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Cleveland’s Icebreaker Wind project on hold due to rising costs, pushback

Photo of three wind turbines in a body of water.
fokke baarssen
The Icebreaker Wind project called for six wind turbines located eight miles off of the Cleveland shoreline. If completed, the project would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America.

Cleveland’s off-shore wind turbine project has been halted after the project’s private development partner pulled financial support.

TheLake Erie Energy Development Corp, or LEEDCo, is leading the Icebreaker Wind project. The nonprofit’s board of directors decided to pause the project, citing higher interest rates driving up the cost of materials along with pushback from the Ohio Power Siting Board and lawsuits from fossil fuel companies.

“General inflation and global circumstances have significantly increased capital costs, especially for materials like steel, making offshore wind particularly susceptible to economic fluctuations,” the press release states. “While LEEDCo is a small non-profit, other projects being pursued by the world’s leading offshore wind developers, with government support, are being stalled by similar factors.”

The Icebreaker Wind project called for six wind turbines located eight miles off of Cleveland shoreline. The project was expected to create 500 jobs and generate $253 million for the region’s economy, according to the news release. If completed, the project would be the first freshwater wind farm in North America.

"Demonstrating that we can generate electricity from wind energy in Lake Erie would have been, in and of itself, a really important step as we try to develop alternative forms of energy in response to climate change, and so that we have ample energy to supply to users here in Ohio," LEEDCo Board Member and Port of Cleveland President Will Friedman said.

Development efforts for the windfarm began around 2009 and received approval from Ohio EPA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Power Siting Board prior to the pause, the news release states.

The Icebreaker Wind project is not the only one in development, Friedman said, with Illinois and New York both considering off-shore wind farms on Lake Erie. Because of the pause, Ohio may lose the lead it had on other Great Lake states when it comes to using wind as a renewable source of energy.

"We've seen slower investment from energy project developers in both solar and onshore wind farms," Friedman said. "You'd see many, many more wind farms in the state of Indiana by comparison. So I do think Ohio's got some catching up to do."

With the project halted, LEEDCo and the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy have agreed to a termination of funding provided for the project, according to the release, as the pause would make it impossible to meet the department’s required award milestone.

The pause is "indefinite," Friedman said, and depends on LEEDCo's ability to find to funding.

"LEEDCo is a nonprofit that, other than grants or partnerships with other parties, does not have any funding on its own," he said. "If there were to be some money that came available, other grants, perhaps, or interest from private developers, then maybe the project can be sort of brought out of mothballs, but it's hard to speculate on that right now."

LEEDCo remains open to the possibility of partnering with another developer to take over the project, according to the release. Board members are optimistic that the project will come to fruition in Cleveland, LEEDCo Board Chair Ronn Richard said in the release.

“I maintain my belief that – just as Ohio was the first in flight – the day will come when Ohio will be a leader in advanced energy,” Richard said. “I am disappointed by this pause on Icebreaker, but I believe that there will be a significant number of offshore wind turbines in the Great Lakes in my lifetime. Climate change will necessitate it.”

Updated: December 11, 2023 at 4:26 PM EST
This story has been updated to include comments from the Will Friedman from the Port of Cleveland.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.