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Ohio Approves Lake Erie Wind Farm—But Limits May Be ‘Fatal’ (1)

May 21, 2020, 6:59 PMUpdated: May 21, 2020, 10:11 PM

North America’s first freshwater wind farm received approval from Ohio energy regulators, bringing the long-planned Lake Erie project closer to construction—so long as its turbines are stopped overnight.

The Ohio Power Siting Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a certificate of construction, so long as the 20.7 megawatt project, called Icebreaker Wind, meets a host of requirements before and after construction. One of those restrictions is that turbines be shut from “dusk to dawn,” something the developer said is in violation of a deal reached with regulators last May.

“This Order is not an approval. A condition added by the Ohio Power Siting Board may well be fatal to the entire project,” David Karpinski, president of the developer Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed the Board took this unfortunate step backward for clean energy in Ohio.”

The six-turbine project has faced a headwind since its owner, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., formed in 2009. The U.S. Energy Department in 2016 awarded the company $40 million to construct the project about 10 miles off the shore near Cleveland.

The certificate garnered opponents from traditional energy sources as well as conservationists. Concerned groups sued federal regulators last year in order to get a better assessment of the deaths the turbines might cause to flocks migrating across Lake Erie.

‘Inherent Tension’

“This project has sort of an inherent tension,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz said before the vote approving the certificate.

“It’s a small project, so some of the less desirable impacts are OK because it’s small. But on the other hand. it’s put forward as a demonstration project which may someday lead to a larger one, and I’m not sure this experiment will address those things.”

One of Mertz’s concerns was who could bear the cost if the project needed to be decommissioned, which is a scenario she said the state has worked on to her satisfaction.

Cleveland-area state Sen. Sandra Williams (D) praised the approval, which she said was a long time coming.

“I believe this will be something that other states across the country will be looking at us for direction for,” she said. “I look forward to getting even more windmills up in Lake Erie.”

Karpinski said that the company was “stunned” by the requirement to stop the turbines overnight, and that the firm first learned of this caveat in a state press release following the vote. That stipulation wasn’t discussed before the vote.

“In light of today’s decision, LEEDCo will need to reconvene in the coming days and examine our options on how and whether we can move forward,” he said.

(Updates throughout with comments from developer on requirement to limit the turbines' operation.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com