An environmental riddle is brewing off the shores of Lake Erie, and its answer is blowing in the wind.
The planned launch of a wind turbine demonstration project seven miles off of Cleveland’s lakeshore in Ohio – the first of its kind on the Great Lakes – has politicians, developers and labor there on board.
That’s a totally different vibe from what took place in Buffalo Niagara in 2009 and 2010, when the New York Power Authority gauged interest in a similar project in lakes Erie and Ontario. Local governments here quickly scuttled the idea after intense political pressure from a well-organized group of local lakeshore residents.
The environmentalist community, meanwhile, still searches for a Solomonic solution to the question of harnessing wind on the Great Lakes.
Can support for coveted renewable energy that reduces reliance on fossil fuels outweigh potential collateral damage to birds, bats and fish – not to mention aesthetic and noise considerations, as well as possible water pollution?
It’s a tough one, but Lynda Schneekloth of the Sierra Club’s Niagara Group thinks so.
“If we don’t switch from fossil fuels, all the fish in the lake are going to die anyway,” Schneekloth said. “Anything that gets us off of fossil fuels should be tried now.”
Citing a climate change “emergency,” Schneekloth says projects like wind farms in the lakes should be fast-tracked without having them mired down in years of public debate.
“It could be a disaster,” said Sharen Trembath, a Southtowns resident who leads the area’s annual Great Lakes Beach Sweep and helped spearhead efforts to quash the Power Authority’s plans to install turbines in Lake Erie a couple years ago. “It’s giving up one natural resource for another.”
Added Tom Marks, a local charter boat captain who also opposed the former Power Authority plan: “There are environmental hazards with locating the turbines in the lake.”
Here are some of the concerns about offshore wind development, according to Marks, Trembath and the 2010 and 2011 resolutions put forth by Niagara, Erie and Chautauqua county legislatures as well as several lakeshore towns opposing them:
Disruption of the flight patterns of some migrating birds and some of recently resurgent species, such as bald eagles.Interference with boating and fishing.Stirring up “a 40-year cap” on toxic sediment in the lake bed left behind from the region’s industrial heyday.Potential for damage to the turbines and the lakeshore from fire, electrical shock or other problems from large power cables stretched along the lake bed, and leakage from an oil cartridge that Trembath calls “the size of a bus.”
What’s more, dissenters say, windmills are just not that efficient, don’t create jobs, can only operate when winds reach specific speeds and can be expensive.
And, they add, they’re eye pollution.
“I’ve spent my life taking care of the lake’s environment,” Trembath said. “I don’t want it filled with turbines.”
In Ohio, however, many don’t see it that way.
The Cleveland-based Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. has received support in Northeast Ohio for its “Icebreaker” project, which it says “is a blueprint to position Ohio as the leader in the region.”
The demonstration project calls for six 3-megawatt, American-made wind turbines to be placed offshore of downtown Cleveland, with full operation beginning in 2017. In contrast, Lackawanna’s on-shore “Steel Winds” consists of more than a dozen 2.5-megawatt turbines.
Bolstered with $4 million in startup money from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Cleveland company Thursday launched its “POWER Pledge program” to continue building “local stakeholder support” for the wind farm. About 5,000 supporters in Northeast Ohio have already pledged to buy electricity, at higher prices, from Icebreaker’s offshore farm, said Lorry Wagner, president of the Lake Erie energy company.
“Community engagement and support are critical to our success,” said Wagner, “and the support we have received for the POWER Pledge is very encouraging for the future of offshore wind in the Great Lakes.”
Three of seven wind demonstration projects nationwide – of which Cleveland is one – are scheduled for selection by the DOE next year for an additional $46.7 million award to build out the balance of the offshore project. Either way, however, Wagner said his company has invested time and resources in the belief that offshore wind will happen near Cleveland with or without the extra federal money.
By 2030, Wagner expects that his company could be managing “a few hundred” offshore wind turbines in Lake Erie.
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