‘Final Nail in Coffin’ for Icebreaker Offshore Wind Project, Developer Says

Icebreaker, the only advanced offshore wind project in the Great Lakes, appears to be dead in the water.

After years of permitting battles, the Ohio Power Siting Board this week approved the Icebreaker project, but it came with a “project killing” catch: The wind farm would be forced to pause its turbines at nighttime between March and November to protect birds and bats, gutting its revenue stream.

The six-turbine Icebreaker project has been under development for a decade by the non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) eight miles off Cleveland’s shore.

“We still have to evaluate things, but it’s looking like this could be the final nail in the coffin,” LEEDCo president Dave Karpinski said in an interview.

Icebreaker has a chance to lift the turbine restrictions after collecting and submitting monitoring information, but the freshwater project cannot get built in the first place with the restrictions in place, Karpinski said.

Icebreaker was seen as a way to open an important new regional market for U.S. offshore wind development, as momentum grows along the Atlantic Coast. Dominion Energy is about to start construction of the second U.S. offshore wind project off Virginia.

Icebreaker has a number of important backers. The project would have been built and operated by Icebreaker Windpower Inc., owned by Fred Olsen Renewables — a unit of Norwegian energy and shipping conglomerate Bonheur. Icebreaker won research funding from the U.S. Energy Department , and has agreements in place to sell about two-thirds of its above-market-rate power to the municipal utility in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. MHI Vestas was slated to supply the 3.45-megawatt turbines.

But the 20.7-megawatt Icebreaker also has some powerful enemies, including Murray Energy Corp. , the Ohio-based coal miner, which has bankrolled lawyers representing local residents opposed to the project.

Karpinski said LEEDCo was “stunned” by the Ohio Power Siting Board’s decision, only learning about it from a press release issued on Thursday.

An unexpected rejection

The requirement to turn off the turbines at night — known as “feathering” — had come up in earlier permitting discussions, but LEEDCo insisted that such a condition would make the project impossible to finance. Last year LEEDCo reached agreement on that point with the Ohio Power Siting Board’s staff, in what was seen as a critical step toward the Board’s final approval.

In the end, however, the Board added the requirement requirement back in.

“We were hearing things from inside the [Siting Board’s] staff that everything was going to come out as expected and be issued in accordance with that agreement,” Karpinski said. “And lo and behold, it comes out and it was a total surprise that they added that back in. There was no forewarning. There was nothing over the past seven months...

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