Downtown Cleveland, Ohio, rises on the shore of Lake Erie. A six-turbine wind project 8 to 10 miles northwest of the city would be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in North America. Credit: Tim Evanson / Flickr / Creative Commons

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An agreement includes installing state-of-the-art collision detection equipment, including cameras, to document wildlife impacts.

Correction: A couple objecting to the wind project settlement have proposed a June deadline for final written arguments in the case, but a judge had not yet set a schedule. A previous version of this story misstated the timeline.

An offshore wind developer has resolved a monthslong disagreement with Ohio regulatory staff over bird and bat protections that had stymied development of what would be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in North America.

In an agreement filed Wednesday, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. and staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board proposed installing state-of-the-art collision detection equipment, including cameras, on each of the six turbines to detect the collision of even a single bird with turbine blades.

The 20.7-megawatt Icebreaker Wind Project is a joint demonstration project of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. and Oslo-based Fred Olsen Renewables, which believes Lake Erie-based wind farms have the potential to generate up to 5 gigawatts of electricity.

If built, this $150 million demonstration wind farm 8 to 10 miles northwest of downtown Cleveland would create jobs regionally as well as generate electricity that would flow into the PJM wholesale grid through Cleveland Public Power, a municipal utility.

Ohio is one of the top states manufacturing components for the wind industry, according to Patrick Fullenkamp, principal of Greentree Consulting LLC of Lebanon, Ohio, and former associate with the Cleveland-based Great Lakes Wind Network.

The siting board staff had previously tied its approval of the project to a provision requiring Icebreaker to shut down nightly for 10 months of the year  (March through December) to prevent birds and bats from colliding with the turbine blades rotating 272 feet above the lake, with the top blade tip reaching a height of 479 feet.

The siting board staff also previously insisted that it should have authority to shut down the turbines whenever it believed migrating birds and bats were in danger.

Icebreaker responded that those conditions would have made the project impossible to finance. Those provisions are gone from the document filed Wednesday.

And the company has agreed that it will immediately report a “significant mortality event,” defined as the destruction of 21 or more birds within 24 hours — and immediately modify its operations. The agreement gives the siting board the authority to require an additional “adaptive management strategy” if the level of destruction recurs.

While the siting board is not expected to approve the project for several months, the agreement filed Wednesday in the docket of the siting board leaves only the objections of a suburban couple whose lawyer had been retained by Murray Energy Corp., an Ohio-based coal mining company.

The couple objected to the last of six negotiating extensions sought by Icebreaker and the siting board staff and said this week they are not parties to the settlement and have not agreed to it. They suggested a June deadline for final written arguments in the case and a July deadline for replies. A siting board judge had not yet approved those dates and the full siting board is not expected to vote on the matter until July at the earliest.

In addition to the siting board staff and Icebreaker Windpower, other parties signing the agreement were the Business Network for Offshore Wind, Inc., the Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council and the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters.

The U.S. Department of Energy earlier awarded the project $50.7 million. The department has so far issued $10.4 million to the project as Icebreaker met specific benchmarks.

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John Funk

John Funk is a Cleveland-based journalist who has written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, and Cincinnati Post.