A Free-Market Energy Blog

Icebreaker Demise: Win for Lake Erie, Ratepayers, Taxpayers (crony loss only)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- January 15, 2024

“Icebreaker was a giant boondoggle, and happily the project died, because it was a folly to begin with — at electric users’ expense.” – Lawrence Bender (below)

The mainstream media is pretty quiet about setbacks regarding offshore wind power projects and other “Green New Deal” nostrums. But don’t question where their heart is. The newspapers are in the dough for “environmental reporting” from Left foundations that want to chip away at freedom and modern living. What ever happened to the traditional media check on rampant cronyism, anyway?

Icebreaker, a notorious government-subsidized initiative to machine-up the Great Lakes, is dead. Here is a recent letter-to-the-editor by a local protesting against the major newspaper’s apologetics about the demise of the project. Thank you Lawrence Bender for speaking truth to power, in this case the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Letter to the Editor

Lake Erie’s Icebreaker wind project was a giant boondoggle that deserved to die (January 3, 2024)

Regarding your Dec. 13 editorial, “Demise of Icebreaker project a sorry result of Ohio’s twisted energy policy,” the project’s failure is actually a relief and welcome news.

Icebreaker was a plan to build six experimental windmills in Lake Erie off Cleveland to determine if windmills were feasible in the lake. The invisible elephant in the room was that, if they worked out, up to 1,500 more would have been constructed in Lake Erie, according to the Lake Erie Foundation, which opposed the project. Just imagine the scenic beauty of over a thousand windmills off the Northeast Ohio lakefront and maybe thousands more throughout the Great Lakes.

The increased costs of the power generated would have been paid by the users, you and me. Projected job numbers were also exaggerated.

The full effect of wind turbines on fresh water and marine life is unknown. Windmills can wear out in as little as 20 years, then must replaced at considerable cost, to be passed on to users. Also, it would negatively impact Lake Erie’s multibillion-dollar annual tourism industry.

Icebreaker was a giant boondoggle, and happily the project died, because it was a folly to begin with — at electric users’ expense.

Lawrence Bender

Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial

Bender’s letter above was in response to the whiny, non-critical editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Demise of Icebreaker Project a Sorry Result of Ohio’s Concerted Anti-renewable-energy Efforts (December 13, 2023). It is reproduced below for its useful historical review amid its defense of an anti-ratepayer, anti-taxpayer, anti-environmental project.

… the 18-year-old effort to build the world’s first freshwater wind-energy pilot project — offshore of Cleveland, seeding a new local industry in the process — effectively declared defeat this month

However, Icebreaker was effectively defeated by similar regulatory and legislative maneuvering. Its ultimate demise is a sad and revealing testament to the way Ohio renewable energy development and its economic potential in seeding jobs and income were thwarted … of possible manufacturing investment and innovation in a new wind power industry based in Cleveland….

In early 2017, with an established Norwegian wind-energy developer backing the multimillion-dollar Icebreaker project, a promised $50 million federal grant, preliminary power-purchase agreements from Cleveland Public Power and others, and favorable offshore wind-power tests, soil sampling and lake-bed analysis, Icebreaker applied for permits from the Ohio Power Siting Board. That kicked off a lengthy process of hearings and studies.

In July 2018, the Ohio siting board staff recommended the project go forward, pending an approved bird-and-bat-monitoring plan so it could operate at nighttime. The same month, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency gave its water-quality OK to the project. In October of that year, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard also signed off on the project.

All systems were poised for go, and Cleveland Foundation money was seeding a new Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University to help pursue commercialization and innovation in wind and other alternative energies.

But corporate and regulatory headwinds were already appearing.

In August 2018, sworn testimony and documents presented by Icebreaker’s developers to the Ohio Power Siting Board revealed that the country’s largest privately owned coal company, the former Murray Energy Corp. — based in the Cleveland area before emerging from bankruptcy in 2020 and being sold to its creditors — was “bankrolling anti-Icebreaker consultants, as well as lawyers representing two Bratenahl residents who have testified against the project,” cleveland.com’s James F. McCarty reported at the time. A Murray Energy spokesman confirmed to McCarty the coal company’s involvement.

In early 2019, newly elected Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Randazzo head of the PUCO — and by extension of the Ohio Power Siting Board; Randazzo was swiftly confirmed. In July, HB 6 was signed into law, including a provision that effectively killed the state’s renewable and energy-efficiency standards for utilities — part of HB 6 that remains in force.

Then, in May 2020, the Ohio Power Siting Board under Randazzo’s leadership rejected a settlement agreement reached by the board’s own staff and approved the Icebreaker permit only after adding a “poison pill” stipulation preventing operation of the six experimental wind turbines at night for much of the year. The stipulation made the project uneconomical.

In September 2020 after sustained lobbying from lawmakers and others, the siting board reversed course and allowed the project to proceed without the poison pill. But by then, the project was in trouble with financing and with lining up customers for its power, and the two intervenors whose lawyer was being paid by Murray Energy were still litigating the matter, eventually losing at the Ohio Supreme Court last year. At some point, the Norwegian developer pulled out.

Icebreaker’s backers haven’t formally declared the project dead, but they’re returning the unspent part of the project’s federal grant to the Department of Energy and suspending all work.

It didn’t need to have been that way, but in a state that puts favors for legacy energy companies ahead of renewable-energy innovations, jobs and economic advancement, maybe par for the course.

Final Comment

“… favors for legacy energy companies ahead of renewable-energy innovations, jobs and economic advancement….” What? How about consumer-friendly energy versus politically correct, economically incorrect energy? Shame on the Cleveland Plain Dealer for not considering consumers, taxpayers, and the Great Lakes itself.

As it is, chalk up another victory to grassroots environmentalism, one of hundreds as documented by Robert Bryce here.

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