Lake Erie’s Icebreaker Offshore Wind Project Moves to Scoping Phase

A long-planned Lake Erie wind project got an important boost in September. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), along with the Coast Guard and the Army Corp of Engineers, held a public scoping session to start a federal environmental assessment for Project Icebreaker, which would construct six wind turbines about eight miles from shore.

Projects can’t move until this analysis is done. The scoping phase identifies the extent of the analysis, i.e., what specific topics are pertinent and need to be studied.

Admittedly, Icebreaker is a small project, at demonstration scale. Still, the six turbines would deliver 21 MW of power to Cleveland, enough electricity for 7,000 homes. It’s been under development since 2009.

Icebreaker was developed by Lake Erie Energy Development Corp (LEEDCo), which includes Cuyahoga County, Ohio; the City of Cleveland; the Cleveland Foundation and others. LEEDCo’s mission is to “promote regionally consistent development of offshore wind energy markets.” In 2015, Erie County, Pennsylvania, joined LEEDCo.

Icebreaker and LEEDCo have been on DOE’s radar. Since 2011, DOE has committed over $200 million to Icebreaker and two other demo projects — one at the University of Maine, the other in New Jersey. In September, DOE reconfirmed its support for these three “cutting-edge offshore wind projects.”

Icebreaker will cost $120 million. Federal monies aren’t yet clear. Other projects were eligible for up to $47 million, a mix of funds, including grants, payable over four years. Importantly, though, some of that money depends on Congressional appropriation, not always a sure thing.

Approximately 45 people attended the scoping meeting, held in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb west of Cleveland. The meeting site was in Lakewood Park, on the Lake’s edge, a magical vista from shore to horizon. Depending on the day’s weather, the turbines may be visible, even at 8 miles.

Icebreaker seems to have broad local support. But there are opponents, with concerns about birds and wildlife and, more fundamentally, degrading such a beautiful spot, turning the Lake into an energy patch, spiked with hundreds of turbines.

David Karpinski is VP of Operations at LEEDCo. Karpinski said that, indeed, technical success is important for Icebreaker. However, LEEDCo has broader project goals; it seeks key-learnings beyond just the technical issues.

Karpinski said that there are no plans now to use Icebreaker as an initial step for an expanded project. LEEDCo’s bigger vision is to “develop an industry.” LEEDCo wants Cleveland to be a center for wind energy production, expertise, manufacturing and components. Icebreaker will give LEEDCo real-world direction across these fields.

Context is important for success, and one critical issue involves public policy developments about how the country and states, particularly states like Ohio, look at energy production.

The Clean Power Plan is high on LEEDCo’s watch list.

“If that’s upheld,” Karpinski said, “that has significant implications for generating the demand for this kind of energy.”

DOE’s public comment period closes today. Click here for more information about DOE’s Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects.

Lead image: The Mono Bucket foundation was selected for Project Icebreaker through significant engineering analysis, and is expected to reduce installation time, costs, and environmental impacts compared to traditional foundations that require pile driving. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

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