The 20.7-MW Icebreaker offshore wind project in Ohio has cleared a key hurdle after the U.S. Department of Energy found no significant environmental impacts through its extensive review of the proposal.
The DOE, which conducted its review in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard, on Oct. 2 released its final environmental assessment and "finding of no significant impact" for the offshore wind project in Lake Erie.
"This is the most significant single approval Icebreaker Wind has received to date," Lorry Wagner, president of Cleveland-based Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., or LEEDCo, said in an Oct. 3 news release.
LEEDCo is developing the project as part of a partnership with Fred. Olsen Renewables AS of Oslo, Norway. LEEDCo in the news release noted that the DOE's environmental assessment found that the six-turbine project, which would be built about 8 to 10 miles off the shoreline in Cuyahoga County, "will not significantly adversely affect any endangered or threatened species or any critical habitat."
"The overall conclusion of the risk assessment was that total fatality levels of birds and bats are expected to be lower for the proposed project than for typical land-based wind energy facilities in the region," the DOE wrote in its environmental assessment. "While fatalities would occur, the potential impacts to bird and bat species would be considered minor and would not result in population-level effects to any species."
The DOE also said the proposed project "will not result in any significant adverse or beneficial impacts."
"The proposed project would not cause any significant adverse effects nationally, within the Great Lakes region or the onshore or offshore area within or near the proposed project area," the DOE wrote. The federal agency also found the project's adverse visual impacts would be minor.
The beneficial impacts include "a contribution toward the reduction of regional greenhouse gas emissions, diversification of regional energy supply and economic revitalization of key sectors of the regional economy."
LEEDCo in early July received a recommendation for conditional approval from the staff of the Ohio Power Siting Board for the construction of the six-turbine Icebreaker facility in Lake Erie. The staff's recommendation is contingent on several conditions, including the creation of an avian and bat monitoring plan before LEEDCo starts construction on the project.
The developers also are facing some opposition at the state level. Ohio coal producer Murray Energy Corp. has provided legal representation and financial support to residents fighting the offshore wind facility.
"Murray Energy is pleased that its outside counsel can assist the [Bratenahl, Ohio] residents to prevent Icebreaker from steam-rolling this project through the Ohio Power Siting Board certification process without the public scrutiny and opposition that it deserves," Murray Energy spokesman Cody Nett said in August.
Nett said at the time that "since at least 2009" the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that the Icebreaker developers conduct avian radar studies from the project site, but "to date ... those studies still have not been done."
Beth Nagusky, director of sustainable development for LEEDCo, told S&P Global Market Intelligence the developer believes the issue related to preconstruction and post-construction radar monitoring of bird and bat activity "has largely been addressed."
Nagusky said the Fish and Wildlife Service in March signed off on the developer's plan to conduct radar monitoring from a vessel at the project site or a fixed platform a few miles offshore.
LEEDCo said it hopes to secure all the necessary approvals by the end of the year and expects to begin construction in the summer of 2020. After testing and commissioning, the project is expected to go online in December 2021.