Winds of Change

On September 10, 1813, U.S. naval forces defeated six British warships during the Battle of Lake Erie. Today, another skirmish on that lake is ongoing — with the objective to sink the proposed construction of wind turbines off Cleveland’s shoreline.

Action is being taken by a number of organizations — including the Boating Associations of Ohio, Lake Erie Foundation, Michigan Boating Industries Association, American Bird Conservancy, Black Swamp Bird Observancy, Lake Erie Marine Trades Association — intended to prevent cession of Lake Erie to developers that have stated they expect to eventually see up to 1,600 wind turbines blighting the lake.

“Clearly the Department of Energy has failed to conduct an adequate environmental review of the Lake Erie offshore wind project,” says Nicki Polan, MBIA’s executive director. “DOE's decision to accept a simple ‘environmental assessment report’ produced by the developer’s paid consultant rather than requiring the proper in-depth environmental impact statement is inexcusable. That failure means no one knows the full impacts of turbines in the Great Lakes that could have a devastating impact on the health of 20 percent of America’s fresh water.”

Ironically, the DOE’s approval ignored a warning from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that stated, on two separate occasions, the project is "precedent setting" since it is the first freshwater offshore wind facility that would likely spur future projects. That alone should have signaled the need for a full environmental impact statement, a requirement of every proposed offshore wind farm project in salt water along the east coast.

“The Ohio Power Siting Board’s recent permit approval was shocking,” says Michelle Burke, LEMTA president. “The claim in the paid consultant’s assessment that there would be minimal negative ecological impact on Lake Erie simply doesn’t hold water. Aside from wishful-thinking economic claims, no in-depth environmental study has been done on the impact on fish populations generated by the 500-foot turbines and the miles of underwater cables.”

Burke’s hastens to point out Lake Erie is the most productive commercial and recreational fishery of all the Great Lakes. It’s well documented that walleye fishing plays a major role in Ohio’s annual tourism success. The developer consultant’s report concluded no harm to the lake’s fisheries.

“Seriously,” Burke shakes her head and points to a draft environmental impact statement on a proposed east coast installation that reports “potentially moderate long-term impacts from habitat disruption resulting in moderate to major adverse impacts on commercial fisheries and recreational fishing.”

It’s just more evidence of federal agencies failing to recognize the Great Lakes and due diligence, claims Burke. “Or maybe administrators in Washington just don’t know there are Great Lakes,” she quips.

To the point, over 80 commercial lobstermen in Maine lined up their boats between Monhegan Island and Boothbay Harbor to protest a planned offshore wind turbine near Monhegan. The proposal to construct a test turbine with the goal of building many more will disrupt fisheries and undermine an industry that serves as a vital economic engine for coastal Maine. The proposal also includes 23 miles of underwater cable.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, to whom offshore wind power in the Gulf of Maine is a signature goal, has called on the legislature to impose a 10-year moratorium on wind projects closer to the coast, but not projects already underway, as their impact on the environment and fisheries becomes clearer. But the proposed huge floating wind turbines is problematic to Maine’s fishing industry.

Among the concerned lobstermen is Gerry Cushman, a leader in both the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “Our message to the governor is we hope you get behind the fishermen and help us fight this. We have no option but to fight this. We have to fight this not just for now but for our kids.”

It’s the same sentiment in the Great Lakes. Industrializing the lakes, which are the primary source of drinking water to millions, and multi-national bodies of water that are considered fragile and owned by the citizens of the states that surround them, without fully understanding all the possible negative impacts is wrong.

Constructing turbines off Cleveland in Lake Erie would only be the start of the industrialization,” says Burke. “At minimum, everything should halt at least until we have a full environmental impact statement completed. Then we may know whether the risks are worth any reward.

“Perhaps,” she continued, “that’s why Ontario, Canada, that shares portions of the Great Lakes has a moratorium on any turbines in any of the lakes! Meanwhile, we shake our heads at how so many federal and state agencies have so frivolously given this a green light.”