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Ohio lawmakers want ‘puzzling’ offshore wind ruling revisited

Environmental studies so far have found little potential impact from a proposed offshore wind farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland. Photo Credit: Erik Droust / Creative Commons

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The state’s siting board had approved the project, but with a provision that made it nearly impossible to build.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Sen. Matt Dolan.

A bipartisan coalition of 32 state lawmakers from Northeast Ohio has interceded on behalf of the Lake Erie Energy Development Company’s 20.7-megawatt demonstration offshore wind project, now before state regulators.

In a strongly worded letter to Sam Randazzo, chair of the Ohio Power Siting Board, the lawmakers objected to the board’s ruling in May granting a permit —  if LEEDCo agreed to shut down the wind farm’s six turbines from dusk to dawn eight months out of the year, Mar. 1 through Nov. 1,  so there would no impact on migrating birds.

The provision, which the ruling noted might be lifted at some future point, was a “poison pill” that made the development financially unfeasible because it would drive away investors, LEEDCo president David Karpinski said at the time.

LEEDCo in June asked the board to reconsider. An administrative law judge granted the request, along with requests from other parties as well. The board does not meet until Aug. 21.

Calling the siting board’s May ruling “puzzling” and in part “unlawful,” the legislative coalition’s letter asks the siting board to “immediately grant LEEDCo’s request for reconsideration.”

Randazzo, a longtime opponent of renewable energy, also chairs the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

The nightly shutdown requirement had been an issue earlier in the four-year case, prompting LEEDCo to negotiate with the board’s technical staff, which had sought 11-month nightly shutdowns. 

The company then committed to installing state-of-the-art radar to detect birds and bats weighing a little as 11 grams, and collision detection systems on the turbines as part of a program to keep bird fatalities to a minimum, settling the issue. Or so LEEDCo thought, only to see the overnight shutdown provision buried deeply in the board’s May decision.

That history was not lost on the lawmakers.

“We have reviewed the facts in the case, and we remain puzzled the Board would re-insert the evening shutdown order that its own technical staff had determined was not necessary to meet the statutory standard,” they wrote.

The letter further argues that the May order is “unlawful” because

  • It contradicts the evidence in the four-year case record as well as the formal finding of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • It does not offer “compelling evidence” to override the recommendations of the board’s staff or the recommendations of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • It requires two separate approvals, one for construction, one to operate at night — a violation of rules governing the board’s actions.

“I am hopeful that the [siting board members] take notice that legislators in this area and the people of our communities support this project,” said Rep. Jeff Crossman, a Democrat from Parma, and one of 15 lawmakers from Cuyahoga County backing the project.

“There doesn’t seem to be a legitimate basis for inserting the language that was inserted, which looks to me as a way to kill the project without overtly denying the project,” he said.

Crossman, along with Rep. Dave Greenspan, a Republican from Westlake; Sen. Matt Dolan, a Republican from Chagrin Falls; and Sen. Sandra Williams, a Democrat from Cleveland, organized the coalition to question the siting board’s May ruling.

The 32 legislators represent 11 Northeast Ohio counties and compromise about a quarter of the Ohio House and Senate.

Dolan said he advocated for intervention by the legislators because more is at stake than just the lake wind farm project. 

“Ohio is sending a very clear message: ‘We do not want innovation,’” he said. “Ohio will not be seen as fertile ground for investment in any new invention, innovation or technology. That is my point.

“I support [the lake wind farm] but if they had not worked their way through and had failed, that is what can happen. But they did, though. And that is what is disturbing. Why would anyone spend millions of dollars for at the last minute to have a poison pill inserted? And it stands. And no one says anything.

“It will be a wet blanket on all innovation, all new technology. People just won’t feel comfortable coming to Ohio. We cannot let this stand because of the long-term implications that it will have.” 

LEEDCo has previously estimated the project’s construction would be worth $250 million to the local economy. If built, the project would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America.

“If there ever was a time that Ohio needed a renewable energy project of this magnitude and with this economic impact, it’s now,’’ Karpinski said. “And if there ever was a time to make sure this project passed the smell test given the unusual circumstances of the decision and the fact that fossil fuel interests were opposing our project, it is most certainly now.”

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 2, 2020 6:52 am GMT

"The provision, which the ruling noted might be lifted at some future point, was a “poison pill” that made the development financially unfeasible because it would drive away investors, LEEDCo president David Karpinski said at the time."

What makes the development financially infeasible and drives away investors is not Ohio's Siting Board, but the fact that it slaughters migratory birds - and there's not a damn thing that can be done about it. "State-of-the-art radar," notwithstanding.

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