Wind Farm Opposition in the Great Lakes

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The ugly truth about how misleading developers have been about building offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes continues to pour out, triggering calls for a moratorium on any such installations.

Several marine industry organizations are spearheading the call, including the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, Michigan Boating Industries Association and Boating Associations of Ohio, along with such organizations as the Lake Erie Foundation, American Bird Conservancy, Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory and many other conservations groups.

New Yorkers now have joined the battle opposing plans to industrialize the waters of the Great Lakes with wind turbines, blasting a new law passed in April that gives New York’s government more authority than ever over approvals for large-scale wind projects. It created a new state agency, the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, to rule on renewable-energy applications. It also abolished all siting boards that included two residents from any community affected by a wind project. And it gets worse.

If the newly created siting office doesn't issue a ruling within one year of an application, the project’s permit “shall be deemed to have been automatically granted.” In addition, public comment must be sought, and local governments can say whether a project complies with local laws. However, the new state law allows any local law to be overridden if the new siting office considers it “unreasonably burdensome in view of the targets and the environmental benefits of the proposed major renewable energy facility.” Talk about oxymoronic!

Enter state Sen. George Borrello. The Republican senator has introduced a bill in the New York State legislature calling for a full moratorium in all waters of the state, including lakes Erie and Ontario. Borrello’s district borders Lake Erie. Clearly, a moratorium needs to be legislated in the seven other Great Lakes states, too.

To up recognition of the opposition to any offshore turbines, a protest was recently held in Hamburg, a community on the shores of Lake Erie 20 minutes south of Buffalo, N.Y. Organized by “Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie,” the group’s leader, Sharen Trembath, indicates more such protests can be expected, the next in Dunkirk, N.Y., also on Lake Erie.

Currently, the first freshwater wind farm in North America, if constructed, won’t likely be in New York but in Lake Erie off Cleveland. Called “Icebreaker Wind,” the ultimate goal of this project is to see up to 1,600 turbines in the lake. But opponents say claims by Icebreaker Wind’s developers that it will be good for the economy and the environment have less to justify its existence than the crank telephone.

“There’s myriad unanswered environmental questions, bogus employment claims and a lack of necessary impact studies surrounding Icebreaker,” says Michelle Burke, president of Lake Erie Marine Trades Association. “In addition, the prospect of hundreds of square miles of wind farms in the lake becoming inaccessible to boaters and anglers should move Ohio’s lawmakers, the Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management and other relevant agencies to act responsibly and demand the Ohio Power Siting Board reverse its recent approval of Icebreaker.”

Burke points to Ontario, which got it right when, a decade ago, it recognized both the environmental damage and poor economics of turbines and declared a moratorium on any turbines in its Great Lakes waters (Erie, Ontario, Huron and Superior).

Opponents cite learning from the only offshore turbine installation in the U.S., the Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, where five turbines began spinning in December 2016. At the outset, the developers proclaimed the Block Islanders would see reductions in their electricity bills of up to 40 percent; that the turbines would be hardly noticeable; and that they’d be good for jobs and the environment.

Federal, state and local Rhode Island politicians jumped on the bandwagon, trumpeting the arrival of “clean, affordable electricity.” But Block Islanders haven’t seen the benefits promised. What they do see is a cluttered industrialized offshore view; the claim of 300 jobs is far fewer; and new concerns to communities living near turbines are coming to light. For example, infra and low frequency noise (ILFN) problems have been documented in Finland and extend 20 miles from the turbines. (Icebreaker would be six to eight miles off Cleveland’s lakefront.)

According to some studies, sub-acoustic ILFN can impact sleep and heart function. And the French military has effectively banned “wind farms on between 45 and 47 percent of French territory because of military and aviation regulations.” The fear is that the turbines might interfere with radar signals.

There are too many unknowns and compelling reasons for all Great Lakes states to declare a moratorium on offshore turbines, and do it now.


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