In the coming years, the iconic Cleveland skyline may be updated with some new additions; at least 6 offshore wind turbines offering clean energy to power the city and surrounding areas.
In 2009, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation was founded with the vision of bringing offshore wind farms to the Great Lakes. After partnering with the Norwegian company Fred. Olsen Renewables and receiving funding from both private and public sectors, construction will begin between 2018 and 2020 to bring an offshore windfarm 8 miles northwest of downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Windfarms, or groups of turbines whose propellers are turned by the wind and generate electricity, are becoming increasing popular sources of energy as the demand for clean, green energy increases. This project, entitled “Icebreaker Wind”, will be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in the United States, and will put Northeast Ohio at the forefront of wind energy production. Although the project is small, just 6 turbines with a maximum output of 20 megawatts compared to nuclear or coal plants that can max out at 1,000 megawatts, leaders of the project hope it will set a precedent and inspire similar projects nationwide.
One reason Cleveland was chosen for this project was the infrastructure already in place. Transmission lines left by old coal power plants on the lakeshore are still functional; not having to build new transmission lines will save millions of dollars in production costs. Additionally, these lines are already connected to cities such as Buffalo, New York and New York City, and people are hopeful that the project can one day expand, with the wind energy created off the shore of Lake Erie used to power these cities as well as the Cleveland area.
In addition to the existing infrastructure, creating a windfarm off the coast of Lake Erie is symbolic, given that the Cuyahoga River is known for having caught fire due to the immense amount of pollution created in the city. This juxtaposition marks a shift in culture and would give the area a revitalized reputation.
Despite the large amount of jobs this project will bring to the area, some critics are worried about the impact these turbines will have on fish and bird populations. Instead of attaching the turbines to the lake floor using a drilling process that would disrupt fish in the area, a suction-like technology called mono buckets will be used, with minimal disruption to fish habitat. Although the Environmental Assessment completed by the U.S Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers declared that there would be minimal impact on migrating bird species, many bird advocate groups are skeptical of this assessment and oppose the project. Groups such as the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and the American Bird Conservatory worry that the turbines will intersect the flight path of migratory birds, especially the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. The main criticisms from these groups claim that the report erroneously assumed migratory birds do not fly directly over the lake and fly at heights higher than the proposed turbines. According to these groups, many species of migratory birds fly directly over Lake Erie at heights that would intersect the location of the Icebreaker Wind project. Since this project will set a precedent for similar projects as well as expansions of the original, groups such as these want an evaluation that includes the impacts of expansion and future projects, not just the first six turbines.
Despite the various critics, construction of Icebreaker Wind is still on schedule to begin before 2020. Only time will tell if the new job opportunities, clean energy, and reputation that accompanies such a groundbreaking project will be good for the Cleveland area, or if wildlife species will be harmed in the name of “progress”.