‘Final Nail in Coffin’ for Icebreaker, First Offshore Wind Project in Great Lakes

Icebreaker, the only advanced offshore wind project in the Great
Lakes, appears to be dead in the water.

After years of permitting battles, the Ohio Power Siting Board
this week approved the Icebreaker project. But its approval comes
with a “project killing” catch: The wind farm would be forced
to stop its turbines all night long between March and November each
year to protect birds and bats, gutting its revenue stream.

The six-turbine Icebreaker project has been under development
for adecade by the non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development
Corporation (LEEDCo) eight miles off Cleveland’s shore.

“It’s looking like this could be the final nail in the
coffin,†LEEDCo president Dave Karpinski said in an
interview.

Icebreaker has a chance to lift the turbine restrictions after
collecting and submitting monitoring information, but the project
cannot get built with the restrictions in place, Karpinski
said.

Icebreaker has a number of important backers. The project would
have been built and operated by Icebreaker Windpower Inc., owned by
Fred Olsen Renewables — a unit of Norwegian energy and shipping
conglomerate Bonheur.

The project won research funding from the U.S. Energy
Department, and has agreements in place to sell about two-thirds of
its above-market-rate power to the municipal utility in Cleveland
and Cuyahoga County. MHI Vestas was slated to supply the
3.45-megawatt turbines.

But Icebreaker also has some powerful enemies, including Murray
Energy Corp., the Ohio-based coal miner, which has bankrolled
lawyers representing local residents opposed to the project.

Karpinski said LEEDCo was “stunned†by the Ohio Power Siting
Board’s decision, only learning about it from a press release
issued on Thursday. The decision comes as
Dominion Energy
is beginning construction of the second U.S.
offshore wind project off Virginia.

An unexpected rejection

The requirement to turn off the turbines at night — known as
“feathering†— had come up in earlier permitting discussions,
but LEEDCo insisted that such a condition would make the project
impossible to finance. Last year LEEDCo
reached agreement
on that point with the Ohio Power Siting
Board’s staff, in what was seen as a critical step toward the
Board’s final approval.

In the end, however, the Board added the feathering requirement
back in.

“We were hearing things from inside the [Siting Board’s]
staff that everything was going to come out as expected and be
issued in accordance with that agreement,†Karpinski said. “And
lo and behold, it comes out and it was a total surprise that they
added that back in. There was no forewarning. There was nothing
over the past seven months that said we think this agreement has a
problem — nothing.â€

The Ohio Power Siting Board is a quasi-judicial agency with
seven voting members, helmed by the chairman of the state’s
Public Utilities Commission, Sam Randazzo.

Matt Schilling, director of the office of public affairs at
Ohio’s PUC, pointed out that the Siting Board itself was not
bound by the earlier agreement its technical staff reached with
LEEDCo. “This is the first and only time the Board has issued any
opinion on the case,” Schilling wrote in an email. “Yes, the OPSB
technical staff issued a staff report and signed settlement
agreements, however they are not the voting board.”

Schilling noted that the Siting Board’s approval means LEEDCo
can now build the project as long as the conditions are met, adding
that it’s common for project approvals to carry conditions.
“What happens after the Board issues its decision is then a
business decision by the developer.â€

A blow for offshore wind in the Great Lakes

Karpinski said that switching off the turbines all night for
eight months a year would cost the project 40 percent of its
forecast revenue for an unknown period of time.

“There’s no question they knew how serious we thought that
condition was – you could not mistake that,†Karpinski said.
“They knew we thought it was a project killer. So they put it
back in to kill the project, is our conclusion.â€

Schilling at the Public Utilities Commission noted that LEEDCo
has 30 days to file an application for a rehearing, and the
developer could then appeal the Siting Board’s decision to
Ohio’s Supreme Court.

Karpinski said those options look like dead ends. “The appeal
process goes back to the same Board and asks them to reconsider
their opinion. We had an agreement with that same organization and
they went back on it,†he said.

“We could appeal to the Supreme Court, but appellate courts
look more closely at procedural violations and that kind of thing,
not technical opinions on impacts, so we don’t see that as being
able to prevail. And then it’s a question of, well how long and
how much is that going to take?â€

“So I’m afraid this could be the end,†Karpinski said.
“It’s a sad day for renewable energy in Ohio. Personally,
it’s a huge disappointment after working so hard and long to try
to make something like this happen.â€

Karpinski said Icebreaker’s demise is a blow to offshore wind
development in the Great Lakes, a region with a number of major
population centers including Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and, on
the Canadian side, Toronto.

“Certainly no one’s going to come to Ohio soon after the way
this project was treated,” he said.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
‘Final Nail in Coffin’ for Icebreaker, First Offshore Wind
Project in Great Lakes