Lake Erie Offshore Wind Proposal: Economic Cronyism, Environmental Boondoggle
By Sherri Lange — July 3, 2019
“LEEDCo/Icebreaker would do well to abandon its hoped-for permit from the OPSB. The obstacles and problems have been pointed out repeatedly by experts, individuals, birding organizations, ecologists, in consultations, letters, formal legal presentations; enough to fill volumes. Its ten-year-long attempts to capture subsidies while overlooking viable and responsible care for the environment are unsustainable.”
“This proposal has so many indisputable strikes against it,” says Bryan Ralston, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “We’re calling for the OPSB to reject it outright. It cannot be justified economically. It will raise, not lower, consumer’s electrical rates. It cannot survive without taxpayer subsidies. It’s an environmental disaster and it will become an industrial size turbine graveyard in the future.”
Over the years, I have followed the aspirations of Lorry Wagner’s LEEDCo wind project—now the Icebreaker Wind project of Fred Olsen Renewables, Inc. of Norway—to build six turbines off the shore of Cleveland in Lake Erie.
- Lake Erie Offshore Wind Proposal: Economic Cronyism, Environmental Boondoggle (July 2018)
- Offshore Wind: Rough Waters for LEEDCo ‘Demonstration Project’ (environmentalists rise up) (November 2017)
- Lake Erie Wind Turbines? Complaints Pour In (Part I: Overview) (October 2016)
- Lake Erie Wind Turbines? (Part 2: Environmental Issues) (October 2016)
- LEEDCo Lake Erie Wind Project: Joint Letter of Protest (April 2014)
A decade’s worth of effort by the developer has burned $10–13 million (much of it DOE-funded) with the prospect of $126 million to come. We have heard the propaganda: jobs, manufacturing chains, cleaner air, no environmental harm ... saving the earth one turbine at a time ... reducing CO₂ and getting off the fossil fuel addiction.
None of these claims are true or useful.
We have also seen the former Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) Chair Todd Snitchler provide the developer with a laundry list of to-do’s, reflecting application omissions and errors. Under that daunting shadow, and perceived failure of this proposed project, Case No. 13-2033-EL-BG has disappeared and is now OPSB Case No. 16-1871 EL BGN, replete with new approvals, new public consultations, new design (suction mono bucket), and a new foreign billionaire partner, Fred Olsen Renewables.
The rebranded project faces innumerable objections. The opposition is a who’s-who of local parties, many environmental.
They include Save the Eagles International; Great Lakes Wind Truth; Save Our Beautiful Lake; Representatives of Port Crescent Hawk Watch in Michigan; Michigan Boating Industries Association; Save Our Shores, Orleans County; Lake Erie Marine Trades Association (a Cleveland-based trade association of 100 plus boat dealers, marine operators, and service companies); Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition; and Michigan Boating Industries Association.
Birds Are in the Area
The developer denies that birds fly over the lake. But at the same time, he offers a half-based radar observation proposal for those phantom birds.
This stance displays a disdainful approach to the proposed project’s Lake Protection and to experts who have repeatedly written to the USACE, DOE, ODNR, and OPSB (US Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Ohio Power Siting Board), about the natural and unique magnificence of the internationally known migratory “bottleneck,” and its attendant economic abundance for Ohio. (Ohio has about 2% of the water of the Great Lakes, but about 50 percent of the fish: this also means that birds needing fish as food, are drawn to this Lake in sheer volume.)
The developer repeatedly has said, even to Cleveland based Senator Sandra Williams, “There is no migration across the lake; birds do not fly over the lake.”
This is in the face of overwhelming evidence of the bottleneck of migration, clearly articulated in the work of Black Swamp Bird Observatory and ABC (American Bird Conservation). Ohio is home to serious birding efforts, creating an economy with its own magnetic economy. Birding in Northwest Ohio in one spring, accounted for a boost of $30,000,000 (thirty million dollars). The Ohio Sea Grant reports that tourism related to birdwatching in Ohio in six natural areas along Lake Erie,
generated $26,438,398 in 2011, created 283 jobs for those living and working in these coastal communities, generated $8.9 million in personal income, and contributed $1.9 million tax revenues directed to local and state coffers. Birders visiting Lake Erie provide significant revenue infusions to the regions year around.
Protection of the wildlife, birds, bats, butterflies, dragon flies, fish and all aquatic interests, appears the lifeblood of the protesting groups. CA Wildlife biologist and wind turbine expert, Jim Wiegand, wrote this in a letter to the DOE protesting the six turbines, proposed to morph into 1,450 or more:
The Lake Erie Improvement Association with supporting opinions from 13 birding organizations, states the Lake Erie Marsh Region is recognized as globally important for migratory birds as millions of migratory songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl stop here to feed and rest every spring and fall during their long-distance migrations. In addition, Lake Erie shorelines and attendant inland natural areas are also home to a large number of permanent residents. Nearly 400 bird species have been documented in this region. Visiting birders travel to this region of northwest Ohio. Lake Erie marshes make up the largest stopover habitats in the eastern United States between coastal habitats and northern breeding areas.
Mr. Wiegand also refers to the fact, acknowledged by European Wind Energy Association, that “For offshore wind, there is little knowledge regarding certain aspects, such as collision mortality.” (The first offshore wind farm was constructed in Denmark in 1991.)
After examining the materials supplied by LEEDCo/Icebreaker on “studies,” Wiegand concluded that Kerlinger, a well-known paid professional on behalf of the industry, and Tetra Tech, are deeply conflicted, deliberately designing studies to minimize actual flights.
“... for Tetra Tech’s Lake Erie research ... important incidental data could be excluded, so radar sampling missed the highest concentrations of migrating species and very important data detailing lower altitude bird flight patterns during periods of low visibility were left out.
Radar. Radar assessments and plans for the proposed project are ridiculously inadequate and cannot in their present form inform of potential impacts, nor can they measure species at risk, endangered species, and it seems they are not designed to register creatures under 20 grams. (The Blackpoll Warbler, weighing 12 grams, about the weight of “two nickels and a dime,” travels more than 1,500 miles nonstop: “ from the forests of New England and eastern Canada to the Caribbean, en route to its wintering ground in South America.” Others say it travels some 8,000 miles on occasion, including a possible non-stop flight of 88 hours, in a migration event of complete wonder.)
The proposed radar information to be accumulated then, leaves out a multitude of songbirds, rare butterflies, insects. There is also the inherent sinister flaw in “post construction” studies, which implies there WILL be harm, mortality, with the developer self-reporting the resulting mortality.
Vänern: Bad Precedent for Icebreaker
An ongoing embarrassment for the developer is the abject failure of the freshwater lake installation in Sweden, Vänern. This first ever freshwater installation was hailed by Lorry Wagner as a model of how harmless and benign freshwater turbines are. This comparison can now be seen as possibly “debilitating.”
In 2010, LEEDCo invited the Swedes to present their plan for ten turbines in a shallow lake of ten feet to rocks, Lake Vänern, to an audience at private Cleveland based University Case Western. This project, used as a positive reference point, first world turbines in fresh water, has proven embarrassing.
The project is in a condition of “crisis,” financial stress, near bankruptcy and, after much wrangling, approaching a hopeful sale. The distress sale can only occur if various technical problems are resolved: gear boxes, cabling and loss of power. “The insurance company Trygg Hansa has to pay SEK 10 million (US dollars 1,053,750.00, One Million, fifty-three thousand, seven hundred fifty dollars) to the municipal company Vindkraft Vänern as compensation for damage to the wind farm’s wind turbines: “Developers knowingly withheld ‘data’ on the failures: “We chose not to go out with the data when we are doing a sale so as not to spread more negatively about the wind farm than necessary,’ says Mats Enmark.” If Vänern is any bellwether for turbines in Lake Erie, Icebreaker, take heed.
Objectors Are Out In Force
At the present time, approvals have been granted by DOE, USACE and other permitting agencies. But to objectors, the shadow of the former prescribed and punishing requirements by the former Chair linger. (Chairman Snitchler indicated the studies contained errors, contradictions, and “minimal analyses.”) NONE of those corrections, to our mind, has been met.
Current Intervenors, represented by John Stock, have not signed the “stipulation” agreement. As he points out, his clients have a superior non–self-interested reason for objecting to Icebreaker:
The Cuyahoga Residents possess a direct, real and substantial interest in protecting Lake Erie birds—not simply the derivative interest that Icebreaker admits justifies intervention by the Sierra Club, the Environmental Council, the Carpenters, or the Offshore Wind Business Network.
What is emerging is a pattern of cronyism, cooperation, and a chilling absence of credible and viable evidence that the developer has responded to the proposed investigations the OPSB demanded back in 2014; also emerging is an pronounced lack of clarity in terms of acknowledging potential environmental and economic pending harm.
- Intervenors with lawyer John Stock have not signed or agreed with the stipulation documents.
- Public Trust issues are truly insurmountable. LEEDCo (Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.) sold the “assets” to Fred Olsen Renewables, now operating as Icebreaker Windpower Inc., which is a for-profit. As many have pointed out, industrial wind is a subsidy sucker, and Ohio literally does not need this proposed project.
Matt Brakey mentions the super cost of Icebreaker: in “Cleveland Dot Com,” 2018, he asks: “Would you pay $8 for a dozen eggs? Would you pay $12 for a cup of coffee?” He goes on to explain the per MW cost, and the history of bad decisions on the part of Cleveland Public Power (CPP). He writes: “What is unforgiveable is that CPP knows how overpriced the Icebreaker power will be. If reality aligns with CPP’s project expectations, the result will be further inflated electric bills for its customers.”
An unknowing public, thinking it is responsible for Climate Woes, signs Power Pledges. Will the eventual cost be in the Trillions? Please don’t forget the “additional” costs: transmission, repairs, adjustments to the grid, all borne by ratepayers.
And what for? There will be a few permanent jobs, very costly, the air will not be cleaner, the climate or weather will continue its mysterious events, and industrial wind in Lake Erie will only be an expensive, frivolous, dangerous, and disappointing activity. The claims of this developer are wildly untrue, and alarming. It is time to reclaim the profit taking, and demand repayment for the bogus studies and extensive public engagement.
A Few More Realities
Block Island: Six turbines, approximately 300 construction jobs, approximately six permanent jobs; ongoing jobs to be had while transmission cables are re-buried at enormous cost.
Cleaner Air/Need for Wind Turbines: Worldwide less than half of one percent, net zero, electricity is met with wind. Direct effects such as bird and bat kills, concrete foundations rattling rare aquifers, and dirty pollution in Inner Mongolia regarding mining of rare-earth metals for the magnets, and the fact that not one gram of CO₂, if that is your measure, is lessened despite the hundreds of thousands of turbines now installed, show this wind experiment as a tawdry testament of one thing: corporate profits. It most certainly cannot be termed “green.”
Steel is made with coal, not just to provide the heat for smelting ore, but to supply the carbon in the alloy. Cement is also often made using coal. The machinery of “clean” renewables is the output of the fossil fuel economy, and largely the coal economy.
A two-megawatt wind turbine weighs about 250 tonnes, including the tower, nacelle, rotor and blades. Globally, it takes about half a tonne of coal to make a tonne of steel. Add another 25 tonnes of coal for making the cement and you’re talking 150 tonnes of coal per turbine. Now if we are to build 350,000 wind turbines a year (or a smaller number of bigger ones), just to keep up with increasing energy demand, that will require 50 million tonnes of coal a year. That’s about half the EU’s hard coal–mining output.
Public Need: The keystone to the approvals for development of the LEEDCo/Icebreaker hinges on Public Need. Before you bite hard on that lump of coal, a reminder from US EIA (Energy Information Administration, updated 2019):
- The Utica Shale accounts for almost all of the rapid increase in Ohio’s natural gas production, which was more than 28 times higher in 2018 than in 2012.
- Ohio is the eighth-largest ethanol-producing state in the nation, supplying about 550 million gallons of the biofuel per year.
- Ohio has the seventh-largest crude oil-refining capacity in the nation, and the state’s four refineries can process nearly 600,000 barrels of oil per calendar day.
- Ohio is the third-largest coal-consuming state in the nation after Texas and Indiana, and nearly 90% of the coal consumed in Ohio is used for electric power generation.
- Ohio’s two nuclear power plants, located along Lake Erie, supplied about 15% of the state’s net generation in 2018.
Replacing coal, nuclear and gas with wind turbines is inconceivable. Currently Ohio has about 13,000 MW of wind power, producing about 1% of Ohio’s electricity needs. Wind as we know, is intermittent, and has more than threatened to plunge entire geographies into darkness, sometimes pushing backup systems to the “brink.”
Germany was forced to recommission coal power plants to simply keep the lights on. The country’s green energy plans calls for the shut down of 30 such power plants by 2019.
Green energy approaches failed to meet Germany’s stated energy goals, even after spending over $1.1 trillion. The country’s “Energiewende” plan to boost wind and solar production to fight global warming hasn’t significantly reduced carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions and may have actually caused them to go up.
Public pressure to end this ten-year story of corporate profit taking is mounting. Groups around the Cleveland area such as Save Our Beautiful Lake, and groups on the east end of the Lake watching proposals for that area, groups from PA and even further, are vigilant. Most are calling for an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement/Study), which scrutiny will certainly focus on the environmental hazards; and some are vigorously calling for, after a ten plus year battle with LEEDCo, a Great Lakes Moratorium. It appears that the public is increasingly aware that it is not about six turbines; but a massive proliferation, with international participants, a “Saudi Arabia” of wind, and the emphatic response is “not here in this lake, nor any Great Lake.”
Icebreaker’s disingenuous assertions, promises of job chains (Ontario lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs in 8 years, mostly due to the higher cost of subsidized power, wind and solar), false promises of cleaner air, and zero application of even basic common sense environmental practices, presents us with a gathering storm. The assertions are unfathomable in the face of facts from not only North America, but Europe.
LEEDCo/Icebreaker would do well to abandon its hoped-for permit from the OPSB. The obstacles and problems have been pointed out repeatedly by experts, individuals, birding organizations, ecologists, in consultations, letters, formal legal presentations; enough to fill volumes. Its ten-year-long attempts to capture subsidies while overlooking viable and responsible care for the environment, added to the ladder of ongoing misrepresentations to the public, are egregious and unsustainable.
The reality is potential harm of an epic scale. It is not about six: it is about the inauguration of a massive industrialization in 21% of the world’s fresh water.
Postscript: On June 20, 2019, the Ohio Power Siting Board proposed new rules that apply to wind generation in Ohio, Administrative Code 4906-4-09. Comments are to be received from the pubic and stakeholders by July 11, 2019, and reply comments by July 26.
To be discussed are reporting by wind developers of “incidents” such as fires, ice throw, component liberation, oil leaks, as well as conformance to local building codes. We can hope advice and lawful application of rules will materialize that will oblige LEEDCo/Icebreaker to conform to basic principles of building and safety. (If you need an oil change for your car, you need a containment system, for example. Any machinery with oil and lubricants requires containment.)
(Thank you, Representative Bill Seitz)
(((( o ))))
Appendix A: Environmental Concerns
As in Wolfe Island, and other areas deemed by developers to be “low in wildlife intensity, or low probability of harm,” or as Icebreaker asserts, “no birds fly over the Lake,” eventually the actual carnage to birds and bats is universally found to be “unacceptably high.” Again, we must wonder who is making the decisions as to which wildlife is important to “study,” predict mortality, in this context, and how is any of this meaningful conservation.
ABC and BSBO (American Bird Conservatory and Black Swamp Bird Observatory), discussed five concerns they have with an “inadequate” EA process: Writes BSBO Executive Director Kimberly Kaufman, “Based on our exhaustive review of the EA, we see no evidence to support the claim that the project poses ‘little to no risk’ to birds and bats.” Citing over 30 years of research regarding migration and Lake Erie, she believes the six-turbine project would pose “significant” threats.
The proposed Icebreaker project site is approximately seven miles from the Lake Erie shoreline, near Cleveland, Ohio. Five recent advanced radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recorded vast numbers of migratory birds and bats within 5 to 10 miles of the Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie. Many were flying within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines. In addition, this is a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA): The Ohio waters of the Central Basin of Lake Erie have been registered with BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society as globally significant habitat for birds. “The Global IBA designation should be an automatic trigger for a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), instead of a cursory EA,” said Kaufman.
Dismissing any threat to the endangered Kirtland’s warbler, the assessment cites outdated studies and ignores new data from birds fitted with radio transmitters. These data show that the species uses the airspace of central Lake Erie almost exclusively for its fall migration. The site selected for the Icebreaker project turbines could put the entire world population of this rare species at risk.
To reach the “little to no impact” conclusion, the industry assessors relied on limited visual surveys conducted only during daytime and in good weather to conclude that migrating birds fly at a height sufficient to avoid the turbines’ blades. However, many songbirds and most bats migrate at night. The risk they face from wind energy facilities is likely greater during conditions of high winds, heavy rain, fog, or low cloud cover, which can affect flight altitude and bring them within the rotor-swept area of the turbines.
The assessment erroneously concludes that migratory birds and bats avoid crossing Lake Erie, instead flying around it. As Kaufman states, “Anyone watching birds on the shore of Lake Erie can see that birds do in fact fly over the water. Studies also show with certainty that given good physical condition, large numbers of migratory birds and bats cross the lake, many of them making the long journey after stopping at the shoreline to rest and feed.”
The EA fails to acknowledge similar existing or planned projects throughout the Great Lakes that could increase the cumulative impacts on birds and bats – an evaluation required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). What happens with the Icebreaker project could set an important precedent for the Great Lakes region on both sides of the border. Ontario, for instance, has placed a moratorium on any open water wind facilities in Lake Erie until Icebreaker is decided. (Our note: Ontario is not likely to revisit the offshore moratorium in the next 100 years. There is a new rodeo in town.)
We are only beginning to comprehend what we do not know about EMF (electromagnetic fields) issuing from the cabling, and ILFN (infrasound and low-frequency noise) vibration from the towers. Icebreaker claims there will be no downside to fishing. However, The Block Island Wind Farm, Rhode Island, has found that where the cable lines extend to the mainland, the area is completely devoid of fish. “These used to be fruitful fishing grounds.”
Even Audubon has indicated that the white blades attract insects and the insects attract birds. It further indicated that “mitigation” has not ever been found to work. The President of the French bird society LPO-Birdlife concurs that Mitigation of any kind is a failure. Quote from Audubon Society, 2016: “I would say it’s highly experimental; none of it has been proven to work.”
Black Swamp Bird Observatory, May 29, 2019, writes to the OPSB that they have concerns about the “stipulations” and that “no construction can be initiated until the MOU and associated documents are finalized and accepted.” Interpretations for “compliance” with the monitoring plan are recommended to be “sorted out.” They add further recommendations to the “feathering” aspects of the Avian and Bat Impact Mitigation Plan, to account for known major migration events. This excellent letter clearly and professionally outlines what the developer appears to be missing: adequate and sensible acknowledgement of Migration, Migration, Migration. Add to this the fact that bats and some birds are attracted to the towers as roosting or nesting or feeding stations.
There are legal issues according to the Public Trust Doctrine and testing of those legal issues is inevitable. Al Isselhard of Great Lakes Wind Truth wrote to ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) Director Mary Mertz, May 18, 2019:
Ohio cannot allow a business to tamper with the public’s right to use Lake Erie for recreational boating, swimming, fishing, commercial fishing, commercial shipping or interfere with aesthetics that have existed since day one. It is very likely the Public Trust Doctrine will be the cause for major litigation to halt the Icebreaker project from being developed. To allow this project will certainly open the door to hundreds, maybe thousands, of additional offshore turbines not only in Lake Erie but in all the Great Lakes.
Will radon be released from drilling for the cabling? Will radon be released from the installation of the Mono Bucket turbines? Ohio’s soil contains uranium and radium: Ohio’s geology is an open door to a continuous supply of radon. Ohio already has pockets of high levels of radon release. Radon pollution causes cancer. It is estimated that 21,000 deaths per year (US) are caused by radon.
Where are the lakebed substrate studies? It is also well known that tap water, derived from Lake Erie, is equal to any water available in the US to have carcinogenic features: In Ohio, “EWG (Environmental Working Group) tracked contaminants across the state’s water supply.” See the list at this website: they include nearly unpronounceable chems like Total Trihalomethanes, linked to bladder cancer and harmful fetal development; Chlorate, harmful to pregnant women; Chloroform; Chromium also linked to reproductive issues; Radium-228 also linked to cancer; Arsenic also linked to cancer. Many scientists both sides of the border have advocated for zero disturbance of the lakebed, which is drinking water for 11 million in Ohio alone.
Where are the cabling drilling studies? Block Island cables are already costing a fortune to re-bury. Some have lifted, and swimmers are in potential danger as cement blankets are installed to submerge the 34,500 V cables. It is an estimated $10 million project.
Roberge said that in his mind there are two long-term options for addressing the issue with the cables: “relocating or replacing” the cables. Relocating means installing the cables at their proper burial depth in a different location, while replacing the cables involves cutting and splicing the exposed sections of cable and reinstalling them at appropriate depth. As for working with Deepwater Wind, which is in the process of being purchased by a Denmark-based offshore wind developer, Roberge said, “We don’t see any change. It’s the same folks that we’ve been dealing with. So everything is the same.” (“Danish energy business Ørsted has entered into an agreement with the U.S.-based D.E. Shaw Group to buy a 100% equity interest in its offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind.”) Yet another Wind Shuffle.
(The obvious possible harm to drinking water from the proposal has been commented on in volumes and for many years. Each turbine will contain 404 gallons of oil and lubricants. These leak and have to be replenished, cleaned, and changed.)
[Originally published at Master Resource.]