By Jim Efstathiou Jr. (Bloomberg) — A conservative energy research group led by a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team is taking the administration to task for backing a project that would install six giant wind turbines in the middle of Lake Erie.
“It’s unclear why a technology that is so expensive should be co-funded by U.S. taxpayers,” according to a statement Wednesday from Institute for Energy Research President Thomas Pyle. The $150 million project, which is eligible for as much as $50 million in federal funding, is just too expensive at six times more than a natural gas combined-cycle plant and three to four times as much as an onshore wind plant, the group said.
Icebreaker has previously drawn opposition from Murray Energy Corp., the largest privately held U.S. coal miner. A Murray-backed consultant who testified against the project on behalf of two local residents argued that it would spoil views, according to documents filed at the Ohio Power Siting Board. Murray’s chief executive officer owns a home in the area, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Coal has come under siege in the U.S. as cheap natural gas and wind and solar power eat away at the fossil fuel’s market share.
“It isn’t our highest priority to highlight every spending proposal we oppose,” Erin Amsberry, a spokeswoman at the institute, said in an email. “This one is just particularly egregious.” Pyle was head of Trump’s Energy Department transition team after the 2016 presidential election.
Ohio regulators are reviewing the project, which comprises six, 3.45-megawatt turbines about 8 miles (13 kilometers) north of Cleveland, in the lake. It’s designed to showcase new technology to position offshore turbines without drilling into the lake bed. The Energy Department this month published its final environmental assessment, which found it would have a “negligible” effect in the long term and no impact in the short term.
The project developer is Icebreaker Windpower Inc., a partnership of the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. and Oslo-based Bonheur ASA. Energy Department officials weren’t immediately available for comment.
“The government has funded the development of shale gas, nuclear and other energy sources,” Beth Nagusky, director of sustainable development for the nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development, said in an email. “Icebreaker is a small demonstration project that will unlock a vibrant clean-energy industry in the Great Lakes.”
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