icebreaker offshore wind project from Cleveland's Edgewater Park Beach. Credit: LEEDCo

The developer of the offshore wind demonstration will use bird-safe lighting and seasonal curtailment, among other methods.

A pact with environmental groups over wildlife protections and monitoring puts a Lake Erie offshore wind project one step closer to construction.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, or LEEDCo, hopes to build the six-turbine Icebreaker project about eight miles north of Cleveland.

A Sept. 4 regulatory filing spells out the developer’s commitments, including use of bird-safe lighting, seasonal curtailment, and other technology and methods, to minimize the project’s impact on birds, fish and other wildlife.

The agreement was signed by Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council, as well as labor and industry groups. It addresses many of the remaining barriers for the project, which still needs approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board.

As the Great Lakes’ first offshore wind project, Icebreaker will demonstrate the feasibility for harvesting wind energy from Lake Erie, while providing valuable information for future projects that might seek their own permits. For now, Nagusky and her colleagues are optimistic.

“We are currently on schedule to start and finish construction in 2021,” said Beth Nagusky, LEEDCo’s director of sustainability development. She gave an update about the project on August 27 at the Ohio State University and Ohio Sea Grant’s Stone Laboratory at Gibraltar Island.

A pilot project

While Ohio’s land-based wind energy is generally strongest in the northwestern part of the state, its lake-based wind resources are strongest primarily in the lake’s central and eastern basins. “The winds blow stronger and more consistently over water than they do over land,” Nagusky said. Offshore wind also avoids constraints with neighbors, she added.

The pilot project will create about 500 jobs while providing tax revenues and other positive economic impacts, such as adding to Ohio’s ability to attract companies that want a source for renewable energy, Nagusky said. At the same time, the project will help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Climate change is real,” Nagusky said, noting that the Audubon Society has identified climate change as a top threat to birds.

A 2017 draft environmental assessment by the Department of Energy anticipated mainly minor or negligible short-term impacts from the project. LEEDCo will also conduct extra bird and bat surveys before and after construction, based on a memorandum of understanding with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Nagusky said.

The facility will also use bird-safe lighting and other methods to protect wildlife, such as curtailing operations when cloud ceilings are low or during peak migration season. The turbines will also have collision detection equipment. According to Nagusky, those technologies have not been required for any other projects in Ohio, “but we are committed to doing that,” she said.

If a problem does arise, LEEDCo will work with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to develop “a revised mitigation or adaptive management strategy.” The Sept. 4 filing stops short of nightly shutdowns for 10 months of the year, which the OPSB staff recommended in July.  

OPSB’s staff did not join the Sept. 4 filing, but the Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council agreed it “represents the right balance of maintaining protection for wildlife while ensuring the project can go forward,” LEEDCo Vice President of Operations Dave Karpinski said.

The project will conduct monitoring on fish and other aquatic life as well. From the outset, the monopile bucket design should avoid much of the noise and lake bed disturbance issues that would come with a traditional foundation.

Basically, an inverted bucket is “lowered into the lake bed and the water will be sucked out,” Nagusky explained. That leaves the sediment of Lake Erie as the foundation for the turbine to go on top. When the time comes to remove the turbine after 25 years or so, the process can be reversed.  

Regulatory approvals still needed

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency gave intermediate approval for a water quality permit in July. Actions are still pending from the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.

A hearing will address any remaining issues the OPSB staff may have. The commissioners can decide to accept or reject any particular recommendations made by the board’s staff.

“We’re very confident that all of our facts and the reports and the science behind everything that we present will make the case that this is a reasonable approach that meets the standards of Ohio,” Karpinski said.

Parties in the siting board case who still oppose the project also include several residents of Cleveland and Bratenahl represented by attorney John Stock of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff.

Stock originally asked to be put on the service list in the case on behalf of a pro-coal organization called the Campaign for American Affordable and Reliable Energy (CAARE). Stock has also represented multiple opponents in other wind energy cases in Ohio and has acted as counsel for Murray Energy Corporation in some proceedings.

Documents filed by LEEDCo with OPSB last month show that in September 2017, the engineering firm Exponent, Inc. agreed to provide consulting services to Stock’s firm on behalf of Murray Energy. Subsequently, Murray Energy confirmed involvement in having its counsel assist intervenors opposing the wind farm.

Kathiann M. Kowalski

Kathi is the author of 25 books and more than 600 articles, and writes often on science and policy issues. In addition to her journalism career, Kathi is an alumna of Harvard Law School and has spent 15 years practicing law. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. Kathi covers the state of Ohio.