Unless the obscure but powerful Ohio Power Siting Board rethinks a wrongheaded move, the panel, whose voting members are Gov. Mike DeWine's appointees, will — for unclear reasons — likely end a pioneering plan to install six power-generating wind turbines offshore of Cleveland.

Backers of the Lake Erie Icebreaker project have spent years raising money and perfecting engineering plans — with support from the U.S. Department of Energy, Case Western Reserve University, an early NASA wind-energy scientist, environmentalists and overseas investors, along with the city of Cleveland. Aim: to test the economic potential of wind power in Lake Erie and the Great Lakes as a whole.

Greater Cleveland's leaders understand the economic and job-creating potential and the care with which this project was designed, eight to ten miles offshore of Cleveland, to minimize disruptions for boaters, birders and others.

Project leaders with the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., or LEEDCo, also had to surmount challenges from winter ice to finding a viable way to supply electricity to the local grid.

DeWine needs to show that he understands this project's importance, too, by making it clear that his appointees — and that’s who they are, his people — should stop obstructing this renewable energy project.

Otherwise, the power-siting board's May 21 decision effectively kills the $130 million Icebreaker demonstration project.

Icebreaker’s fans are many. It won a $40 million U.S. Energy Department grant, bringing its federal DOE money to more than $50 million. It earned sign-off from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Mayor Frank Jackson recognized that Icebreaker would put Cleveland on the wind-energy map, helping to complete a deal by which the demonstration project would supply the electricity it generates to Cleveland Public Power via an 11.8-mile cable buried in the lakebed.

Three major environmental groups in Ohio — the Ohio Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, all exacting stewards of Ohio’s natural world — support the project.

If built, Icebreaker would be the "first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes, the first freshwater wind farm in North America, and only the second offshore wind project in the entire U.S," according to LEEDCo.

Unfortunately, words such as "first," "innovative" and "new," when applied to electricity production, seem to alarm rather than please Ohio regulators.

Yes, the project had its share of opponents, including powerful coal and electric utility interests. When some yachtsmen, boat dealers, lakefront property owners and bird conservation groups added their challenges to the Icebreaker wind project late in the process, LEEDCo officials spent months negotiating a compromise with the Ohio Power Siting Board staff. The deal they struck would have added safeguards but not killed the project.

Yet when the board itself "approved" Icebreaker May 21, this compromise was nowhere to be seen. Instead the siting board voted — unanimously — to impose a killer condition that would require the turbines to be turned off every night for eight months to lessen bird and bat collisions.

LEEDCo President David P. Karpinski said Icebreaker’s backers were "stunned by the order," which he said reneged on the agreement reached with the Siting Board’s staff and would likely make the project financially unviable.

Voting 6-0 to approve Icebreaker with the project-killing requirement were: Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chair Samuel Randazzo, who also chairs the power-siting board; Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz; and designees sitting in for Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda, Development Services Director Lydia Mihalik, Environmental Protection Director Lauri Stevenson and Health Director Amy Acton.

Those board members are all Mike DeWine's appointees. Their actions or inaction, deservedly or not, reflect on the governor.

Unless Gov. DeWine is OK with the panel's mystifying decision to kill this pioneering wind project for Ohio, the governor should step forward and require the board to reconsider its Icebreaker ruling — promptly.

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

Getting the economy on the road to recovery means getting workers back to work. But if those workers can't make as much money on the job as they make on unemployment, the nation faces a double-headed problem: Unemployment coffers continue to be depleted, and companies that need workers on the clock don't have them.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has proposed an intriguing solution — pay now-unemployed workers a $450 weekly return-to-work bonus through July.

The idea has caught the eye of Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, and it should likewise get a good look from Congressional Democrats who have instead been arguing for continued expansion of the unemployment benefits approved in March.

That $2 trillion stimulus bill increased weekly unemployment benefits by $600 to get out-of-work Americans through an unprecedented job-loss event. It has saved many families from economic ruin, but it also created a disincentive for some to return to work.

Between 60% and 70% of people drawing unemployment now are bringing in more with that enhanced benefit than they did with their paychecks, according to research from the American Action Forum and the University of Chicago.

The gap is even more stark for people at the bottom of the earnings ladder. The bottom 20 percent of wage earners are bringing in about twice as much money as they did when they were working.

It's not crazy for workers to choose a higher unemployment check over a lower paycheck. It's just math.

Sen. Portman's suggestion solves that math problem by eliminating the need to ruthlessly pursue workers who don't give up unemployment to return to work and instead gives them a solid economic incentive to get back on the job.

Congress is now negotiating a fifth coronavirus response bill, and leaders from both parties and both houses should include Mr. Portman's provision in it.

The (Toledo) Blade

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