Wind turbines for Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie?

FILE - Two of the offshore wind turbines, which have been constructed off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., are seen, June 29, 2020. As Virginia-based Dominion Energy has agreed to implement several consumer protections in connection with its massive offshore wind project under a proposed agreement with the office of the Virginia attorney general and other parties released Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

(WJET/WFXP/ — An Erie state representative is trying to bring wind energy generation to the Gem City.

State Rep. Bob Merski has introduced legislation that would allow for the development of areas of Lake Erie for wind generation, Merski’s office announced on Tuesday, March 14.

“The lakeshore benefits our region in so many ways, from recreation to tourism to commerce, but we have yet to tap another resource with tremendous potential – the capacity for wind generation,” Merski said in the announcement. “Plans have been approved in Ohio for a pilot project to build several wind turbines about 8 miles off the Cleveland shoreline. I believe it’s time for Pennsylvania to harness this powerful resource that would bring family-sustaining jobs and new revenue to our region.”

That Cleveland project has not been without criticism. The Lake Erie Foundation (LEF) has spoken out about the project, writing on its website: “To be clear, LEF supports the pursuit of clean and renewable energy. However, LEF must stand opposed to the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation’s (LEEDCo) planned turbine project, called ‘Icebreaker.'”

Even the local Erie chapter of the Audubon Society, Presque Isle Audubon Society, has spoken out against the Cleveland project. In a Facebook post in September 2022, the Presque Isle Audubon Society wrote: “Utility-scale wind energy projects are wonderful when properly sited. For those who care about birds, this one isn’t. Millions of songbirds migrate across Lake Erie, which is a Global important Bird Area, and includes globally significant populations of Red-Breasted Mergansers.”

Presque Isle Audubon Society president Susan Murawski said the national Audubon Society is in favor of wind turbines so long as they’re properly sited (even the Cleveland project had the Audubon Society’s support until developers changed their plans to leave lights on at night), whereas the local chapter doesn’t have an official position. Already, however, Murawski said she’s heard murmurs of opposition to having wind turbines off the shores of Erie.

“Many people I’ve spoken with are very concerned about bird fatalities. Presque Isle is an important area for birds, specifically the red-breasted mergansers,” Muraski said, echoing the comments from the group in the September 2022 statement. “And people who fish are worried about oils leaking in and damaging the water for the fish.”

In his announcement, Merski noted a need for caution in wind projects that may come to fruition on Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie waters.

“Of course, it is critical that we remain good stewards of the land. With careful planning and design, I believe we can minimize any risk to the natural environment and cut our carbon footprint at the same time,” Merski said.

House Bill 254 would create the Lake Erie Wind Energy Development Act. That act would lead to a process for awarding permits to develop wind energy generation in Lake Erie. A royalty of 2% gross revenue would go to Erie County “and several other government entities for lake- and county-relation projects,” Merski’s announcement noted.

The bill now is in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.