Poison Pill: Will Ridiculous Limitations on the Lake Erie Icebreaker Wind Project Make it too Hard to Swallow?

In May of 2000, I moved back to Northeast Ohio after being away for two decades. Soon, I began hearing about plans to build a wind farm offshore in Lake Erie. This freshwater wind energy installation would be the first of its kind in the United States. The prospect of renewable energy leadership made me proud to be a renewed Ohioan.

The undertaking, now known as the Icebreaker project, is being promoted by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, known as LEEDCo. Final approvals have been just around the corner for years, but only now has a decision by Ohio regulators been finalized. The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) ruled on May 21 that the Icebreaker project could move forward but only if blades on the project’s turbines are turned off every night for eight months of the year.

The requirement amounts to a ‘poison pill’ according to LEEDCo, which indicates that it may make the undertaking economically nonviable. It was placed in the agreement at the last minute before ‘approval’, ostensibly due to concern about migratory birds and bats. LEEDCo had earlier addressed these wildlife concerns, so the added requirement was indeed a nasty surprise for renewable energy proponents.

Clean energy advocates expect the ruling to have a chilling effect on future renewable projects in Ohio. The possibly fatal requirement is part of a pattern. The state of Ohio has steadily become less friendly toward green energy, and at the same time, dirty fossil fuels have been provided break after break.

A 2014 wind energy requirement (another poison pill) makes for some of the most restrictive turbine-siting rules anywhere in the United States. The law nearly tripled the distance that wind turbines must be set back from property lines. The rules mean any turbine located within that distance from a neighboring property must get a waiver from the property owner. Its purpose is to greatly increase the cost of wind power.

• In 2019, Governor Mike DeWine appointed Samuel Randazzo as Ohio’s top utility regulator. Mr. Randazzo now chairs both the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and the OPSB. He has a long record of supporting dirty fossil fuels and hindering all attempts to install renewable energy.

• 2019 also witnessed House Bill 6, which bailed out two nuclear power plants as well as two failing coal-burning plants. The Republican-led Ohio Legislature passed the bill, and also thwarted citizen-led attempts to repeal it. The bill, which also removed other environmental regulations, has been called the worst energy bill of the 21st century.

And now we have the Icebreaker project poison pill. I’m no longer so proud to be an Ohioan. Governor DeWine, who by all accounts has done a good job handling the Coronavirus Pandemic, shouldn’t be either. We should all be ashamed of the PUCO and OPSB.

Contributed by:
Dan Horvath
Blogger and Executive Committee Member, Sierra Club Portage Trail Group
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Photo by: Getty Images