In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio approves the Icebreaker wind project in Lake Erie




COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a state permit to build North America’s first freshwater offshore wind facility was properly granted for the Icebreaker project in the lake. Erie.

The Icebreaker project proposes to build six turbines 8 to 10 miles off the coast of Lake Erie near Cleveland. The demonstration project would generate 20.7 megawatts of electricity, with potential for expansion if successful.

The issue in court was whether the Ohio Power Siting Board had followed the law in granting the permit.

Ohio Judge Jennifer Brunner wrote the majority opinion. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly and Melody Stewart concurred.

Justice Sharon Kennedy dissented.

Brunner, a Democrat, and Kennedy, a Republican, are running for Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court in the November election. O’Connor retired due to age limits in the bench.

With the approval of the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., which calls itself LEEDCo and is developing the project, has additional security to market power to potential customers, the company said in a statement Wednesday, shortly after the decision was released. the Supreme Court.

One-third of the electricity is under contract with the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. LEEDCo can now focus on marketing the remaining two-thirds.

There is no date for the start of construction yet, as LEEDCo was waiting on the ground, said Will Friedman, president and CEO of the Port Authority of Cleveland-Cuyahoga County.

“LEEDCo will need time to regroup, market the electricity and determine next steps. There was no way we could move the project forward while the Supreme Court case was pending,” he said. “Even though we won today, it’s been a damaging delay for over a year. With the certainty received from the Court, we can now concentrate on marketing the remaining two-thirds of the electricity it will produce.

Icebreaker is expected to have a local economic impact of $253 million and create more than 500 jobs, according to the company.

The case ended up in court after two Bratenahl residents objected to the project.

One described herself as an ornithologist who learned to swim in Lake Erie before she could walk. She was concerned about the death of birds and bats from turbine blades. The other resident enjoys bird watching, boating and swimming in Lake Erie. They argued that the state had not received enough data to know whether the project caused significant harm to birds and bats.

At one point, Murray Energy Corp., a coal company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019 and sold its assets to American Consolidated Natural Resources Inc., was paying for expert testimony and the Bratenahl residents’ legal fees in the case.

But Brunner wrote that the board had collected the research needed to allow Icebreaker to begin construction, while requiring more data before the company could operate the turbines.

“Rather than requiring Icebreaker to address these issues before issuing the certificate, the board determined that the conditions for granting the application were sufficient to protect the birds and bats and to ensure that the facility represented the minimal negative environmental impact,” Brunner wrote.

Kennedy, on the other hand, wrote that the board reviewed the project with a lesser degree of scrutiny because it is a one-of-a-kind demonstration project. State law does not make exceptions for demonstration projects, and the council failed to gather required data regarding environmental impacts, including its impact on aquatic and bird life, before issuing the certificate, she said. If looser standards are to apply to demonstration projects, that decision should be made by lawmakers, she wrote.

The site committee set more than 30 conditions for the icebreaker, including monitoring wildlife activity before and after construction from April 1 to November 15 each year. Prior to construction, a radar must be installed on a barge. The council also requires crash mitigation technology to be installed before turbine operations can begin.

The Supreme Court, in the majority decision, noted that the board cited numerous scientific studies of birds and bats flying near and off the shores of Lake Erie, including studies of bird deaths. in 42 onshore wind farms in the Great Lakes region and bat deaths. in 55 onshore wind farms. The council also cited evidence that the location of the turbines is unlikely to impact habitat for nesting birds and roosting bats due to its distance from shore.

Brunner wrote that when appealing the council’s decision, residents of Bratenahl had to demonstrate that the council’s decision was “so clearly unsupported by the record that it showed a misunderstanding, error or willful dereliction of duty. “.

She wrote that the residents had not provided enough evidence to justify reversing the council’s decision.

Brunner wrote that Icebreaker, as a demonstration project, is not exempt from wildlife hazard disclosure requirements. However, she said the lack of precise knowledge should not prevent the council from issuing the certificate if conditions are added that require the company to continue to study and report its environmental impacts.

“We have upheld the council’s practice of imposing conditions on wind farm construction certificates,” the notice said, referring to the 2012 court opinion in the Buckeye Wind LLC project in Champaign County.

In the statement released by Icebreaker developer LEEDCo, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb says renewables such as Icebreaker Wind offer “an excellent opportunity to grow the wind industry locally and provide access to energy. renewable energy to businesses and residents of Cleveland and area. This project has always been a win-win for our economy and for our environment. Let’s position ourselves to be a leader, not a follower, for other states.

Friedman, of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, said one estimate is that there will be $70 billion in the U.S. offshore wind business pipeline by 2030.

“Other states are hot on our heels to attract offshore wind and its economic benefits,” Friedman said. “We don’t want to squander this opportunity and let 15 years of work slip away for other states eager to capture market share.”

Ohio has no choice but to embrace the energy transition to meet the state’s energy needs, said LEEDCo Chairman Ronn Richard, who is also CEO of the Cleveland Foundation. , noting that Intel’s decision to build the world’s largest computer chip factory near Columbus includes a commitment to power 100% of its operations with renewable energy. Other companies in northeast Ohio and across the state have also set ambitious renewable energy goals, he said.

“This move will create jobs, attract talent from outside our region, and retain the best and brightest minds from here in Ohio,” Richard said. “It also shows that we are committed to improving health outcomes for Ohioans by cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink. We hope that LEEDCo can now resume the sale of the rest of the electricity and turn this dream into reality.

Wednesday’s decision is likely the latest legal hurdle for Icebreaker, after years of hearings and appeals to the Implementation Committee. This included a requirement, since removed, that turbine blade operation be reduced from dusk to dawn between March 1 and November 1 each year to mitigate the killing of migratory birds and bats. Icebreaker officials celebrated the win, saying the requirement was a poison pill that would make the demo project financially unviable.

The Planting Committee made many decisions under the leadership of former Chairman Sam Randazzo, who had opposed renewables in his earlier career as an energy lobbyist, and eventually resigned from the Planting Committee and from the Ohio Public Utilities Commission after the FBI searched his Columbus home during its investigation into the alleged $60 million corruption scandal involving FirstEnergy and former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder. Randazzo has not been charged by the federal government, and he claims he broke no laws regarding FirstEnergy.

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