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Pennsylvania is not yet in the plans for turbines, but hopes remain for future

Dana Massing  


    "There would have to be a lot (to happen) before wind turbines would be put in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie."

    Kathy Dahlkemper

    Former Erie County executive

    Wind turbines have yet to rise from the Great Lakes, but several states are contenders to be the first site for offshore wind energy in the five freshwater lakes. Six wind turbines are a step closer to installation in Lake Erie near Cleveland. New York state is conducting a study of the feasibility of developing offshore wind energy in lakes Erie and Ontario. A bill in Illinois would move that state closer to a wind farm in Lake Michigan near Chicago. But what about Pennsylvania?

    While nothing appears to be in the works now for the Keystone State's portion of Lake Erie, that doesn't exclude a wind farm of the future. Erie County is a member of the nonprofit behind the Cleveland project. Opponents of a New York project believe it could extend beyond that state's border and into Pennsylvania. And a state lawmaker from Erie County is the prime sponsor of a bill known as the Lake Erie Energy Development Act.

    "There would have to be a lot (to happen) before wind turbines would be put in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie," Kathy Dahlkemper, former Erie County executive, said.

    Before Dahlkemper left the county executive's office, she was on the board of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation. LEEDCo is a regional economic nonprofit public-private partnership that is behind efforts to build a sustainable offshore wind energy industry in the Great Lakes, according to its website. In mid-August, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that LEEDCo's six-turbine Icebreaker Wind project about eight miles off the coast of Cleveland can proceed over objections from residents.

    "Icebreaker Wind is a demonstration project to build and install six turbines to prove out the concept that you can use Lake Erie and possibly other Great Lakes to generate electricity," Will Friedman, acting president of LEEDCo, told the Erie Times-News.

    He said offshore wind in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes "is the future of energy production."

    LEEDCo was created in 2009 by the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force, and developed and launched by NorTech Energy Enterprise, the Cleveland Foundation, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga and Lorain counties in Ohio, according to its website.

    Its members include the Ohio counties of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Lake and Lorain; the City of Cleveland; the Cleveland Foundation; and Erie County, Pennsylvania, which joined the nonprofit in 2015.

    Although Dahlkemper was still listed as a board member on LEEDCo's website as of mid-September, she said her term ended when she was no longer county executive. A spokesman for Erie County Executive Brenton Davis, who was sworn in Jan. 3, said the county was still a member of LEEDCo and someone would fill the vacant seat.

    "We're going to take it," spokesman Chris Carroll said.

    He said Davis would likely meet with LEEDCo and then decide whether to take the seat himself or appoint someone. Davis' administration declined to comment on the Icebreaker Wind project because of having a lack of information about it. Carroll said Erie County hadn't "engaged" with LEEDCo since Davis took office but would be willing to do so.

    What supporters of wind energy are saying

    LEEDCo's Friedman, who is also president of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, said offshore wind is a renewable source of energy that doesn't contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Icebreaker Wind's six turbines would produce about 21 megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power about 7,000 homes, he said.

    Dahlkemper said she had wanted Erie County to be a member of LEEDCo because of the job possibilities. She said the county has great manufacturers that could be part of the supply chain for Icebreaker Wind and it would be a job creator.

    "Manufacturing jobs could be enhanced by this project," she said.

    Information provided by LEEDCo states that "Icebreaker alone will create approximately 500 jobs in Ohio and is projected to have a $253 million local economic impact over its 25 year life — $85.5 million during construction and $167.5 million during operations."

    Erie's Donjon Shipbuilding & Repair has already had some limited involvement with Icebreaker Wind. The Erie company leased a crane barge to LEEDCo in 2015 to do core sampling and drilling in Lake Erie, said Rick Hammer, Donjon's general manager.

    Hammer said Donjon and LEEDCo have had some general talks about working together and his company is on the nonprofit's bidder list.

    "Nothing's been finalized or determined," he said.

    Hammer also said that Donjon hasn't been contacted by any organizations looking to put wind turbines in Lake Erie along the Pennsylvania shore.

    In addition to the potential benefits to local businesses, Dahlkemper she she also wanted Erie County to be part of LEEDCo because of climate change and the need to look for better ways to produce energy.

    The Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council has a web page titled "Erie Wind" that makes a case for offshore wind energy.

    Pennsylvania "has almost 50 miles of shoreline and control over 759 square miles of Lake Erie," the site says. "Not only is Lake Erie close to major sources of energy consumption (Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh), but its shallow eastern basin and strong winds make it an ideal site for offshore-wind development."

    The Clean Air Council helped found the Northwest Pennsylvania Green Economy Task Force, which advocates for projects such as Icebreaker Wind but isn't directly associated with LEEDCo.

    The "Erie Wind" page says Pennsylvania stands to benefit from offshore wind development. "There are a number of coal-fired power plants around the shores of Lake Erie, and offshore wind would help reduce the demand for those plants' dirty power. Not only would this have significant effects on the region's public health, but it would also serve as another step towards reducing the CO2 emissions that are warming our planet," the page says.

    What the opposition is saying against wind turbines

    Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie is a group with more than 4,500 members on Facebook and a website at The website describes it as "a group of concerned citizens who are opposed to the construction of industrial wind turbines in Lake Erie."

    The group's goals include educating the public in western New York about plans for wind turbines.

    "Through rallies and by sharing research, news and legislative initiatives, we hope to inspire stakeholders and other concerned citizens to take action to stop the proposed plan to add these monsters in Lake Erie," the website states.

    Group representative Sharen Trembath and member Tom Wasilewski have a list of reasons why they oppose wind turbines in general and in Lake Erie.

    Wasilewski, who is formerly from Edinboro, lives in Florida now but is looking to move to Conneaut, Ohio, or Girard. He is coordinator of the Conneaut Hawk Watch and was coordinator of the former Northwestern Pennsylvania Eagle Conservation Society.

    He said he believes turbines with 206-foot blades spinning above Lake Erie would kill birds and bats and would hinder the migration of birds, especially across the lake at night, and of monarch butterflies.

    Wasilewski also worries that turbines would negatively affect fish, fishing and the shipping industry. He said wind farm supporters claim vibrations from the turbines will attract fish but he thinks they will be repelled.

    He's concerned about the dangers turbines could pose to ships in fog and other bad weather, the navigation obstacles they could create and what might happen if a blade fell off near boaters.

    Trembath, a self-described environmentalist who lives in Evans, New York, said Lake Erie provides drinking water for about 11 million people. She and Wasilewski said drilling into the bottom of Lake Erie to install turbines could stir up toxins deposited there over decades. Even if the turbines were placed on floating platforms, Trembath said, anchors would still have to be dug into the lakebed.

    The two citizens also expressed concerns that materials from the blades could be shed into the lake or oil used to lubricate the turbines could end up in the water.

    Trembath and Wasilewski also questioned the effectiveness of wind turbines and the number of long-term local jobs that could be created, particularly if turbine parts weren't made locally.

    And Wasilewski simply doesn't like the look of them.

    "They're definitely an eyesore at that height and that distance in the lake," he said.

    What's happening in Ohio

    Icebreaker Wind has been in the works for more than a decade, but even with the recent court ruling, Friedman said the soonest the six turbines could be up and running is 2026. With 206-foot blades and a 272-foot hub, each turbine would reach nearly 480 feet high, according to information on LEEDCo's website.

    Friedman and Dahlkemper said that at 8 miles from shore, the turbines would look small.

    "It wouldn't be some big obstacle to people's views from the shore," Dahlkemper said.

    Friedman said Icebreaker Wind project has gone through the process of satisfying state and federal agencies that the potential harm to bats and birds will be minimal.

    "The whole point of a demonstration project is to see what will happen," he said, adding that he thinks this project will prove true the studies saying it's not harmful.

    If that is the case, Friedman said, it would then be up to private developers and energy companies to further develop offshore wind energy in Lake Erie.

    In Illinois

    Illinois is also in the race to place an offshore wind farm in the Great Lakes and is eyeing development of a pilot project in Lake Michigan off the South Side of Chicago. An Illinois state representative, Democrat Marcus Evans Jr., introduced a bill known as the Illinois Rust Belt to Green Belt Pilot in January. The bill would create a fund to be used by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to encourage and facilitate work on a new utility-scale offshore wind project or related port. The bill was referred to an Illinois House committee in March.

    In New York

    The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has been conducting a feasibility study of Great Lakes wind energy to consider the environmental, maritime, economic and social issues as well as market barriers and costs of developing wind, specifically in lakes Erie and Ontario, according to the state's website.

    Trembath, of Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie, said one company already made a proposal in her hometown of Evans, New York. She said Diamond Offshore Wind, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., was there in April 2019 talking about placing 50 wind turbines in Lake Erie from Hamburg, New York, to Dunkirk, New York, which is about 50 miles from Erie and about 30 miles from the Pennsylvania border. Evans is between Hamburg and Dunkirk.

    "They're not going to stop at Dunkirk," Trembath said. "They're going to keep going, and that's where Pennsylvania comes in."

    In an unsigned email dated Sept. 9, which was sent in response to an Erie Times-News inquiry about potential Lake Erie wind energy projects in New York, Diamond Offshore Wind said it "does not have a formal proposal in New York state. Like many others, we look forward to reviewing the NYSERDA's study. We are unaware of any similar efforts in Pennsylvania."

    In Pennsylvania

    No one the Erie Times-News spoke to was aware of a proposal for a wind farm in Lake Erie off Pennsylvania.

    "If something happens in Pennsylvania, it's not going to be LEEDCo," Friedman said.

    If someone else were to pitch a proposal, wind turbines wouldn't go up soon.

    "It's not going to happen any time within the next couple years," Dahlkemper said, adding that there would need to be things like studies of birds first.

    Matt Walker, an advocacy director with the Clean Air Council, said Pennsylvania isn't really open for Lake Erie wind turbine business, in part because state law restricts how much of the lake can be leased.

    He said a bill introduced by state Rep. Curt Sonney, of Harborcreek Township, R-4th Dist., would have helped with some of that.

    Sonney for years has introduced the Lake Erie Energy Development Act in the General Assembly. In an April 30, 2021, memorandum to all state House members, Sonney wrote, "I am reintroducing legislation which would permit DGS (Department of General Services) to lease submerged lands in excess of 25 acres within the bed of Lake Erie for the assessment, development, construction and operation of utility scale offshore wind, solar or kinetic energy generation facilities."

    Sonney went on to say that the act would establish a 2% royalty on the gross revenues of the system, with Erie County, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the County Conservation District Fund each receiving 20% of the proceeds and the state Department of Environmental Protection receiving 40%.

    According to the bill, the submerged lands to be leased would be concentrated in the central and western portion of Lake Erie, would avoid development in nearshore areas, would avoid shipping lanes and would avoid areas of Lake Erie where migratory birds are concentrated. Before any construction, a feasibility study would assess "environmental impacts."

    Known as House Bill 1569, it was referred to the Environmental Resources & Energy Committee on June 7, 2021.

    Sonney, who isn't seeking re-election this year, couldn't be reached for comment about the bill.

    Dana Massing can be reached at dmassing@timesnews. Follow her on Twitter @ETNmassing.

    "There would have to be a lot (to happen) before wind turbines would be put in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie."

    Kathy Dahlkemper

    Former Erie County executive


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