The Trump administration is ordering a sweeping environmental review of the burgeoning offshore wind industry, a move that’s being cheered today by two Great Lakes marine trade associations deeply embroiled in a campaign to stop any construction of wind turbines in the lakes.
“One of our principle arguments against the proposed installation of a wind turbine project called ‘Icebreaker’ in Lake Erie off Cleveland is that no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been ordered by the Department of Energy,” says Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “Icebreaker is intended to lead to as many as 1,600 more turbines built in Lake Erie alone. Unlike the proposed offshore wind farms in salt water, this would be the first such installation in fresh water, the source of our drinking water for 12 million people! DOE has failed to act responsibly and the review being ordered should document that,” she said.
Specifically, the administration is ordering a sweeping environmental review of the burgeoning offshore wind industry, according to reports in Climatewire, a publication of E&E News. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Interior Department, is ordering a study of the cumulative impact of a string of projects along the East Coast. The review comes in response to concerns from fishermen about the impact of offshore wind development on East Coast fisheries.
“While the reviews will initially focus on the East Coast,” says Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association. “We will immediately urge the BOEM to put the proposed project in Lake Erie on their radar, too. With so many unanswered questions about turbines in our freshwater Great Lakes, our organization has been standing with LEMTA in its demand for a full EIS on Icebreaker before any construction is permitted.”
The study will supplement an earlier EIS of Vineyard Wind LLC that would be the country's first major offshore project. There is currently only one small 6-turbine farm in the U.S. operating off Block Island, RI. It has developed serious problems negatively impacting once-productive fishing grounds and an inability to keep the buried electro-magnetic transmission cables from lifting off the ocean floor.
Specifically, the much larger 84-turbine Vineyard project would be located in federal waters 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. According to BOEM spokesperson Tracey Moriarty: “Because BOEM has determined that a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft EIS, BOEM has decided to supplement the Draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis.”
She further confirmed the analysis will include nine projects in seven states. Two of those projects were recently announced by New York, namely Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind, along with the Ocean Wind project in New Jersey. She did not name the others so it is unknown for now whether Icebreaker in Ohio is among them. It should be.
It should be because the study reportedly will also consider the environmental implications of an even larger build-out of the industry, based on states' development targets for offshore wind. “That certainly bolsters our call for a full EIS on Icebreaker which irrevocable consequences for our fragile Great Lakes,” says Burke. “We need to know before anything is a go.”
Our boating industry can relate to the fact that it’s been conflicts with fishermen, among others, that has impacted the decision to expand the EIS. Those conflicts are likely to grow, too. Aside from reports by the Massachusetts Recreation Association that the formerly excellent fishing near the Block Island turbines has disappeared, there is serious concern about any possible negative impact on fishing in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. Dubbed the “Walleye Capital of the World,” Lake Erie is the most productive fishery of the five Great Lakes. What’s happening off Block Island has already raised serious concerns about Icebreaker.
In Vineyard Wind’s case, it’s primarily squid fisherman that have drawn focus and opposition. However, an area likely to be offered for lease next year near New York is prime scalloping water. Fishermen there are already raising objections. And the beat goes on.
In the case of Icebreaker, there’s more than just the possible threat to fishing that must be identified and quantified. According to Burke, the Icebreaker also appears to violate the U.S. Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty and more.
Icebreaker, like Vineyard Wind, has already gone through a lengthy permitting process. But it submitted only a lesser environmental assessment produced by the developer’s consultant hired to justify the project. Now, Icebreaker only lacks a green light from the Ohio Power Siting Board which is being lobbied hard by a consortium of boating, wildlife and environmental groups to demand an EIS before any permit is issued.
“The Great Lakes are a national treasure, never mind that they contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh water,” says Burke. “You won’t find turbines in other American treasures like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. The failure of DOE and other agencies to fully determine the impacts in this case is unacceptable. An EIS is essential, reasonable and necessary.”
For more information about Ohio’s concerns, go to: www.saveourbeautifullake.org.