Ohio Eliminates “Feathering” Requirement for Icebreaker Wind Project, but Some Bird Protections Remain

Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, ABC Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472 | jerutter@abcbirds.org| @JERutter
Expert Contact: Joel Merriman, ABC Director of Bird-Smart Wind Energy, 202-888-7471 | jmerriman@abcbirds.org

Expert Contact: Kimberly Kaufman, Black Swamp Bird Observatory Executive Director, 419-898-4070 | kimkaufman@bsbo.org

While the feathering requirement for Icebreaker has been eliminated, the Avian and Bat Memorandum of Understanding and Revised Stipulations remain in place. Photo by majeczka/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., September 18, 2020) Yesterday, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) reversed its decision to require a stringent wildlife protection measure for Icebreaker Wind, approved in May to be the nation's first freshwater offshore wind energy facility. This precedent-setting project poses high risks to birds and bats due to its location in Lake Erie, within a globally important migration hotspot. Yesterday's decision increases these risks, but provisions remain that, if implemented correctly, could still provide protective measures for birds.

At issue was a condition of the project's approval that required “feathering,” or turning off, turbines at night eight months of the year. The feathering requirement, which has now been removed, was required to protect birds from collisions with turbines, unless and until post-construction studies could show that impacts to wildlife are within acceptable limits. In the months since the project was approved, supporters have mounted a campaign to pressure OPSB to remove this condition.

“We're disappointed that this requirement was removed,” says Joel Merriman, Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign Director for American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “For years, the developer has fought reasonable conditions to minimize and document impacts to birds and bats, and they have made no progress on the studies, plans, and mitigation that they know will be required. It's telling that instead of doing these things, and showing that they can and will do the right thing for wildlife, they have instead continued to fight the OPSB.”

Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director for Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), provides additional context: "While on the surface this decision by the OPSB appears to be a setback, we feel we can rely on the strength of the Avian and Bat Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and the Revised Stipulations to adequately protect the interests of birds and bats without imposing the default mitigation method of feathering. This presupposes a genuine faith in the administration of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to uphold the MOU and the Revised Stipulations, for which we hope we will not be disappointed."

“Initially, the OPSB felt that bird protections were necessary,” says ABC President Mike Parr. “The birds have not suddenly learned how to avoid turbines, and the danger remains. The idea that Icebreaker will turn off turbines if they notice birds hitting them sounds as though they are trying to be conscientious, but how are they going to find tiny songbird carcasses at night in the middle of a lake? We have close to 4 million square miles of land in the United States – the project site is among the worst few acres for birds in the entire nation.”

The site selected for this project is the Central Basin of Lake Erie, designated by the National Audubon Society as a Global Important Bird Area in recognition of the millions of birds that rely on it. This includes large concentrations of Common Loons, globally significant populations of Red-breasted Mergansers, and many other waterfowl, as well as transiting songbird flocks. Radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recorded large numbers of migratory birds near Great Lakes shorelines, including the south shore of Lake Erie. Many of these birds were flying at altitudes that would be within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines.

“The well-documented importance of Lake Erie to birds means that a high bar must be set for any offshore wind facility to prove that it can avoid an unacceptable level of impacts,” says Merriman. “Reaching this bar starts with selecting an appropriate location. The Icebreaker facility, which would set the standard for wind energy development in the Great Lakes, was instead proposed for the heart of what could be called a ‘super highway' for migratory species. This made it a high-stakes gambit from the start, and bird conservation groups have long voiced their concerns about the project. Nobody should be surprised that this has been a contentious process, already prompting a lawsuit to push for better environmental review.”

A recent study showed that the United States and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion birds — almost 30 percent of the total population — since 1970. Collisions with man-made structures have contributed to this decline.

“This is not the time to take chances with bird populations,” says Merriman. “We need renewable energy development to combat the effects of climate change, but it needs to be done right by avoiding high-risk areas for birds. Icebreaker Wind fails that test.”

ABC thanks the Leon Levy Foundation for its support of ABC's Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program.

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American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Black Swamp Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit whose mission is to inspire the appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education, and outreach.

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