Bird Groups Challenge Icebreaker Environmental Assessment

Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) have contested the environmental assessment (EA) of Lake Erie’s 20.7MW Icebreaker offshore wind farm which states that the proposed project would have little or no impact on birds and bats.

The draft EA, prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers, was based on several studies by consultants on behalf of the project developers.

“Based on our exhaustive review of the EA, we see no evidence to support the claim that the project poses little to no risk to birds and bats,” said Kimberly Kaufman, BSBO’s Executive Director.

“In fact, having conducted more than 30 years of migratory bird research along Lake Erie, we believe the six-turbine Icebreaker project would pose a significant threat to wildlife — not to mention substantially increased impacts that would be triggered by the planned expansion of the project to more than 1,000 turbines.”

BSBO and ABC stated that in order to reach the little to no impact conclusion, the industry assessors relied on limited visual surveys conducted only during daytime and in good weather to conclude that migrating birds fly at a height sufficient to avoid the turbines’ blades. However, many songbirds and most bats migrate at night, said BSBO and ABC. According to the organizations, the risk they face from wind energy facilities is likely greater during conditions of high winds, heavy rain, fog, or low cloud cover, which can affect flight altitude and bring them within the rotor-swept area of the turbines.

The organizations submitted their comments to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Energy.

A public comment period closed earlier this month, and a final EA could be issued in the next few months.

“Environmental assessments are intended to evaluate risks to public trust resources like wildlife before projects move forward,” said Michael Hutchins, Director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program.

“Assessments like this one, however, are based on inadequate studies that contradict easily observable facts and ignore up-to-date science and cumulative impacts. As the United States makes important strides to increase renewable energy, we need to do much better to minimize impacts to birds and other wildlife.”

The Icebreaker wind farm will consist of six MHI Vestas wind turbines with a nameplate capacity rating of 3.45MW located approximately 8 to 10 miles off the shore of Cleveland.

The original developer of the project was the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo). In 2016, LEEDCo partnered with Fred. Olsen Renewables (FOR) of Norway. FOR has established FORUSA and Icebreaker Windpower to be the owner, developer, and operator of Icebreaker Wind.

The wind farm is expected to enter the construction phase in May 2018 and be completed by October 2018. It is scheduled to be commissioned by November 2018.

Photo: Image source: LEEDCo

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