LEEDCo on the Brink (freshwater wind’s eco-nightmare)

LEEDCo on the Brink (freshwater wind’s eco-nightmare)

By Sherri Lange — September 14, 2020

“Public and regulatory pressure continues against LEEDCo. Freeing the fresh-water lakebed from a billionaire foreign developer using US taxpayer dollars is Step One. Step Two is bringing New York Governor Cuomo’s green fantasy back to earth.”

For years, MasterResource has followed the LEEDCo (Lake Erie Energy Development Corp) offshore wind application, what is now owned by Icebreaker Windpower, Fred Olsen Renewables. The massive-sized 6-turbine 20.7 MW project offshore Cleveland has produced a decade of controversy and false starts, and no electricity, with generous DOE funding underwriting the futility.

LEEDCo is on life support. The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) approved the project in May subject to 33 conditions, the most significant being the turbine blades must be “feathered” or shut down at “night” (usually dusk to dawn) during the eight months of migration of many species.  The developer has called OPSB’s key condition the “Poison Pill.” This Thursday, September 17th, the OPSB may make a final determination.

Environmental Pushback

The Great Lakes are a blend of richness of natural habitat, food, and restoration for millions of creatures making their pilgrimage across the waters twice yearly. Brad Steinberg of Ontario Canada, counts it as billions on the migration superhighway. (For an overview of the high octane migration action, seasonally portrayed, see “Ohio Birding by Season: Fall” in Bird Watcher’s Digest.)

Arguments against LEEDCo/Icebreaker have been vigorously applied in the last decade, much highlighting the migrations in light of the harm from turbine eco-traps. Water quality and impacts to fish and aquatic species are also at issue.

On-the-spot environmentalists filed legal challenges, such as by the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and co-plaintiff, Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO). All should listen to these two high-level U.S. organizations which are at the forefront of biological/ecological health and species recovery for the Lakes.

And remember: LEEDCo is a demonstration project for what politicians really want–more than a thousand wind turbines in the Great Lakes.

Ohio to New York

The termination of LEEDCo would be a blow against offshore wind, which costs about triple that of the power generated from new capacity from onshore gas-fired combined-cycle plants.

Ohio aside, New York Governor Cuomo’s offshore plan involves 1,700 megawatts, eighty times that of LEEDCo, a true Fantasy Island of cement and steel infrastructure in quest of carbon-free energy. (Never mind how onshore gas plants must firm-up offshore’s intermittent power–if New York can import the natural gas for such back-up.)

It is worth remembering the media fanfare two years ago with Cuomo’s mega-wind plan.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, joined by former Vice President Al Gore, today executed the nation’s largest offshore wind agreement and the single largest renewable energy procurement by any state in U.S. history – nearly 1,700 megawatts -with the selection of two offshore wind projects, that will create enough energy to power over 1 million homes, create more than 1,600 jobs, and result in $3.2 billion in economic activity. 

Governor Cuomo also signed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, which adopts the most ambitious and comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in the country. Today’s announcement underscores New York’s undisputed position as a global leader in climate and clean energy, and advances Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading mandate of 9,000 megawatts by 2035.

Additionally, today’s offshore wind announcement is expected to catalyze the first generation of major United States supply chain investments by the fast-growing offshore wind sector, positioning New York to be the hub of the nation’s burgeoning offshore wind industry.

Governor Cuomo, in short, has promised to “lead the way” by industrializing Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

LEEDCo Challenged & Exposed

The legal challenges by John Stock on behalf of the Bratenahl residents, and ABC and BSBO, will take a serious bite out of Great Lakes industrialization. As I noted previously:

The exaggerations and misrepresentations of this application to construct are many.  These include: no biologically significant harm to wildlife; birds do not fly over the lake; and super-luminous lures of jobs and power supply. Of course, the proposal is layered in the meme that the climate (really weather) can be mitigated by this and other such projects given less reliance on coal or fossil fuels.

Read key elements of lawyer Bill Eubanks’ Memo here. One can see that LEEDCo is in deep eco-trouble.

Below are excerpts from the Filing IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA by ABC and BSBO.

DOE VIOLATED NEPA AND ITS IMPLEMENTING

“This case is about the Department of Energy’s (‘DOE’) funding and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (‘Corps’) permitting of the Icebreaker Wind Project (‘Icebreaker’ or ‘the Project’), a first-of-its-kind proposed offshore wind energy facility in Lake Erie. With a cost to taxpayers in excess of $40 million, the Project is meant to spur future development of offshore industrial wind energy in the Great Lakes region and beyond.

If constructed, Icebreaker will be the first offshore freshwater wind energy project ever built in the western hemisphere. Proposed for construction in the heart of a Global Important Bird Area, Icebreaker poses a grave threat to millions of birds and bats that migrate through the area twice each year and/or utilize the biologically fertile waters of Lake Erie as feeding and breeding grounds.

Given both the precedent-setting nature of the Project, and its potential to scar an ecologically critical area, the decision to fund and authorize the Project warranted rigorous environmental scrutiny. Yet, rather than conduct the robust examination that federal law required for this ground-breaking project—one that will fundamentally transform this freshwater ecosystem and pave the way for thousands of wind turbines in the Great Lakes—DOE has instead willfully ignored objections from expert agencies and shirked its most fundamental duties under the National Environmental Policy Act (Our emphasis) (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321–4347.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) is the federal agency with specialized expertise regarding wildlife and the biological threats associated with wind energy. It repeatedly called for DOE to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) to evaluate Icebreaker. DOE opted instead to review the Project using a far less rigorous Environmental Assessment (“EA”)…the EA itself is fatally flawed because DOE failed to consider the full scope of the Project’s impacts and any alternatives that could substantially minimize avian mortality and mitigate its adverse impacts. (Our emphasis)

Hence, DOE’s cursory review violates NEPA and its implementing regulations, falling far short of DOE’s duty to take a “hard look” at the full impacts of its decision and alternatives to it.

DOE’s token consideration of Icebreaker’s impacts on wildlife also contaminated the Corps’ environmental analysis. Indeed, in permitting the Project under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”), 33 U.S.C. § 1344, the Corps chose to rely on data that FWS criticized as incomplete and flawed, a decision that precluded the Corps from complying with its own regulations.

Similarly, rather than seriously consider whether the Project is “the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative,” a finding the agency is legally required to make on the basis of clear and convincing evidence under Section 404, the Corps failed to examine an alternative presented by FWS which would minimize the Project’s lasting impacts on birds and bats. Hence, the Corps’ authorization of the Project violated the CWA.

Accordingly, the Court should hold that Defendants’ inadequate environmental evaluation of Icebreaker violates NEPA, the CWA, and the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2).

[For a full read of the Memo, please visit Great Lakes Wind Truth.]

Conclusion

Public and regulatory pressure continues against LEEDCo. Freeing the lakebed from a billionaire foreign developer feasting off US taxpayers is Step One. Step Two is bringing New York Governor Cuomo’s green fantasy back to earth.

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