Turbine lake dispute keeps muddying waters

FILE - Turbines operate at the Block Island Wind Farm, Dec. 7, 2023, off the coast of Block Island, R.I. The Biden administration is preparing to announce plans for a new five-year schedule to lease federal offshore tracts for wind energy production, with up to a dozen lease sales anticipated beginning this year and continuing through 2028. The plan was to be announced Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in New Orleans by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

Debate over wind turbines being placed in the Great Lakes is constantly swirling. A feasibility study released in late 2022 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that did not support the placement of turbines in the Lakes Erie and Ontario was thought to be a dagger for any future consideration.

“Great Lakes wind currently does not offer a unique, critical, or cost-effective contribution toward the achievement of New York State’s Climate Act goals beyond what existing, more cost-competitive programs are currently expected to deliver,” the report said. “This conclusion is based on a fulsome analysis of the resource development costs, ratepayer impacts, expected state benefits, transmission and interconnection limitations, infrastructure and supply chain constraints, visual impacts, and potential environmental impacts.”

In reaching its determination, NYSERDA found that overall “Great Lakes Wind does not provide the same electric and reliability benefits that offshore wind offers” in downstate locations.

Sixteen months later, the agency’s findings appear to have fallen on deaf ears. In Pennsylvania last month, an Erie legislator put forth a proposal that would allow for the lease of land on the waters for the purpose of harnessing clean energy solutions for Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Bob Merski said his legislation, which passed the House along party lines, represents a beacon of innovation, a path to sustainable economic growth, and a commitment to the stewardship of our environment for future generations.

“When everyone is brought to the table, we can bridge the gap between good-paying jobs and renewable energy,” Merski said in a press release. “This bill brought stakeholders from labor, environmental groups, the Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Community and Economic Development and Department of Environmental Protection together to make sure we continue protecting our environment in our efforts to bring jobs to Pennsylvania and help make America energy independent.”

Merski’s push came shortly after a New York Sen. Pete Harckham revived the issue in Albany. The Westchester County lawmaker wants to harness the power of the Great Lakes to meet the state’s ambitious climate goals.

With all the wrangling, where does the issue go from here?

Chautauqua and Erie counties in New York state are solidly against any plan that puts the towers into the waters. Over the last three months, members of the Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie — CAWTILE — have visited numerous municipal boards to not only spread awareness, but to urge them to have a voice.

Those municipalities are listening, as noted during recent gatherings in Hanover, Pomfret, Sheridan, Silver Creek, Evans and other Erie County locations. Elected members in those locations noted their opposition to any siting of windmills offshore, including the federal and state representatives.

Though the local decisions are reassuring for opponents, the bigger issue becomes who has the say in water matters. The natural treasure is shared by two nations and four of the United States.

In recent years, wind power has become a key part of Canada’s grid — accounting for 7.7% of the nation’s total electricity. Additionally, the number of wind farms on land continues to grow in numbers — from eight in 1998 to 337 in 2023, according to Norton Rose Fulbright, a global law firm that deals with the energy industry.

Like New York state, Canada’s offshore projects are being targeted for the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and are in the planning stages. This effort does not create concerns for drinking water like the proposals for turbines in the Great Lakes.

It also is worth noting the Province of Ontario placed a moratorium on offshore wind projects in 2011. That was extended through 2023 and continues to remain in effect.

Ohio’s controversial Ice Breaker proposal that aimed to place eight turbines off the coast of Cleveland was put on hold in December due to increasing costs. The Lake Erie Foundation, which is based in Ohio, previously went on record to oppose the construction on the waters noting it “supports efforts to improve the environment and decrease global warming. However, in this case, the negative environmental effects on Lake Erie, along with economic losses to tourism, spending, jobs, waterfront home values and taxes, appear to outweigh the several hundred jobs that this project claims to create.”

Focus now remains on the major waters. But what about the smaller lakes or rivers throughout the region? Would Chautauqua Lake someday be targeted for turbines? What about the Allegheny River?

Residents in this region have seen the proliferation of turbines and solar panels on local lands within the last decade. Renewable projects, thanks to subsidies, keep dotting our landscapes. How soon will they be a part of our aquatics?

John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.


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