Lake Erie Offshore Wind Proposal: Economic Cronyism, Environmental Boondoggle
By Sherri Lange — July 26, 2018
Abstract: Icebreaker Wind, formerly LEEDCo (Lake Erie Development Company), has failed to materially advance its proposal of six-turbine project offshore Cleveland, reflecting an Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) meeting at City Hall, July 19, 2018. Key business, recreational, and conservation organizations of Cleveland, passionate members of the public, as well as representatives of concern from PA, NY, and Ontario, line up to protect Lake Erie from the taxpayer/ratepayer boondoggle.
In a dramatic four-hour public-consultantion meeting by the Ohio Power Siting Board July 19, 2018, at Cleveland City Hall Council Chambers, “pro and con” argued about the environmental merits of the six-turbine Icebreaker Proposal. In response to the argument that the 8-10 mile offshore project was a job creator, the objectors described numerous heavyweight obstacles to the proposal.
Master Resource has covered this constantly morphing story. It is an ongoing tale of greed, questionable motive, untold millions unaccounted for, a billionaire from Norway who now owns the project, and ever-increasing objections from Cleveland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania – and even Ontario, Canada, which shares resources, water, birds, bats, and international treaties.
US Subsidies Go Abroad
In November 2017, Master Resource reported that LEEDCo Developer Lorry Wagner was in discussion with Fred Olsen of Renewables Inc. of Norway. The assets of LEEDCo have now (July 2018), been purchased for an unknown amount by the same Fred Olsen Renewables, a foreign billionaire with interests in oil and gas, with complete access to the Lake Erie lake-bed for the purpose of turbine building.
At the OPSB meeting, many challenging the merits of the proposal questioned the economics and legality of enriching this foreign company with US tax dollars, accounting to date unavailable, and unknown benefits for the US, ultimately most certainly negative impacts to Cleveland and Ohio.
The turbines at Block Island Wind Farm (Rhode Island), the US’s first offshore wind facility, were not produced locally, or essentially for the most part, nationally; five turbines “were fabricated in France, Denmark, and Louisiana, with some assembly in Rhode Island.” The production and delivery of turbine parts to the US is international, and it is not likely that producers of parts in Spain, Portugal, Korea, China, Denmark, are going to give up their supply easily. The Block Island blades, each measuring 241 feet long, were made by LM Wind Power, of Denmark.
Other than the obvious ignominy of shipping US dollars to a foreign entity, challenges and concerns at the meeting included:
- impacts to the Crib intake of water;
- lake-bed disruption of centuries of dumping of toxic waste which should by all accounts remain untouched forever;
- the need for water preservation for 11 million persons;
- radar and turbulence interference at the Burke Lakefront Airstrip, (there should be no turbine development within 15 NM (Nautical Miles) of an airstrip, says Pilot Kevin Elwood of Clearview Collingwood, Ontario (Regional Director of COPA, Central Ontario Pilots Association), and in this case the proposed project is 8-10 miles offshore);
- Public Trust Doctrine imperatives; lack of cost benefit analyses;
- the sheer cost of the project, estimated to be at least 126 million dollars ($126 million) or about $21 million per turbine;
- concerns about impacts to boating, yachting, lakeshore communities;
- visual impacts; concerns about increasing energy costs onto the poorest of OH;
- power is not needed;
- exaggerated claims about job creation and “supply chain;”
- impacts on fishing and tourism.
The Jobs Argument
Developer Icebreaker (formerly LEEDCo) has obviously long promoted the most famous of lures: job creation, and a manufacturing “hub.” It is easy to understand the attraction of job promises anywhere, but acutely for Cleveland. Cleveland, like many major US cities, has undergone decades of migration to the suburbs. Poverty levels remain high, with child poverty lingering around 54%.
Some of the impacts of wind proliferation on jobs in Ontario were provided to the OPSB. Notes were presented to the Board concerning the Ontario experience with wind and solar, which with its preferential access to the grid, and enormous subsidies, has resulted in a demolished manufacturing sector, the loss of 300,000 jobs in 15 years.
The province now holds the largest sub-national debt in the world. Ontario, once the economic engine of Canada, is now reduced to a province with a shameful “green” record, that includes at least 46 families who have had to vacate toxic homes, hundreds more who have been displaced, sold, or bought out by developers with gag orders, toxic water from formerly pristine wells, and massive bird and bat kills, numbers unknown. Jobs? Promised, and so far and few between. Net job losses in the hundreds of thousands. Unprecedented waste. Unprecedented grief.
The damage the previous Liberal government did to Ontario’s electricity system was mind-boggling. Plunging into so-called “green energy’ without understanding what they were doing, while the likes of Al Gore cheered them on, former premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have saddled Ontarians with an energy disaster.
According to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, by 2015 they had overpaid $9.2 billion for wind and solar power because they ignored the advice of their own energy experts on how to price green energy.
Icebreaker’s Multi-million Dollar Dilemma
It may be impossible for the LEEDCo/Icebreaker team to find the keys to the Lake Erie subsidy kingdom given the caveats in the Staff Report. The 34 conditions include finding a way to prove the project will not be a threat to migration. The developer must locate and install “radar systems that can detect and track directional movement and altitude of individuals.” It must collect data for small bird migratory seasons, and bat migratory seasons, April to Mid-June, and August to Mid-November.
As many attending the meeting indicated, multiple years of study are required to identify endangered species. This preconstruction requirement has not been done. Bat lungs explode at the tips of the blades, so impact studies with collision technology is entirely not useful. Given that the economics and public need for the project are essentially black holes, why would anyone go down the counting of mortality route?
Add the impossibility of counting the mortality, as well as the insincere, hopelessly inaccurate, views of the developer, Lorry Wagner, that wildlife does not fly OVER but around the lake, and the project is doomed. Again and again, people asked at the hearing, how any developer studies could grasp the Lake’s vibrant natural abundance? Just think of hundreds of millions of flying creatures yearly cross the Lake.
Supporters’ Confusing Ideas
The presenters for the project appeared sincere. But their obvious lack of understanding of wind power was evident.
Embedded with climate fear, many took the microphone to express their belief that wind turbines will create cleaner air; turbine production chains are possible in Ohio; we need jobs; turbines are now cheaper; and Vinalhaven ME, loves turbines (see here and here for some of the turmoil on turbine noise in Vinalhaven (“Within a week of powering up, several families living within half a mile of the towers began to complain about the turbines’ noise. A few months later, battle lines were drawn and the thrum of legal filings began to compete with the whoosh of the turbines.”)
Also came the arguments that asthma rates will decrease if this project goes ahead (not a single coal fired plant world wide has shut down because of wind), and that maybe OH can compete with international established supply chains. A string of misconceptions, many rooted in the “deck” of fear. The OPSB staff heard that fish are attracted to turbine bases (not by any means established, as the results are complex, fairly unknown, requiring further study, and may involve a “shifting of ecosystems,” as research tells us); again and again we heard that we need this demonstration project for “future generations.”
The unions took the mike to call for jobs, and various politicians, one saying he loves birds too; he likes chicken at his mom’s place, and turkey at his granny’s, a crude effort at humor that fell flat. A motel operator called out his support for the project which he hopes will bring business from the construction crews. While the hearing had the appearance of fairness, one had the distinct impression that some of the supporting voices were perhaps “cultured,” and that the petition outside the Chambers, somehow might have been to shore up the support.
The facts are irrefutable. Internationally jobs are lost from the high cost of power that ensues from turbine and solar proliferation. Witness Spain, Italy, the UK, and neighbor, Ontario. The facts are also clear that this wonder of migration at Lake Erie, measuring in the hundreds of millions of creatures, will be profoundly even in cases irreversibly, impacted.
Ontario, it was pointed out, should provide a cautionary tale to Cleveland. After fifteen years of political gouging of the public purse, on steroids, wind and solar projects handed to Liberal supporters who paid to play, $6,000 a plate for dinner with the Premier.
Ontario has voted Doug Ford as Premier with a substantial majority. He completely understands that people currently need to decide to “heat or eat,” and that the job losses in the province are directly due to the high cost of power. (Premier Doug Ford was sworn in July 29th at Queens Park, Toronto, Ontario.) Among his election promises, some already kept: a complete moratorium on any new and in the pipe wind and solar and renewable projects. He has already cancelled hundreds of contracts.
Ontario’s new conservative government has cancelled hundreds of renewable-energy contracts for as-yet-unbuilt projects, including three large-scale wind projects backed by developers RES, Invenergy and Boralex that won contracts in the Canadian province’s landmark competitive renewables procurement in 2016.
Sworn in just two weeks ago as Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford of the centre-right Progressive Conservative party has wasted no time in taking a sledgehammer to the province’s energy and climate policies, claiming to be delivering on campaign promises to reduce energy bills.
Premier Ford has initiated reorganization of the electricity sector starting with the firing of the CEO of Hydro One (he calls him the “six million dollar man”) and removal of the Board with inflated salaries beyond any imagining. Ford has also called for a line-by-line accounting by an independent firm of the Liberals wasteful and corrupt Ministries and correction of these errors.
Ford will end screamingly rich, untenable subsidies and benefits to wind and solar companies. He will end the Green Energy Act. He daily ends the first two weeks of Legislative work, by saying: Promise made, Promise Kept. The rocket high cost of power will come down. Jobs will return.
Ohio does not wish to copy Ontario’s mistakes. This is a unique opportunity for a cost/benefit study for Ohio, for examination of the disastrous hazards, the lessons of Europe and neighboring Ontario.
The Icebreaker six-turbine project, now foreign owned, is not a “gusher,” the “Saudi Arabia” of wind, as termed by Representative Marcy Kaptur, and others. It is about a massive industrialization of Lake Erie, from which none will recover for a very long time. This demonstration project will only demonstrate waste, despoilment, cruel and needless, displacement and mass killing of wildlife. Ontario has already demonstrated its folly, and utter waste. It is not a lesson that needs to be learned twice by US neighbors.
We respectfully ask the OPSB to examine the weight of all evidence – not hearsay, propaganda, or wishful thinking. If so, the staff-report caveats for approval (July 3, 2018) will prove insurmountable.
QUICK FACTS, important quotes
- In 2006, the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation documented that 47.8 million US residents observed birds around their homes and 19.8 million US residents traveled away from home to view birds. Financially, more than 71 million Americans spent nearly $45 billion (in retail sales) on observing, feeding, or watching wildlife in 2006 alone. In addition, the State of Ohio released its portion of the National Survey on Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation in 2006. It showed that state residents and non-residents spent $3.2 billion on wildlife recreation in Ohio (Source: http://www.census.gov/prod/2008pubs/fhw06-oh.pdf). The survey found that 4.2 million Ohio residents and non-residents participated in wildlife-associated recreation in 2006, about 83% of them, or 3.5 million, participated in wildlife-watching activities. The Ohio survey clearly indicates that birdwatching has become a very important economic segment for state recreation plans. Birders spend more money than other visitors to natural sites. Birdwatching is also a more sustainable use of wild areas and may be preferred to land clearing or consumptive activities, such as hunting.
- It is essential to help the local and state governments, companies, and individuals interested in birdwatching understand the scope and magnitude of economic benefits, as well as find ways to promote this recreational activity. Credible economic benefit data is essential if policy makers and resource planners are to fully discharge their responsibilities to sustain avian resources for future generations. Not only will this study have important information for conservation efforts, it will also be integral to the long-term success of birdwatching along Lake Erie and will create a more sustainable tourism economy. The findings will be useful for government officials, wildlife resource managers, tourism industry professionals, media, and others interested and active in natural resource management and economic development. The information from the project will be helpful to formulate strategic plans and programs that will produce optimum economic returns from birdwatching resources. The findings will also give insights on the importance of birdwatching to the birdwatchers who participate in this activity.
- The commercial fishing boats on Lake Erie have a $50-million economic impact and the fish processing industry has another $194-million impact. The combined industries have 913 direct jobs, 1,490 jobs overall and an estimated tax revenue of more than $20 million.
FROM THE LAKE ERIE FOUNDATION
- Based on records from the Ohio Division of Wildlife, there were 694 Ohio-based licensed charter boat captains on Lake Erie in 2015. Private charter, head boat and personal watercraft fishing trips were estimated at 608,205 in 2015.
- Trips booked by these charter captains, along with the harvest from private boats fishing Lake Erie’s Ohio waters, resulted in a harvest of 5.3 million pounds of walleye, yellow perch, steelhead trout, and other species. The commercial fishing harvest added another 4.5 million pounds. A total of 855,152 fishing licenses were sold in Ohio in 2015 and a large percentage of those anglers fished in Lake Erie’s waters.
- The American Sport Fishing Association estimates that Lake Erie’s sport fishing expenditures top $1 billion annually. This extremely productive fishery provides significant economic impact to a wide variety of businesses, including not only the charter and commercial fishing captains, but also to bait and tackle shops, grocery stores, lodging facilities, fish cleaning businesses, restaurants, and many other business segments.
- The same impact factors hold true for pleasure boating, as those who use Lake Erie for this activity spend money on a large variety of goods and services. Statistics from the Ohio Division of Watercraft show that Ohio had 474,601 registered watercrafts in 2015. This puts Ohio among the top 10 states in the country for boat registrations. These boaters paid $5.6 million in license and title fees and $14.8 million in marine fuel taxes.
- Ohio Sea Grant data states that there are 270 licensed marinas on Ohio’s Lake Erie waters. Health Department records from the eight Ohio counties along the lake show that there are approximately 38,000 registered boat docks.
- But biologists have discovered growing evidence of harm to migratory birds and long-term degrading effects on the quality of sensitive wildlife habitats. Increasing concerns include collision mortality for migratory birds (especially songbirds, and raptors, as well as bats); habitat disturbance (especially for waterfowl); and habitat fragmentation, (causing barriers to movement between feeding and breeding areas), with potentially disastrous effect upon threatened and endangered species. —Keith Stelling, quoted in Master Resource
[Originally published at Master Resource.]