Members of Cleveland Local 38 could
be floating to the jobsite within a few years if a new six-turbine freshwater
wind farm on Lake Erie gets the go-ahead from regulators.
|Members of Providence, R.I., Local 99, who worked to build the turbines for the Block Island Wind Farm. That project employed about 50 IBEW members.
Hurdles remain for Icebreaker Wind – the first freshwater wind farm in North America – and questions remain, including just how many construction and electrical jobs would be available, but the project could be the test case for many more clean energy-producing turbines across the Great Lakes’ nearly 100,000 square miles.
Lorry Wagner, president of project developer Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, or LEEDCo, is a former IBEW signatory contractor and his father was a 50-year member of Local 38. He’s seen the talents of skilled union tradesmen and tradeswomen up close. He’s also seen them rally support for major projects, including for Icebreaker Wind. In July, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that supporters, including many Local 38 members, outnumbered opponents by about a 7-1 ratio among the 200 who turned up at a public hearing on the project’s future.
Wagner is certain Local 38 members will play a major part in construction and maintenance of the turbine farm, slated to be built about eight miles off the shore of downtown Cleveland.
“There’s just so much talent in the [signatory] contractors,” Wagner said. “I don’t know all of them today, but I could go out and find a dozen different contractors to work on this project and they all have the right kind of people.”
The Ohio Power Siting Board, which regulates wind farms in the state, granted preliminary approval in April for the project, provided LEEDCo develops a plan that limits the project’s impact on migratory birds and bats in the area.
Construction on the $126 million, 20.7 megawatt project is scheduled to begin in 2021.
That’s all good news for Local 38 Business Manager Dennis Meaney, who sees the project as an opportunity to provide clean energy while also putting members to work. Other local unions that may have members working on the project include Cleveland Local 39 and Columbus, Ohio, Local 71.
“I live on the lake,” Meaney said. “I think we need a mix of everything, including baseload energy and baseload transmission, but we also need to look at alternatives. Something like this will help protect our environment and also grow our economy here in Cleveland.”
Off-shore wind energy has been abundant in Europe for more than 30 years, and with the IBEW playing a major role, it finally is starting to gain a foothold in the United States. Providence, R.I., Local 99 supplied about 50 wiremen to build the turbines for the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm that began operations in December 2016.
The project on Lake Erie would bring off-shore wind power to the upper Midwest. It originally was proposed by the Cleveland Foundation in 2004 as a way to stimulate a struggling local economy while also benefiting the environment.
Wagner sold Phillips Electric, the signatory contractor started by his father, in 2005 to Ullman Electric, another signatory contractor, owned by Ron and Marc Ullman.
Ullman Electric was selected to construct a wind turbine at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. IBEW members built the turbine while Wagner served as project manager.
“That turbine was designed in part to get people familiar with what wind energy is,” he said.
In 2010, Wagner was named president of LEEDCo, a non-profit, public-private partnership looking for ways to develop wind power on the lake. Ohio has advantages that East Coast states don’t because of an infrastructure already in place, he said. The state has a long manufacturing tradition and will be able to build the needed turbines when there is increased demand for clean energy.
“All those states have ports, but the East Coast does not have a lot of manufacturing,” he said. “Here we are in the Midwest, which is the heart of manufacturing along with the Gulf Coast, and we’re trying to get the policy right.”
Meaney said that’s why the big payoff could be in the future.
Parts for turbines at an Atlantic Ocean wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island were built in Europe before being shipped to the United States, where Philadelphia Local 98 members assembled them. Meaney envisions a day when IBEW members build facilities in northern Ohio where those turbines are built.
“We could develop an economy here for those wind turbines and get to the point where we’re manufacturing the parts here,” he said. “By building the manufacturing facilities here, we’re putting our members to work and the IBEW has a chance to represent the workers inside those plants.”
Meaney has spoken in front of governmental and regulatory agencies and community and civic groups. IBEW members have called state officials and written letters in support of it. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and both of Ohio’s senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman, are among the supporters. The city of Cleveland has set a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
The siting board’s approval was a major step toward final approval, but passage is not yet guaranteed. Wagner and Meaney both are optimistic but encouraged members to continue to speak out in support of the project.
“We are still negotiating difficult issues and there are some unreasonable regulatory barriers imposed by the state that could jeopardize the project,” Wagner said. “We don’t want to see offshore wind energy and new jobs in Ohio derailed by such unreasonable, bureaucratic demands.”
Members and supporters can write to the Ohio Power Siting Board and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources urging for Icebreaker Wind’s final approval. The email addresses are contactOPSB@puc.state.oh.us and firstname.lastname@example.org.