CLEVELAND, Ohio - The developers seeking to build North America's first freshwater offshore wind project in Lake Erie moved a step closer to obtaining an essential state certification this week.
The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. submitted two key environmental applications detailing its plans for monitoring and analyzing the impact of the six-turbine wind farm on birds, bats and fish.
Approval of the plans by the Ohio Power Siting Board is required before LEEDCo can proceed with construction of the $126 million Icebreaker Wind project planned for a site about eight to 10 miles northwest of Cleveland.
LEEDCo originally filed the two documents in April, but the applications were determined to be out of compliance, and were returned for an endorsement by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"We've been working with ODNR for the past few months," said LEEDCo's Beth Nagusky. "These are the documents the siting board required. Once they are approved, the board will issue a public notice and continue the permitting process."
Each of the so-called memorandums of understanding lays out plans to evaluate the environmental conditions at the lake site prior to the start of construction, during construction, and after the wind farm is built and operational.
Nagusky said the company expects the environmental surveys will "confirm our risk assessments showing that Icebreaker Wind will have minimal adverse impact on fish and wildlife."
Thousands of walleye and other game fish already have been tagged for tracking by an acoustic telemetry system set up by ODNR, the proposals say. The system will track the daily movements of the fish between feeding and resting habitats, during spawning and seasonal migrations. Twenty-six receivers placed on buoys will record the fish movements as they pass by the project site, and transmit that information back to ODNR for interpretation.
LEEDCo and ODNR also will deploy sound detection units to record noise produced by passing boats and shipping, construction, and sonar devices in use, and their effects on the fish. Aerial surveys of boat traffic will be recorded twice a week, and nutrient and biological data is being collected at the site.
The wind farm's impact of greatest concern to birders and environmentalists involves the potential for high mortality rates due to collisions by birds and bats into the spinning fan blades.
LEEDCo acknowledges this fear in its document, but warns that monitoring and documenting casualties from collisions are difficult and pose unique hurdles not found at land-based wind farms.
"Although several promising technologies are under active development, no proven effective technologies to perform bird/bat collision monitoring at offshore wind facilities are currently available," the proposal reads. "However, several emerging technologies appear promising."
The wind proponents and the environmentalists find little to agree on.
Last year, an ornithologist hired as a consultant to LEEDCO, called Icebreaker Wind the lowest-risk project of any he has worked on during eight years of studying wind farms.
Caleb Gordon of Houston praised the offshore Cleveland site as the best location for safeguarding migrating birds and bats.
The Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the American Bird Conservancy recently helped to kill a proposed onshore wind turbine based at Camp Perry near Port Clinton, and they hope to have the same success with the Icebreaker project.
The birding groups have filed documents with the siting board in which they claim LEEDCO's data is flawed, and the wind project would pose a devastating threat to birds and bats passing through one of the nation's busiest migratory flyways. Bald eagles and endangered Kirtland's warblers and piping plovers all fly in the vicinity of the wind farm, they say.
Michael Hutchins, director of the Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign at the American Bird Conservancy, called wind turbines, power lines and towers "the fastest growing threat to birds and bats in the U.S."
"ABC is opposed to building any wind turbines either in or within at least 5 miles of the Great Lakes shorelines," Hutchins said. "This is one of the world's largest confluences of migratory birds as they move to and from the boreal forests of Canada where they breed."
The birding groups also warn that, if Icebreaker Wind is allowed to be built, as many as 2,700 additional wind turbines could be erected on Lake Erie, according to several proposals.
If the siting board approves LEEDCO's application, the agency then will have 90 days to decide the merits of the project, Nagusky said. Public hearings would follow.