A project to build what would be the first freshwater offshore wind energy farm in North America can proceed, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Aug. 10 in a lawsuit by opponents that challenged the state's approval. 

In a 6-1 decision, the justices affirmed an earlier decision by the Ohio Power Siting Board to approve a plan by Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) for its six-turbine “Icebreaker Wind” project, set to generate about 20.7 MW of power. The majority opinion, written by Justice Jennifer Brunner, found that two residents opposed to the project failed to show that the board erred in its environmental review, and said it had acted appropriately in allowing the project in Lake Erie. 

Plans call for construction of Icebreaker Wind northwest of Cleveland, about 9 miles offshore. An electric connection line would deliver power from the turbines to Cleveland Public Power’s lakefront substation.

Justice Sharon Kennedy was alone in dissenting, finding that the board had not seen sufficient evidence to determine the nature of the environmental impact and that the facility represents the minimum adverse impact, as required by state law. 

The two residents who brought the case had raised concerns the wind farm could harm birds and bats. They appealed the Ohio Power Siting Board’s 2020 approval of the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Dept. of Energy and U.S. Coast Guard had previously reported that they expect “negligible” impacts to birds and bats.

LEEDCo is a nonprofit public-private partnership working with a Cleveland-based unit of Norwegian wind project developer Fred. Olsen Renewables to build and operate the facility.

LEEDCo did not respond to inquiries to verifty the project cost, which last year was estimated at $173 million, according to cleveland.com, or to say when construction would begin. Work is expected to support about 500 jobs, according to LEEDCo documentation.

The nonprofit has indicated that other wind projects in Lake Erie could follow Icebreaker, which it calls a demonstration project.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates wind strength of 8-9 meters per second in the Great Lakes in sites adjacent to major urban load centers of eight bordering states, according to a report in industry publication Recharge.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority has backed the project, saying it expects the offshore wind sector to grow in coming years. 

“Other states are nipping at our heels to attract offshore wind and its economic benefits,” Will Friedman, the port authority's president and CEO, said in a statement. “We don’t want to squander this opportunity and let 15 years of work slip away to other states eager to capture market share.”

One-third of the facility’s produced power will go to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, according to the port authority. The ruling will allow LEEDCo to focus on marketing the remaining two-thirds, the port authority said in a statement.