Icebreaker Wind

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.

Shown above is one of many turbines that make up offshore windfarms.
photo obtained from the US Department of Energy website

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.

The graph above shows the relative wind speeds in the Great Lakes area.
Figure obtained from The Great Lakes Wind Atlas

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.

The barge shown above is taking soil samples and performing pressure tests in the area where the turbines are set to be constructed.
Photo credit: Mort Tucker, LeedCo

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.

The Kirtland’s Warbler, shown above, may be threatened by the construction of Icebreaker Wind.
Photo obtained from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

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”.

 

References:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/man-dead-set-on-building-offshore-wind-farm-lake-erie-180967200/

Is Offshore Wind ‘Picking Up Steam’ On Lake Erie?

http://www.leedco.org/index.php/about-icebreaker

https://www.energy.gov/nepa/ea-2045-lake-erie-energy-development-corporations-project-icebreaker-offshore-wind-advanced

‘Numerous Inadequacies' Found in Environmental Assessment for Proposed Icebreaker Wind Energy Project

https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/how-do-wind-turbines-work

Invasive Stripes in the Great Lakes

Medium photo by INaturalist.org

The zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) is a freshwater invasive species in the Great Lakes. These mussels are known and named for the stripes on their shell which is similar to the stripes on a zebra! Reported by USGS, these mussels are less than 50mm or roughly 1.9 inches in length and found mostly attached to other objects such as rocks, walls, boat or other shells. The origin of these mussels is found to be in Soviet Union range of the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas (USGS, 2018). Environmentalists deduced that the introduction of zebra mussels was from a single cargo ship that carried larval stages of the mussels that attached to the bottom and then spread throughout the lakes.

The first zebra mussel was found in 1988 in Lake St. Clair, which is between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. By 1990, they were found in all five of the Great Lakes and spread through canals into other lakes and rivers (U.S Fish & Wildlife, 2018). In just two years, these mussels spread like wildfire throughout the lakes and by 2011, 30 states have found zebra mussels in them and more than 600 lakes have been infested with them (U.S Fish & Wildlife, 2018).  Zebra mussels are able to live up to four or five years with a high reproduction rate of 40,000 eggs in a reproduction cycle or 1 million eggs in a spawning season (U.S Fish & Wildlife, 2018). No wonder why they spread so quickly. As hatched larvae, they are free swimming and taken away by boats and currents but once they are mature, the mussels attach to almost anything with an organ called a byssus. The mussel diet consists of filtering water and eating the algae that pass through, so they don’t seem harmful do they, but I promise you that they are.

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Zebra mussels scooped from Lake Pepin where they form a deep carpet on the lake’s bottom. Photo by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. received 5/29/18.

Although mussels may seem harmless, they are not. With large reproduction rates and how they colonize, they are blocking pipes to power plants, hydroelectric plants, public water supply, and industrial facilities. With blocked pipes, these facilities cannot function properly. With prolonged time deterioration of docks happen when they are infested with zebra mussels and the prolonged attachment of zebra mussel can cause corrosion of steel and concrete affecting its structural integrity (USGS, 2018).

This is just the start of the damage to the environment; they are also depleting native species. This is largely due to food competition (USGS, 2018). With so many zebra mussels to feed, it is obviously going to take a lot to feed them. This is not just competing with other mussels, but fish as well and it is affecting the water ecosystem of the Great Lakes. According to U.S Fish & Wildlife and USGS, there are not really many management options for the zebra mussels. They spread so easily and fast that out in the wild, it is impossible to rid all of them from the lakes. However for mussels that attach to pipes, there are chemicals that they can put on to kill them, but they can not use much for it hurts other organisms also. USGS states that only educating people and stop the spread of them will control the invasive species to which it may decline.

 

US auto-generated mapLegendUSGS Logo

    The map shows the distribution of Zebra Mussels in the United States Received from USGS on 5/29/18.

 

U.S Fish & Wildlife Service. (2018, March 12). The Exotic Zebra Mussel. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/clams/zebra.html

USGS. (2018, February 13). (n.d.). Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) – Species Profile. Retrieved from https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=5