North America has slowly ventured into offshore wind, but proposed and completed farms have all been located along our oceanic coastlines. Freshwater offshore wind farms have been a distant dream. But now, North America’s first freshwater offshore wind farm has officially gotten the green light and will soon be developed in Lake Erie.
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The Supreme Court of Ohio approved a permit for an offshore wind farm sited within the lake and located roughly eight miles north of Cleveland, Ohio. The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) will develop Icebreaker Wind as a test project. The project will consist of six turbines, generate roughly 20.7 megawatts, and test the viability of freshwater offshore wind in the Great Lakes.
Discussing the project, LEEDCo wrote:
“Icebreaker Wind is a unique wind energy project – the first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes, the first freshwater wind farm in North America…Very simply, it offers Ohio the opportunity to become a national leader in this nascent industry…The vision is a robust offshore wind industry by 2030 that will have significant impact on the economic and environmental state of the region.”
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This project has been in the works since 2014 and won a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2016. Has the holdup been due to bureaucratic red tape? Not exactly.
The permitting process for this project eventually landed in front of the state’s highest court after local residents sued to stop the development. Residents from Bratenahl, located within Ohio’s Cuyahoga County along the southern shore of Lake Erie, brought a lawsuit by claiming that there was insufficient evidence regarding both the project’s impact on local wildlife and whether or not the project would serve the public interest.
Ohio Supreme Court justices ruled six to one in favor of the project moving forward. The decision noted that the Ohio Power Siting Board had provided multiple studies in connection to questions about wildlife impact and public interest. Referring to the siting board’s approval, Justice Jennifer Brunner wrote:
“Rather than requiring Icebreaker to resolve those matters before issuing the certificate, the board determined that the conditions on its grant of the certificate were sufficient to protect birds and bats and to ensure that the facility represented the minimum adverse environmental impact.”
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While any future offshore projects in the Great Lakes are likely to receive the same legal pushback, this project will officially move into development. And as development progresses, significant economic benefits are likely to arise. LEEDCo estimates: “Icebreaker Wind alone will create over 500 jobs and $85 million in economic impact during construction and an additional economic impact of $168 million over the life of the project in Northeast Ohio.”
Building the future of clean energy requires testing new ideas and developments. Could freshwater offshore wind bring about a wind power renaissance? It may be too soon to tell, but it is encouraging that the idea can finally begin being tested.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.