Ohio wind turbine project gets groups' support

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CLEVELAND (AP) -- A nonprofit company proposing wind turbines off the coast of Cleveland to test and pilot a fresh-water wind farm on Lake Erie has won support from several environmental groups as it works to win critical state and federal permits.

The Ohio Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and the Earth Day Coalition are among the environmental groups supporting the effort by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reports (http://bit.ly/1otZV31).

The company's so-called icebreaker project will require approvals from various state and federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The company began applying a few weeks ago for the permits necessary to compete with five other offshore wind projects for a $46.7 million investment from the U.S. Department of Energy. Three winners are to be announced in May.

Spinning turbines can potentially affect shipping, disrupt views and endanger birds and other wildlife. But Keith Dimoff, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council, says the company completed comprehensive studies demonstrating that the project will deliver cleaner air while avoiding harm to wildlife.

Some birding enthusiasts have said they want to see more in-depth study.

"We're not against wind energy, but we're pro bird," said Kimberly Kaufman, executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ottawa County.

Kaufman's group worked with the American Bird Conservancy to stop a turbine project proposed in northwest Ohio. The Air National Guard in January stopped the proposed wind farm at Camp Perry, on the Lake Erie shore, after the bird groups argued the turbines would endanger migrating birds and bald eagles.

But the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. says its environmental impact studies indicate an on-the-water wind farm poses less danger to birds, partly because they migrate over shallower portions of the lake.

"There's a whole lot of agencies looking at our project right now," company spokesman Eric Ritter said. "None of the agencies have ever permitted an offshore wind farm before. Everybody's a little nervous about the first one."

The company has already secured about $4 million in federal funds to design and engineer the wind farm, but the U.S. Department of Energy funding is crucial, Ritter said.

"We think we have a great chance to win it," he said.

That funding could allow the company to begin construction in the spring of 2017, Ritter said.

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