Great Lakes project ‘fatal’ under Ohio conditions

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The developer of the first wind farm proposed in the Great Lakes said some conditions recommended by the staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board to protect birds and bats are too extreme and will be “fatal” to the project if adopted.

Testimony filed last week by the developer of the 20.7-megawatt Icebreaker wind farm is the first formal response to a staff investigation issued two months ago and comes ahead of a formal hearing on the project later this month.

The Icebreaker project consists of six turbines located 8 to 10 miles offshore of Cleveland in Lake Erie. It would be the first freshwater wind farm in the United States.

The OPSB’s July 3 staff report recommended approval of the wind farm contingent on the company meeting almost three dozen conditions, many of them focused on minimizing the impact to birds and bats (EnergyWire, July 9).

The project has the backing of local and state environmental groups. The National Audubon Society, too, has publicly supported the project if the board adopts the conditions recommended by its staff.

But David Karpinski, vice president of operations for Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), said that while the company supports the vast majority of conditions, a few of them go too far and would make the project too risky for banks and investors.

Among them is a requirement to feather turbines from dusk until dawn for 10 months of the year until a bird and bat collision monitoring plan is developed and approved of by the OPSB.

Ceasing energy production during nighttime hours for most of the year would deprive the project of 40 percent of expected revenue and be “fatal” to the project’s economics.

What’s more, the conditions give regulators an indefinite amount of time to approve the monitoring plan and provide no firm criteria by which to evaluate it.

“If there is even a chance that the project would be feathered completely for half of the day for 10 months of the year, and that Icebreaker would, therefore, default on the loan and commitments to the equity investors, the bank will not lend and the investors will not invest project capital,” Karpinski said.

The company also pushed back on two other conditions proposed in the OPSB staff report that it says prohibits their ability to get financing.

One condition proposed by the OPSB staff would require the developer to record bird and bat data from a barge-mounted radar at the site for two three-month periods before and after construction begins.

But precipitation or high waves make it uncertain whether the company can log data at least 80 percent of the time during the three-month periods as would be required, the company said.

Another condition would give board staff “unlimited authority” to prescribe mitigation steps if they decide the project presents “significant adverse impact to wild animals.”

LEEDco said the vague wording proposed by board staff likewise creates more uncertainty that would scare off investors and lenders.

In addition to hundreds of pages of testimony in advance of this month’s hearing, LEEDCo last week filed an agreement with two environmental groups, a labor group and an offshore wind advocacy group that suggests changes to some of the conditions proposed by board staff.

The proposed changes, if adopted, would allow the company to secure financing for the project, LEEDCo said.

Parties to the agreement include the Sierra Club, Ohio Environmental Council, Business Network for Offshore Wind and Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters.

The siting board hearing is scheduled for Sept. 24 in Columbus. There’s no timetable for the board to issue a ruling.