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Ohio court ruling favors turbines in Lake Erie

An Ohio Supreme Court has affirmed the placement of wind turbines in Lake Erie as part of the Icebreaker wind project off the shores of Cleveland.

By a 6-1 margin on Wednesday, the justices ruled the power siting board employed “a flexible standing in granting the requested certificate (that) poses no legal problem.” For now, that decision allows the first freshwater offshore wind-powered electric-generation facility in North America to move forward.

That plan includes a six-turbine wind-powered electric-generation facility on approximately 4.2 acres of submerged land in Lake Erie located between 8 and 10 miles off the shore of Cleveland that is expected to generate 20.7 megawatts of electricity. Supporters hope this small-scale demonstration project will provide information as to how offshore wind facilities interact with the environment and that will test the viability of large-scale wind facilities on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes.

Those who have opposed the project argued there was insufficient evidence before the siting board for it to determine the nature of the probable environmental impact, specifically on dangers to birds and bats. In addition, they also argued the board’s decision to issue the certificate violated the public-trust doctrine and thus the project does not serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.

In the lone dissenting opinion, Justice Sharon Kennedy said it is not “currently possible to know all of the facility’s probable impacts on the environment” including both the avian and aquatic wildlife that surround the water.

“Without additional information, the probable environmental impact of constructing a wind farm in Lake Erie is unknown, and the board’s order granting a certificate to Icebreaker was unreasonable and unlawful.”

Implications on how this impacts future wind projects on Lake Erie — especially closer to Chautauqua County — could be tremendous. Currently, a turbine project is being considered by Diamond Generating Corp. from Dunkirk to Buffalo that could include 50 industrial wind turbines in the being placed in the Great Lakes waters.

Last fall, the New York State Conservation Council went on record as calling for a “permanent moratorium on offshore industrial wind turbine development in any Great Lakes waters.” The group noted that 11 million people are dependent upon Lake Erie for drinking water and cites a dramatic increase in the fishing in the waters over the last half century. “After 50 years of cleanup, restoration and much investment of funding and human capital, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario account for more angling recreation and related economic activity of all the Great Lakes,” the resolution said.

Dunkirk Common Council passed a resolution in June 2020 opposing turbines in Lake Erie. Others, especially the Western New York fishing community, also have noted their dissension.

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