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Report advises against installing wind turbines in Lake Erie — for now

This aerial photograph taken on June 16, 2022, shows a wind turbine farm in the Baltic Sea, northeast of Rugen Island in Germany.
Fred Tanneau
AFP via Getty Images
This aerial photograph taken on June 16, 2022, shows a wind turbine farm in the Baltic Sea, northeast of Rugen Island in Germany.

After nearly two years of studying the issue, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has determined that “now is not the right time to prioritize” installing wind turbines in Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, according to a report released late last month.

Wind turbines in Lakes Ontario and Erie would help New York meet its goal of generating 70% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, the report said. But insufficient canal infrastructure in the St. Lawrence Seaway, relatively high development costs and a lack of environmental and wildlife impact data, among other obstacles, made it difficult to justify the project.

“At present, Great Lakes wind does not offer a unique, critical or cost-effective contribution toward the achievement of New York’s Climate Act goals,” Aron Ashrafioun, a spokesperson for NYSERDA, said in a statement to WBFO.

NYSERDA’s recommendation now goes to the Public Service Commission, which will ultimately decide whether to move forward with the project. A spokesperson for the commission declined an interview request, but said in a statement that the commission is reviewing NYSERDA’s findings and will “determine required next steps, if any.” 

The report’s conclusions were surprising but welcome news for Citizens against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie (CAWTILE), a local advocacy group.

“We expected that they would be promoting the installation of wind turbines in Lake Erie, we would have been surprised if they were neutral about it,” David Adrian, a marine biologist and CAWTILE organizer, said. “But instead, they were downright stating that at this time, they don't recommend it move forward. So yeah, we were elated.”

Fred Zalcman, the president of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, said the report indicates that NYSERDA is prioritizing “market-ready” green energy technologies — like solar panels, on-land wind turbines and offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean. But further investment in canal and port infrastructure, turbine technology and environmental impact research could make Great Lakes Wind more feasible in the years to come.

“This work needs to be ongoing in the in the short term,” Zalcman said. “These are not really unique issues. These are issues that virtually all renewable technologies have faced in their infancy. So continue to address these potential barriers and solve them. And I think in the five-to-10-year time horizon, it's probably worth revisiting where we are.”

NYSERDA left the door open to further study of a Great Lakes Wind project, adding that upgrades to New York’s transmission system, additional research and the success of Ohio’s Icebreaker Wind project in Lake Erie could prompt the agency to revisit the project.

“Taking no action now does not mean there may not be an opportunity to advance Great Lakes Wind,” the report reads.

NYSERDA’s ability to revisit the project might depend on anti-offshore wind advocates’ success in the interim. Adrian said that CAWTILE plans to advocate for legislation that would “limit” offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes.

“We're continuing with the notion that they will probably there will probably still always be a push by the wind industry, to, you know, try to influence either public opinion, or to try to get some further interest in wind turbines, regardless of NYSERDA’s recommendation.”