By John Funk, Energy News Network, through the Institute for Nonprofit News network
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.
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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This article, first published in Energy News Network, is republished here through Great Lakes Now’s membership in the Institute for Nonprofit News, a network of more than 200 nonprofit newsrooms across the U.S., working to strengthen the sources of trusted news for thousands of diverse communities.
Featured image: Middelgrunden offshore wind farm. (Photo by Kim Hansen via wikimedia cc 3.0)