A wind farm generates electricity off Block Island, R.I. IBEW members will be among the 500 workers needed for a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie near Cleveland.
      Flickr/Creative Commons photo by Clean Energy Group/Clean Energy States Alliance.

IBEW leaders in Ohio and developers of a proposed wind farm in Lake Erie are asking members to contact the governor’s office to request his help in changing a decision made by a state board in charge of approving the $126 million project.

The Ohio State Power siting Board voted in May to approve the six-turbine project about eight miles off the shore of downtown Cleveland – which would be the first fresh-water wind farm in the United States – but placed a series of onerous conditions on it.

One is particularly troublesome.  It would keep the turbines from operating at night between March 1 and Nov. 1, which opponents say is needed to study the potential harmful effect to birds and bats and their migratory routes – even though project developers have produced studies saying the impact is minimal.

Whether intentioned or not, that requirement will force major investors to drop out and likely sink the project, said Dave Karpinski, president of the project’s developer, the non-profit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. also known as LEEDCo.

That would be a death blow to a projected 500 jobs, many of which will go to IBEW members.

“To lose potentially one-third of your projected revenue just doesn’t work,” Karpinski said.

The decision came as a surprise to Karpinski and others involved in the project because they had worked with local, state and national governmental bodies for several years, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, to reach an agreement in May 2019 on how the project would operate. It did not call for the turbines to be shut down at any time.

“Typically, if the applicant and staff reach an agreement, the board accepts it,” he said. “There might be some tweaks around the edges but the thrust remains the same.

“That’s why we were shocked. Why was the professional staff overridden? What was based in evidence on the record?”

LEEDCo has appealed and the siting board is expected to announce a decision sometime in August. The seven voting members consist of the heads of six Ohio state departments and one public member, so the IBEW and project developers are asking supporters to contact Gov. Mike DeWine’s office and urge him to convince the board to change its mind. The governor’s office can be reached at (614) 466-3555 or Gov.rmd@governor.ohio.gov.

Of the 500 projected jobs the project would create, many are expected to go to IBEW tradesmen and women. Members at Cleveland Local 38, Cleveland Local 39 and Columbus Local 71 were all in the running for part of the work.

But it’s not just this project’s economic impact that’s at stake. Developers and IBEW leaders in the state believe it could jump-start the entire offshore wind industry in Ohio and lead to vastly more jobs in the future.

“I’m bitterly disappointed by the Siting Board’s decision,” Local 38 Business Manager Dennis Meaney said. “It thwarts a good-faith effort to develop good-paying jobs in an industry with tremendous room to grow, all while addressing important environmental issues.

“At the same time, this battle is not over. With help from our brothers and sisters and friends and allies, I’m confident we’ll overcome this, so I’m asking them to contact Gov. DeWine’s office and ask for his support. It’s just another case of working people looking out for working people.”

Most major environmental groups support the development of offshore wind farms. That’s especially true in Ohio, where only about 3% of 2019 energy production came from renewable sources. The Sierra Club, Natural Resource Defense Council and the Ohio Environmental Council support the Lake Erie project and voiced disapproval after the board’s ruling.

On the federal level, the Department of Energy, Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard all performed environmental studies and found the project presents no significant impacts. On the state level, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved the project.

A handful of groups devoted to bird-watching and preservation lobbied against it, saying that more research was needed on the migratory effects on warblers and water fowl who fly over the lake in the spring and fall.

LEEDCo thought it was addressing that when it reached a non-binding agreement with state officials last year, in which it agreed to monitor any collision with birds and the turbines, with no restrictions on operating hours.

That’s one reason Karpinski and others expected the board to approve the project in May. Instead, it added the condition that would shut the turbines down for substantial periods.

Offshore 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. Numerous other projects are in various stage of design up and down the East Coast.

The project on Lake Erie would bring offshore wind power in the upper Midwest.

“The IBEW was tremendous in terms of support and sending letters to the board,” Karpinski said. “Now, we’re asking for their help in contacting the governor.”