1. Bald Eagle killed at U.S. Wildlife Refuge. In March, a dead bald eagle was found below a small 10-kilowatt wind turbine at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, Md. Cause of death: blunt force trauma.
Windaction.org contacted Sarah Nystrom, the USF&WS Northern States Bald and Golden Eagle Coordinator to determine if any enforcement action would be taken. Ms. Nystrom replied "our Office of Law Enforcement has opted not to pursue criminal sanctions in this matter. The Office of Law Enforcement typically focuses its resources on investigating and prosecuting those who take migratory birds without identifying and implementing reasonable and effective measures to avoid the take. In this respect, the Office of Law Enforcement has treated the incident at the Service's Eastern Neck NWR as it would any similar incident at a non-federal wind energy facility." Apparently, this is the best we can expect from the U.S. Government.
2. Military readiness and turbine deployment. Over 1 year ago, Chief of Naval Operations W. R. Burke requested an assessment of the impact of wind turbine development near the Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas. In his reply memo, the Commander, Navy Installations Command, M.C. Vitale informed Burke that "a study of the degradation to NAS Kingsville RADAR and NAVAIDS caused by electromagnetic interference from nearby wind farms, determined installation of wind turbines would reduce Navy's ability to train aviators safely. The Study further predicted that Navy would graduate 24-31 fewer pilots annually." Half of the US naval pilots are trained at NAS Kingsville.
Nearly 600 industrial-scale wind turbines are proposed to be built between 5 and 25 miles of NAS Kingsville. The Navy has already de-tuned RADAR in the south quadrant of the base to eliminate the adverse effects of the Kenedy 1 wind facility. Further radar optimization to account for other wind facilities will degrade target sensitivity and could result in NAS Kingsville operations closing. No action was taken by Admiral Burke.
3. Wind farms and the price of Air Travel. The FAA re-routes air traffic due to false returns from wind turbine clutter. While NEXRAD radar data could show what appears to be significant weather that would require re-routing, pilots report not seeing weather in the area. The National Weather Service admits on its website that "this confusion causes unnecessary and expensive aircraft re-routing and excess fuel consumption."
4. Wind energy ups electricity rates in Princeton, Massachusetts. Brian Allen, general manager of Princeton Municipal Light Department (PMLD) in Princeton, MA admitted in a letter to ratepayers this month that the two-1.5 megawatt wind turbines owned by the Department had lost $1,875,000 since the turbines went online in January 2010. Rather than lowering electricity rates as promised, the turbines cost Princeton customers an additional $774,000 in 2011. Allen anticipates losses to continue at the rate of around $600,000 a year assuming current wholesale electricity rates, no need for extraordinary repairs and that both turbines continue operating. In August 2011, one of the two wind turbines was taken out of production due to a mechanical problem. It did not go back on line again until in July 2012.
5. Expecting more from wind. In order for the US to achieve 20% wind power by 2030, the entire fleet of U.S. wind turbines would need to operate with an annual average capacity factor of 43.4%. Few existing wind plants in the U.S. today, and none east of the Mississippi, come close to meeting this level of annual average capacity.
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Opens Friday, February 3rd 2012 at New York's Quad Cinema and other cities nationally as well as on select VOD platforms
Wind power: it's clean; it's green; it's good.
Or is it?
Wind power...it's sustainable...it burns no fossil fuels...it produces no air pollution. What's more, it cuts down dependency on foreign oil. That's what the residents of Meredith, New York first thought when a wind developer looked to supplement the rural farm town's failing economy with a farm of their own - that of 40 industrial wind turbines.
WINDFALL, Laura Israel's richly photographed feature-length film, documents how this proposal brutally divides the people of Meredith as they fight over the future of their community. Attracted at first to the financial incentives that would seemingly boost their dying economy, many residents grow alarmed once they discover that the 400-foot high windmills slated for Meredith may bring side effects they never dreamed of. Opposition intensifies when they discover that the fiscal model for wind energy development produces huge profits, not for host towns like Meredith, but for a mysterious group of outside investors, aided and abetted by huge tax breaks and Wall Street sleight-of-hand.
Israel also turns her camera on Tug Hill, New York, another small upstate town, where wind power is a done deal. Tug Hill's 195 wind turbines create low frequency "whomping" sounds and strobe-like effects, which have significantly downgraded the quality of life and in some cases, the health of wind turbine neighbors unable to sell their homes. Meanwhile, the Meredith Town Board pushes to put their wind turbine plan through.
With wind development in the United States growing annually at 39 percent, WINDFALL, is an eye-opener that should be required viewing for anyone concerned about the environment and the future of renewable energy.
Director Laura Israel was born in New Jersey and after earning a degree in film from NYU, she edited music videos for Lou Reed, Keith Richards, David Byrne, New Order, Patti Smith, Ziggy Marley, Sonic Youth and many others. Laura has worked as photographer/filmmaker Robert Frank's editor for two decades. The films have screened all over the world and won many awards. She also edited Stephanie Black's feature documentary Africa Unite; Life For a Child directed by Academy Award-nominated DP Ed Lachman; and Music of Regret, by photographer Laurie Simmons. Editing credits include advertising and television promo campaigns that have garnered AICP awards, International Film and TV awards, a GLAAD award, an Emmy award, and a Monitor award for editing. This is Laura Israel's first film as director, and she was named one of Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film. Laura is currently working on her next film, a documentary about Robert Frank.
Founded in 1979, First Run Features is one of American's notable distributors of documentary and foreign films. Recent releases include Jason Cohn's and Bill Jersey's EAMES: THE ARCHITECT AND THE PAINTER, DA Pennebaker's and Chris Hegedus's KINGS OF PASTRY, Ken Bowser's PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE, Joe Berlinger's CRUDE, and Judith Ehrlich's and Rick Goldsmith's Academy Award-nominated THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS.
SnagFilms will be the exclusive digital on-demand distributor for WINDFALL across all platforms.
Honors and acclaim for WINDFALL:
World Premiere at Toronto International Film Festival 2010
WINNER: Grand Prize, Doc NYC 2010
HONORABLE MENTION: Talking Pictures Festival 2010
WINNER: Best Documentary, Woods Hole Film Festival 2011
OFFICIAL SELECTION: IDFA Green Screen Competition 2010
Screened in 30 festivals internationally since TIFF
"Beautifully produced, elegantly structured, edited authoritatively, with unforgettable characters."
-Patricia Aufderheide, Center for Social Media
"Fascinating, insightful, and fair. An intimate portrait of one New York community in heavy battle."
-Stewart Nusbaumer, Huffington Post
"The film isn't agenda-driven advocacy, but an invitation to think critically about an alternative energy source often presented as a panacea." - Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Never alarmist or patronizing...strung so tightly and effortlessly together that it's hard to believe this is a first-time filmmaker at hand." -Christopher Bell, The Playlist, Indiewire
"Provides a much-needed view of the growing backlash against the rapid expansion of the wind industry." -Robert Bryce, Energy Tribune
"Emotionally charged human conflict that results in a genuine cliffhanger."
-Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
"Chilling." -Stanley Fish, New York Times
NY PRESS SCREENING
Wednesday January 11th, 11 a.m.
34 W. 13th Street, New York, NY 10011
RSVP to: email@example.com
83 minutes, English, Digital, 2010, Documentary
Director/Producer: Laura Israel
Director of Photography: Brian Jackson
Producer: Autumn Tarleton
Co-Producer: Stacey Foster
Executive Producer: Don Faller
Production Services: Doublewide Media
Art Direction: Alex Bingham
Editors: Laura Israel, Stacey Foster, Alex Bingham
Technical Advisor: Lisa Linowes
Animation: Deen Modino
Voice Over: Chuck Coggins
Soundtrack Composer: Wade Schuman
Music Supervisor: Olivier Conan
Music: Hazmat Modine, Barbès Records
Press materials are available at: firstrunfeatures.com/windfall_press.html
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[Editor's note: Windaction's executive director, Lisa Linowes, attended the March 19 DC premier of Laura Israel's Windfall.]
"Windfall" made its premier showing in Washington DC last month at the Environmental Film Festival. This was the festival's 19th year and the theme -- exploring the critical relationship between energy and the environment -- was a perfect fit for Laura Israel's documentary.
I've had the pleasure of accompanying Laura to several screenings of "Windfall" over the past ten months. The format for each event is similar and always interesting. Prior to the lights dimming, Laura is introduced along with others who helped make "Windfall". Following the film's credits, the audience is invited to stay and participate in a 15-20 minute question and answer period. When I'm available, Laura and I field questions together. I thoroughly enjoy working with Laura and we understand how to complement each other on stage. I know to stay clear of questions having to do with the making of "Windfall" and she and I trade off on questions relating to energy policy, wind development, and community impacts.
We arrived at the theatre about thirty minutes before the 5:00pm showing and a line was already forming at the entrance. This had to have been an exciting moment for Laura to see her posters advertising "Windfall" along the walls and watching people streaming into the theater's lobby. That day's edition of the Washington Post carried Ann Hornaday's critique of "Windfall" which was a big plus. The review was better than we could have imagined! Ms. Hornaday likened "Windfall" to Gasland's 'grass-roots tour' and envisioned "Windfall" experiencing similar success.
For me, the Washington venue stood out for two additional reasons. It was the first time I had a chance to watch "Windfall" in a large theatre setting, the historic AFI Silver Theatre. What a treat! The sounds and visuals were more vibrant and the characters in the film seemed more alive. I fully appreciated what Laura saw in her mind's eye when she set out to create her film. Washington was also my first opportunity to experience "Windfall" in an urban setting. This would not be a "preach to the choir" moment. Most of the 250+ who attended that night never faced the prospect of industrial wind development in their community. And many were hearing a side of wind they had never heard before. I wasn't sure what reaction to expect.
Before the film, several people approached us in the lobby wanting to thank Laura for making "Windfall". Another asked if I was available to speak at his church the next morning. A colleague of mine came by, held up a flier he was handed at the door, and mentioned that "Windfall" was agitating a few people. Turns out, AWEA's vice president for public affairs, Peter Kelley, was outside overseeing his unpaid (we asked) volunteers as they distributed a rehashed press piece purporting to "set the record straight on a few issues that the movie raises." It wasn't the first time AWEA showed up at a "Windfall" screening, and likely won't be the last. Still, it was interesting to witness such insecurity coming from the wind industry.
After the film, there were a lot of thoughtful questions.
Several folks wondered why the United States could not recreate the success of wind energy touted in Denmark (Denmark's wind "success" is not as many have been led to believe. Denmark's energy needs are a fraction of what's needed by the U.S. and the amount of wind generated in the country poorly matches that actually consumed. The heavily subsidized generation typically comes during low load conditions and is dumped on other countries at low rates.)
One gentleman expressed surprise at how little he knew of the issues with wind and asked whether the mainstream media was reporting on the story. (While the New York Times and Associated Press have carried stories, in most cases the debate is treated as a local issue and covered by small town media.)
Laura was asked why the wind developer looking to build in Meredith, NY did not appear in the film. (Representatives for the company tended to work quietly behind the scenes. They did not attend public meetings or participate in open forums. If they had, Laura would have captured them on film. )
Clearly, "Windfall" triggered strong emotions in the audience. The questions continued for another forty-five minutes in the lobby of the theatre. Several people approached us about wind energy in general. They understood from "Windfall" that large-scale centrally planned wind projects might pose problems but wanted some assurance that personal turbines or smaller, community options could still work. Their sense of disappointment in our energy choices was evident -- and who could blame them? Laura is always careful to tell people that "Windfall" is not meant to answer all questions about wind or to even take a side. Her message is to encourage communities to seek out as much information as possible and to reach informed decisions. I agree, and would add that the energy debate in the U.S. has not been well grounded in fact particularly as it applies to green energy. The more the public understands the realities of our energy choices, only then can we get on with encouraging solutions that meet our environmental and economic goals.
If you have an opportunity to see "Windfall" in a theatre near you, I would encourage you to do so, regardless your view of wind energy. The visuals are mesmerizing and the story will inspire and inform. I've seen "Windfall" at least ten times, and the experience is new and different each time. Visit the "Windfall" website for the latest news on screenings.
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... Installations of wind energy by the end of 3rd quarter 2010 stood at 1,634 megawatts, down 72 percent from 2009, and the lowest level since 2006.
As we all welcomed the new year, wind proponents were quietly looking back and wondering how the breathtaking momentum coming into 2010 could turn to a mere whimper twelve months later.
You may recall that 2009 saw the largest increase in installed wind energy in the United States -- 10,000 megawatts -- bringing the total installed to just under 35,000 megawatts. Wind led the pack for three years straight as the fastest growing source of new electricity generating capacity. The 'green revolution' was underway, green jobs were all the rage, and renewable energy advocates felt their view of an America run on wind and renewables was more real than fantasy. The rapid expansion came about despite a stubborn global recession and some believed wind development might be immune to debt pressures other industries were reeling from. With the Obama administration committed to national polices that would spur further wind development, 2010 was expected to bring even greater expansion.
In December 2009 American Wind Energy Association's CEO, Denise Bode, was spilling over with confidence when she boasted "We're shovel ready, ready to rock and roll, and we can get to 20 percent [of US energy generation] easy, clearly by 2030."
As lead cheerleader for the wind industry, Ms. Bode's enthusiasm is understandable, but there comes a point when reality quiets even the most enthusiastic voices.
By June 2010, the industry was reporting that only 539 megawatts of new wind was installed, one-fifth the capacity added in the same period of 2009 (2,800 MW). By the end of 3rd quarter, total installations of wind energy stood at 1,634 megawatts, down 72 percent from 2009, and the lowest level since 2006 .
AWEA's latest press release omitted these number altogether and only proffered simplistic reasons for the decline ranging from Congress' failure to adopt long-term energy policies to coordinated anti-wind campaigns funded by the fossil fuel industry and led by the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But the factors contributing to wind's spectacular fall are much more complex as we address below.
Reality factor #1: The Copenhagen and Cancun non-events
With the Kyoto Protocol set to expire in 2012, the wind industry looked to the Copenhagen Climate Conference (December 2009) for a strong agreement that would commit the U.S. and the rest of the world to shifting away from fossil fuels and establishing a clear mandate for renewable energy. But the Conference was tainted by e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit that raised doubts as to the veracity of existing global warming data. Little was achieved in Copenhagen beyond assurances that participating countries would meet again. By the time the Cancun meetings convened in December 2010, expectations were purposely set low. World leaders again delayed the task of extending the Kyoto pact which created uncertainty in the global carbon markets and frightened investors about the future of renewables. This was one of the reasons for China's Huaneng Renewables Corp. yanking its $1.28 billion initial public offering.
Reality factor #2: Wind's high cost
AWEA attributed the explosive growth in 2009 to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) and the Section 1603 investment tax credit (ITC). Under this new subsidy, developers could recover up to 30 percent of their capital costs from the government as direct cash outlays.
Projects that otherwise made no economic sense became viable with Section 1603 grant money. In other cases, applications were pushed up in order to take advantage of the grants before the program expire at the end of 2010. While the new subsidy helped move wind projects already in the 2008/2009 development pipeline, the drop in new wind capacity in 2010 proved how limited the benefit was.
What really stopped wind in its tracks were low power prices brought on by a contacting economy and surplus natural gas supplies.
With natural gas selling at record lows and supplies expected to be abundant through this decade, developers were under pressure from investors to secure power purchase agreements with utilities. Most power-purchase agreements we've reviewed lock in the purchase price of wind for 15+ years at 2-3 times more than the wholesale price of traditional sources of generation. While above-market purchase agreements may have a stabilizing effect on energy prices for wind, they do so at an excessive price to ratepayers. Utilities were resistant to contract for higher-priced renewables unless required, or incented, by State law.
Come 2010, states were also unwilling to burden consumers with higher rates particularly during difficult economic times. Last June, Kentucky's Public Service Commission disapproved a power purchase agreement signed between Kentucky Power Company and FPL Illinois Wind, LLC involving a 20-year agreement to acquire 100 megawatts produced by FPL's Lee-DeKalb Wind Energy. The Commission cited two reasons for denying approval: 1) Cost - the 4.3 cent per kilowatt hour price was too expensive and 2) Supply - the state already had a sufficient supply of electric generation. Kentucky does not have a renewable energy standard thus no renewables obligation to satisfy. If Kentucky had such a mandate, the Commission may have had little choice but to approve agreement and the price would likely have been at/near double the 4.3 cents.
It's no surprise why the wind industry is anxious for the federal government to adopt a national renewable standard. Such a policy would create a set-aside power market that pays a premium for wind energy regardless of need and eliminates competition from lower-cost, more reliable fuel options.
Looking to offshore wind development will not ease the cost question. In 2010 we learned the true cost of offshore wind development thanks to deliberations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island involving the power purchase agreements for Cape Wind and Deepwater Wind respectively. Both agreements were approved representing the most expensive electricity in the country at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour (Cape Wind) and 24.4 cents a kilowatt hour (Deepwater Wind). As expected, both approvals were immediately appealed.
Reality factor #3: The Great Transmission Debate
Generous state and federal subsidies are skewing the power market such that on-shore wind energy facilities can afford to be located in remote areas despite locational price penalties meant to discourage remote siting. As a result, rather than working to keep deployment of transmission to a minimum, renewable energy facilities are fueling the race to build thousands of miles of new transmission capacity where none was needed before. Wind-related power line construction is now proposed nationwide with costs forecasted well into the tens of billions of dollars. Texas, alone, has approved five-billion dollars to finance transmission to deliver West Texas wind to eastern parts of the state. New England is forecasting between $10 and $25 billion (depending on the plan) to deliver in-region wind to population centers around Boston and Southern Connecticut.
Wind development has already bumped into significant transmission constraints in Texas, the Pacific Northwest and New York. And the battles over siting and cost allocations are already raging in every region of the country including New England, California, Maryland, Texas and Montana.
The cumulative cost and scale of transmission development is far from understood by most regulators especially in areas of the country that have yet to deal with actual applications before them. Commissioner Jeff Davis of the Missouri Public Service Commission -- a state that is facing extensive transmission build out for wind -- published a piece in Transmission and Distribution Magazine that should be required reading for anyone looking at transmission in their State.
Reality factor #4: Aesthetics, the environment and quality of life
Opposition to wind energy proposals intensified in the last few years. By 2010 wind developers who approached communities felt the effects of the growing backlash. People who raised concerns about property values, health effects, the adverse impacts to wildlife etc. were responding to years of being marginalized and dismissed as NIMBY ("not in my backyard"). The clash over whether to produce ‘nonpolluting domestic energy' or protect our communities and the natural environment was more frequently seen as a false choice borne out of a pie-in-the-sky belief that wind (and solar) could reliably power a substantial segment of this country.
The degradation these enormous sprawling industrial complexes brought to our cultural and visual resources was better understood in 2010 than even two years before as more turbines were pushed through the approval process. Our colleagues in Texas describe West Texas as an alien landscape where one can drive for miles and miles (and miles) and see nothing but wind turbines. The nighttime experience is even more surreal with the blinking red lights.
Many of our readers know about the turbine noise problems in Maine (Mars Hill, Vinalhaven), Illinois (DeKalb County), Wisconsin (Fond du Lac County) and so many other communities across the U.S., Canada, and worldwide. In Oregon, Caithness Energy is not so quietly buying out landowners who worry their homes will become uninhabitable once the giant Shepherd's Flat project goes online. Despite efforts by the industry to discount and discredit Drs. Nina Pierpont and Michael Nissenbaum, their research has been found credible by many.
The impact of turbines on wildlife is also taking a toll on wind development even as the industry resists acknowledging a problem. Last summer, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suspended indefinitely the issuing of wind permits on public land over concerns the turbines would slaughter protected golden eagles.
In a civil suit filed in the District Court of Maryland, the judge found that the Beech Ridge wind energy facility (West Virginia) was in violation of the Endangered Species Act involving the listed Indiana Bat and ordered the developer cease construction on additional turbines until an incidental take permit could be issued. Direct testimony by the developer's own expert predicted more than 135,000 bats would be killed by the turbines, through a combination of direct impacts with the turbine blades and barotrauma. The settlement agreement filed with the court included a condition that the developer permanently abandon thirty-one turbines nearest the Indiana bat hibernacula (about 25% of the overall project). A second civil law suit raising similar issues was just filed against another project in neighboring Maryland.
Aesthetics and cultural concerns also pose an issue for wind. In December, a federal judge granted the request of the Quechan Indian tribe for a temporary restraining order halting construction on the first massive desert solar project authorized on public lands. If built, the project would be one of the largest solar power facilities in the world. The Court ruled that the BLM failed to adequately consult with the tribe regarding 459 cultural resources in the area. This order will have a chilling impact of other renewable energy proposals including wind development.
There are other stories we are tracking that cover conflicts between turbine development and military readiness and air navigation that will likely place more pressure on the industry in the next year.
Six years ago, wind energy development was a boutique industry and the impacts of its development isolated. As a percentage of overall generation -- about 1.5% -- wind is still a boutique industry. Surprisingly, it took just 36,700 megawatts of installed wind capacity to hit up against significant barriers to entry. And grand, yet untested, goals of supplying up to 20% of the U.S. power market will continue to raise concerns around cost and impacts.
The "hurry up and get it done" mentality behind the renewables push in the United States coupled with the billions in taxpayer money made available to anyone who showed up has left no time for communities, businesses, or governments to consider the conflicts and consequences of their actions. And the wind industry has not helped its image by wrapping itself in the green cloak while doing little to address the harm the turbines cause.
In an editorial from a few years ago, we asked how many towers needed to be erected, how many view sheds and natural/cultural resources marred, how many dollars squandered and how many lives tainted by poor decisions before the process slowed to a point where we could evaluate the consequences.
Perhaps 2010 is a signal that we've reached that point -- or at least we hope so.
 Approximately 500 megawatts were completed by 4th quarter 2010.
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Windaction is closely tracking several important stories involving wind energy development that we will be reporting on in more depth in the coming weeks. Highlights of two of these stories are detailed below.
Cape Wind: Spreading the pain
This week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved the power purchase agreement (PPA) negotiated between Cape Wind and utility giant National Grid. The agreement has Grid purchasing half the energy generated by the project for 18.7 cents a kilowatt hour -- a price that's three times the cost of natural gas in the region and at/or nearly double the cost of other renewable options. But the numbers are far worse than the press is reporting. The approved 18.7 cent cost does not include the 4% paid National Grid for agreeing to buy renewable energy per the Massachusetts Green Communities Act. Added in, the price comes to 19.4 cents per kilowatt hour. The agreement also includes a 3.5% yearly escalator. After the first year of operation, the cost will rise to 20.1 cents per kilowatt; each year thereafter the cost increases 3.5% until it reaches 31.4 cents per kilowatt in 2027, the last year of the 15-year contract. If any anticipated federal subsidies expire or decrease, the price goes even higher.
The DPU acknowledged that the project will cost ratepayers with a National Grid meter between $420 million and $695 million above market prices over 15 years -- a figure that we believe to be grossly understated.
But the story doesn't end there.
The power purchase agreement approved by the DPU allocates the entire cost of the project to the delivery side of the electricity bill, and NOT the energy side where it belongs.
Since Massachusetts is a deregulated state, most large industrial and commercial users purchase their energy from competitive suppliers while still paying their utility any delivery charges to cover use of the transmission lines. By applying the project's energy cost as a delivery charge, all consumers in Grid's service territory will be hit with the bill regardless of their energy supplier. This cost allocation flies in the face of electricity deregulation which was adopted to encourage competition. It's no wonder Walmart and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) objected to the contract, and why this approval will be appealed.
National Grid took this unusual action for one reason: to spread the cost to as many ratepayers as possible. According to National Grid general counsel Ron Gerwatowski, if the cost only applied to ratepayers who purchase their energy from Grid, "everybody would leave the standard offer and we'd have nobody to recover the costs." In other words, the price shock would be enough for residents and businesses to either leave Grid's service area or find an energy supplier that didn't include costly wind in its energy portfolio.
Walmart will likely not leave Massachusetts, but it may have no choice but to reduce its staff and/or raise prices to cover Cape Wind's price tag. The same goes for members of AIM. Nothing in the DPU's public comments suggests the State considered the impact this agreement would have on the State's economy and jobs outlook.
AWEA's employment claims questioned
Data supporting the American Wind Energy Association's employment claims are spongy at best.
In 2007, AWEA touted that the industry represented 50,000 employees in the U.S., a figure that jumped to 85,000 in 2008. Twenty thousand of these jobs were in manufacturing but according to AWEA CEO, Denise Bode, this dropped by 1500-2000 jobs in 2009 due to recession-related plant closings and layoffs. However, the total 85,000 figure did not change owing to a corresponding increase in construction and maintenance activity.
But the 20,000 person number appears suspect. According to the 2010 US Trade Commission report on turbine manufacturing trends (table, page 8) there are 17 existing manufacturing facilities for blades, nacelles, and other turbine components in the United States. Assuming 500 employees on average for each of these 17 plants, there are 8,500 people employed in the manufacturing of turbine components. 
Even if we allow AWEA 18,500 jobs in manufacturing (assumes 1500 jobs lost in 2009) and using Duke Energy's number of 0.1 jobs per megawatt to operate a wind energy facility, total U.S. jobs dedicated to the manufacturing and operation come to only 22,100 (18,500 manufacturing jobs plus 3,600 operation jobs on 36,000 megawatts of installed wind). This means that over 60,000 of the jobs cited by AWEA are involved in construction and transport.
Since construction jobs are not permanent the industry would need to meet peak levels of development year after year just to maintain the 85,000 jobs it now touts. This is clearly not sustainable. We will be looking closely at the jobs numbers for 2010 and reconciling this figure with the amount in stimulus monies lavished on projects. Given recent forecasts that show a significant drop in megawatts installed this year, we expect to see a drop in the jobs count.
 Average employment figure per plant may be much lower based on table 5, page 17 of this report which cites 2797 employed for 8 plants or 350 employees on average per plant.
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Several stories in the press this week caught our attention which we felt deserved responses.
Cape Wind agreement:
Windaction.org's editorial last week examined the above market cost of the Cape Wind project that would be passed on to ratepayers in the State of Massachusetts. National Grid and Cape Wind Associates have now released some of the terms of their agreement -- none of which changed our position. We plan to write further on this topic but thought it important to highlight a few of the facts omitted in press accounts covering the agreement:
1) Monthly electric bills. National Grid announced that the project will increase monthly electric bills by $1.59 for residential customers using 500 kilowatts hours of electricity. However, the average residential customer for Grid consumes 700 kilowatts hours monthly bringing the cost closer to $2.26. Still, none of the news stories considered a comparison of Cape Wind's costs to other renewable options in the region.
2) The 4 percent markup. The Massachusetts Green Communities Act of 2008 assures National Grid an annual remuneration equal to 4 percent of the annual payments under the contract to compensate Grid "for accepting the financial obligation of the long-term contract". The 4 percent markup increases the $207 per megawatt hour (20.7 cents per kilowatt hour) accepted by Cape Wind to $215 a MWh. Surprisingly, the State policy incents National Grid to negotiate higher contract prices.
3) REC prices. According to press accounts, Cape Wind secured a price for the renewable energy credits at $67 a megawatt hour (6.7 cents a kilowatt hour). Yet, Massachusetts' REC prices today are trading at around $18/MWh and future prices are not expected to rise above $25/MWh. There is no justification for locking in a REC price that is 3-4 times the future market value. Bear in mind, the REC price agreed to in the contract is also subject to the yearly 3.5% escalator.
Property value impacts:
Windaction.org has written about the Wirtz family in Wisconsin who abandoned their home due to noise and vibrations emanating from nearby wind turbines. Their home, which was appraised for $320,000 in 2007 sold in a sheriff's sale this week for $106,740. But don't expect this event to be included in studies examining the effect of turbines on home values. Michael McCann, of McCann Appraisal, LLC in Chicago provided Windaction.org this perspective:
The whole story is useful to understanding wind turbine impacts, because it proves that living near turbines is unbearable in some instances.
However, in every legal proceeding for which I have been involved, sheriff sales are not considered to be "arm's-length" or otherwise are not accepted by courts as a reliable indication of market value. Typically, such a sale is not admissible as evidence, and a jury will not be allowed to hear about it. From an appraisal perspective, however, this sale is excellent evidence of the "market reaction" rather than completely reliable "market value" proof, even if the value was discounted further due to the sheriff sale.
An open mind must wonder what could distress an owner (and their livestock) so much that they would abandon the home of their dreams. With an objective view, it seems obvious: The turbine impact.
Last December, a GE 1.5 megawatt turbine at the Fenner wind facility in Fenner, New York collapsed. An official report explaining the root cause of the collapse is still pending but news this week shed light on the situation. According to the article, "concrete core samples from the foundations preliminarily showed inconsistent aging and degradation".
Hank Sennott, director of corporate affairs and communications for Enel North America told the Madison County Courier "I don't know of any turbine foundation failures, but we were the first, so there is nothing to go back and research. This project was the largest built east of the Mississippi when we constructed it 10 years ago. There's no history for us to look at."
Frankly, Mr. Sennott's statements deserve to be challenged.
Foundation failure has been reported in the national media before, suggesting the industry is well aware of the problem. A Business Week article from August 2007 entitled "The Dangers of Wind Power" included this:
Even the technically basic concrete foundations are suffering from those strains. Vibrations and load changes cause fractures, water seeps into the cracks, and the rebar begins to rust. Repairs are difficult. "You can't look inside concrete," says Marc Gutermann, a professor for experimental statics in Bremen. "It's no use just closing the cracks from above."
(Editor's note: the Business Week article is worth reading in its entirety.)
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After nine years of debate and millions of public and private dollars, the decision to permit America's first offshore wind project fell on the shoulders of one man, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar. Hindsight notwithstanding, there was no chance Salazar could disapprove the Cape Wind application. Does anyone doubt the Obama administration would dare to ignore the tsunami of political favoritism already bestowed on the project, no matter how unjustified? And given the administration's stated goal to nurse the U.S. economy back to health through the green movement, a denial of the permit would have unleashed a public firestorm virtually impossible to contain.
Let's face it, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound had an uphill battle in the message war from the beginning. As early as 2003, even before Windaction.org was organized, everyone knew about the wealthy 'NIMBYs' ("Not in my backyard") on the Cape waging war against the one opportunity in the region to see renewables built in a substantial way. At the time, New England had less than ten megawatts of wind installed and most people were convinced Cape Wind represented an environmentally safe, low cost, economically beneficial development that could lead the nation in eliminating our reliance on fossil fuel. The NIMBYs, even those with the Kennedy name, were discredited in the press as little more than self-serving hypocrites unwilling to take one in the view for the betterment of the whole. This attitude still prevails today in some quarters but the realities of wind energy's flaws are beginning to take hold and we believe the Alliance and its supporters will ultimately be vindicated.
The announcement of Salazar's decision opened an emotional relief valve and pressure built-up over nine years was volcanically released. Stories about Cape Wind's approval flooded the web with words like 'Finally!' splashed across the screen. The public was informed in no uncertain terms, that Cape Wind would be built, offshore wind in the U.S. was on the upswing, and the country had officially established itself as a player in the offshore arena.
From our perspective, Salazar's action was significant, but not for the reasons stated above. Rather, from this point forward, politics and public opinion will no longer drive the discourse. The Cape Wind decision and the public record on which it's based will be challenged on the facts to determine whether the project is commercially reasonable and whether it will operate in compliance with existing laws. To be frank, there is no assurance Cape Wind will survive the scrutiny.
Issues still pending
There are several issues still pending that require resolution before the project can proceed as follows:
RADAR SAFETY. The FAA has assigned the 130 wind turbine structures (heights of 440 feet) a 'presumed hazard determination' given their proximity to airports and radar stations in the Northeast. The military has already stepped up its concerns involving the moving blades interfering with radar for surveillance and weather tracking;
IMPACT ON WAMPANOAG TRIBES. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) contend that the project will destroy the archaeological evidence of their history throughout Nantucket Sound, including Horseshoe Shoal. Further they argue that the eastern horizon over Nantucket Sound must remain unaltered in order to perform their spiritual rituals and ceremonies;
FEDERAL LAW VIOLATIONS. Various stakeholders including the Alliance and Windaction.org have filed the requisite 60-day notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and other laws. Regarding the Endangered Species Act, the parties will show that Salazar's approval ignored the Fish and Wildlife Service's original recommendations to minimize and/or avoid impacts, a clear violation of the law.
COST. All of the above are legitimate and serious concerns, but Cape Wind's true Achilles heel lies in the cost of the project. Few in the State of Massachusetts, including the ratepayers, fully understand what Cape Wind will do to electricity rates and whether the cost can be sufficiently offset by the project's expected benefits. We develop the data on this issue in more detail below.
With no offshore wind built in the U.S., there is limited information on record to determine the economics of such a project. However, lessons learned during the recent proceedings before the Rhode Island PUC (RI PUC Docket 4111) are useful. In Rhode Island, the State reviewed the unsigned long-term power purchase agreement negotiated between Deepwater Wind Block Island, LLC and National Grid (also referred to as Narragansett Electric Company). With the backing of RI's governor and legislature, Deepwater proposed to construct a pilot wind project in shallow water off Block Island consisting of 6-8 turbines and a nameplate capacity of up to 30 megawatts. The purchase agreement contained an initial bundled energy price (energy, capacity, renewable credits) of $244 per megawatt hour (MWh) with a 3.5% escalation factor each year. According to pre-filed testimony submitted to the PUC, the cost was compared to long-term prices of $80 and $120 per MWh established for renewables located elsewhere in the region. The RI PUC ultimately determined the agreement was not commercially reasonable and withheld its approval.
During this same time, Cape Wind and National Grid initiated negotiations on a long term power contract. Under the Massachusetts Green Communities Act signed into law in 2008, Massachusetts utilities are required to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy projects located within state boundaries, including state and adjacent federal waters.
Any power purchase agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid would have to be approved by the State. In February, MA Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles cautioned the two parties this way: "Let me be clear. Our expectation is that the Cape Wind project must produce electricity at a substantial discount to the Rhode Island offshore wind project."
The problem for Cape Wind is its upfront capital costs. According to the latest figures from Europe, the cost to build offshore wind is approximately $5,000 per kilowatt. At 468 MW, Cape Wind will come in at a cool $2.3 billion (Most press accounts grossly understate the cost of the project).
That's a hefty expense for single power project, especially one expected to deliver only 39% of the time with no guarantee its generation will arrive when most needed. With high upfront costs and fewer hours to spread the cost over, power purchase agreements that lock in the energy and renewable credit prices are now a requirement in order to attract investor financing.
Impact on electricity rates
As noted above, renewable resources within the New England region carry a bundled energy price between $80 and $120 per MWh. If we assume Cape Wind can discount its costs to $200 a MWh, $44 off Deepwater's higher price, the above-market cost passed on to Massachusetts ratepayers will range between $128 million and $192 million per year. That's as much as $81 per year per household above any other renewables.
A provision in the Green Communities Act tilts the scale in favor of projects like Cape Wind by requiring MA utilities to enter into long-term contracts with renewable energy projects located in the state, including state and adjacent federal waters. This requirement openly discriminates against renewable generation located elsewhere including lower cost options that import from Canada or New York. This provision in the law is designed to restrict competition and place increased emphasis on the development of in-state renewable energy even if such resources are more expensive and/or more environmentally harmful. If Cape Wind were made to compete with outside resources, we suspect the project would have substantial difficulty proving its worth. But that may be what eventually happens.
TransCanada Power Marketing Ltd just filed a suit challenging several provisions of the Green Communities Act including the section that mandates contacts be entered with generators located in Massachusetts.
Uncertain benefits of Cape Wind
Earlier this year, Cape Wind Associates released a report authored by the Charles River Associates ('CRM') that analyzed the impact of Cape Wind on New England energy prices. The brief nine-page report concluded that "Cape Wind would lead to a reduction in the wholesale cost of power averaging $185 million annually over the 2013-2037 time period, resulting in an aggregate savings of $4.6 billion over 25 years." Interestingly, CMR's stated annual cost savings is in line with what we would expect Cape Wind to cost the ratepayers in above-market rates.
Aside from being thin on data, the Charles River analysis is highly speculative, at best, and fails to fully articulate the interaction between the real-time and day-ahead energy markets.
The New England ISO (ISO-NE) typically operates using a day-ahead auction where generators are required to offer firm levels of production for each hour of the next power day. The energy price, in turn, is determined based on those bidding into the system; all generators receive the same price per megawatt hour of production. Significant penalties are applied if a generator is unable to meet his commitment.
Because of its intermittency, a wind generator wishing to operate in the day-ahead market would need to contract with other dispatchable resources, most likely inefficient gas peakers, in order to "firm" their capacity commitments and avoid penalties.
A more likely scenario would be for a project like Cape Wind to operate exclusively in the real-time market i.e. a pure spot market carrying no penalties for non-performance and where prices are generally less than the prices paid for the day-ahead energy market. Those selling into the real-time market are normally paid at the clearing price of the real-time market. However, any long-term power purchase agreement will assure Cape Wind receives steady revenue at contracted price. When National Grid sells the wind energy to the grid, the energy will be sold at the lower cost spot energy market price, Cape Wind will be paid the above-market contract price, and the ratepayer will cover the difference.
The day-ahead market for the New England region represents roughly 90% of the available generation with the real-time market holding less than a 10% share. Since the price paid for ninety-percent of the generation is established twenty-four hours in advance of the power day, any participation from wind will have only a marginal impact on prices limited to those resources operating within the real-time market. Generators that bid in day-ahead who can back down are likely to do so to the greatest extent possible in order to save fuel and other costs. For New England this would be efficient co-generation natural gas, biomass, and large hydro. Since generators in the day-ahead market are still guaranteed payment, any price suppression from wind would be limited to the spot market. Thus, any downward pressure on pricing will impact inefficient single-cycle gas plants, pump storage, must-take landfill gas, small hydro, and other intermittent resources.
Assuming the New England region maintains its current policies for scheduling and dispatch of energy on the grid, ratepayers and regulators in Massachusetts would be wise to demand tangible proof of Cape Wind's economic benefit. At the very minimum, the State's consumer advocates should lose the rose-colored glasses and evaluate Cape Wind against other renewable projects in the region that can deliver reliable low/no carbon generation at a price commensurate with market value. Spending enormous sums on Cape Wind only benefits Cape Wind at the expense of the ratepayer or any potential developer who can build a better, more commercially reasonable project.
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Alexandra Weit has followed the wind energy industry in the San Gorgonio Pass, California since its beginnings. In 2008, she obtained nine years of production records directly from Southern California Edison that showed both the amount of energy generated by the site's wind turbines and the period in the day when it was produced.
Using this data and other research, Ms. Weit authored an essay titled "OK..., but what happens when the wind doesn't blow?" and submitted it to the Desert Sun newspaper, where it was promptly rejected. The editor wrote "I found that your premise is just too flawed," and shared with her the basis of his claim -- feedback he received from the CEO of a California-based wind energy provider whose e-mail is posted below.
Ms. Weit misstates the facts, I am sure it is unintentional. With regard to her points, the correct information follows:
Wind is not backed up by conventional generators, the utility does not pay twice. Southern California is served by dozens of generating resources, boulder dam, nuclear energy, gas fuel plants, wind, solar and others. Except for boulder dam they are ALL intermittent. Conventional power plants often trip off unexpectedly. The spinning reserve exists to deal with the shortfall from the loss of any of these sources. In fact wind energy is scheduled based on weather forecasts and during the time it delivers it is a most dependable source because with wind it is not all or nothing as it is in a nuclear plant, a few windmills may fail to produce in the forecasted windy time but the vast majority will produce. There is no spinning reserve dedicated to wind power.
2. In our area wind production matches on-peak and mid peak demand 60 percent of the time, when energy is most needed.
3. I am unaware of any $23 per megawatt subsidy for wind unless she means the production tax credit which expired years ago for most of the windmills here. Compare the federal subsidy for Nuclear energy which is $90 per megawatt just in the reprocessing and loan guarantee costs the government assumes.
4. To understand output you must distinguish between "Megawatts of Capacity", i.e. the total size of the generators installed by the wind energy industry, and" Kilowatt hours" which is the measure of energy produced. Ms. Weit's statistics are far off the mark here. Her source is a leading anti-wind energy web site which we have been told is funded in part by the coal industry. It is wildly inaccurate. The San Gorgonio Pass windmills have a total Capacity of 685 Megawatts. Last year they produced one Billion Eight Hundred Million (1,800,000,000) kilowatt hours of energy, enough to meet the needs of 180,000 households. This energy is scheduled and accepted by the utility and the system operator, both of which are actively seeking to purchase more of this clean energy.
5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Ms. Weit doesn't like the look of windmills, many do. They are a significant tourist attraction here in the valley. Our surveys find that the majority of people like the look and appreciate the clean energy.
6. A word on birds. All independent biological surveys done here confirm our empirical experience, windmills don't kill birds here. This is because, unlike some areas, the game they feed on is not found on the floor of the valley, the raptors just don't hunt near windfarms. And, the studies predicting wholesale slaughter of birds in Northern California have been debunked because they were based in large part on altered data.
If you need any clarification please advise.
Yes, Mr. CEO, we would appreciate some clarification on a few points you raise:
A) Nuclear power is a baseload resource in every region of the country. How can it now be defined as intermittent given plants in the U.S. operate at 90-92% capacity factors? Your contention that nuclear power is on par with low-value wind generation and less reliable than hydro is simply wrong.
B) You argue that wind is more dependable than conventional generating resources, including nuclear, based on a concept that enough turbines erected will assure at least some energy will flow -- this, of course, provided the wind is blowing. But how much, and will that energy flow when we need it? Can you assure us there will be sufficient power to run an economy, or even a small hospital?
C) The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports $23 per megawatt hour subsidy for wind. We encourage you to look at Table ES5 of this recent report. [See editor's note below]
D) Ms. Weit's figures came directly from Southern California Edison. Do you have different, real numbers we might compare? Since the production figures you quoted (1,800,000,000 kilowatt hours from 685 megawatts installed capacity) represent a flat 30% average annual capacity factor, we're assuming you opted for an off-the-cuff industry number just to make a point.
E) Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but few people who see these images (photo1 and photo2) would share your perspective.
F) And finally, regarding your "word on birds" we would be interested in any details substantiating your claim that "studies predicting wholesale slaughter of birds in Northern California have been debunked." The wind turbines in the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) have caused annual fatalities of thousands of raptors and other birds. And, despite an Avian Protection Program requiring mitigation measures and eventual repowering to modern wind turbines APWRA-wide fatality rates increased significantly for multiple bird species, including 85% for all raptors and 51% for all birds.
Windaction.org is well aware from talks we've given around the country that Wind Speak as highlighted above is very common. And it doesn't surprise us when a newspaper editor falls prey to it. But there is NO excuse for Mr. CEO's blatant misrepresentations. If his product were as effective as he believes, wouldn't the truth suffice?
Editor's note: The link to the EIA report included in our weekly Wind Alert! was incorrect. It has been corrected here. Our apologies for any inconvenience.
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Last year, Rhode Island's Governor Carcieri entered his State into the race, wanting to become the first to see industrial scale wind turbines spinning off its coastline. His administration's initial step was to select Deepwater Wind as the preferred developer of two offshore projects. The first, a small pilot wind farm of 5-8 turbines to be sited in State waters within three miles of Block Island and the second, a 100+ turbine facility planned for fifteen miles off state shores in federal waters.
Deepwater wasted no time. In January, the company submitted a request to the New Shoreham Town Council on Block Island for a Special Temporary Permit to locate a mobile radar unit by the Southeast Lighthouse to study bird patterns. The request received little attention and was unanimously approved.
The following month, Deepwater submitted a second request for a Special Temporary Permit. This time, the company was seeking permission to erect a 180-foot tall meteorological tower necessary for assessing the wind resource in the area. The enormous tower proposed near the entrance of the Great Salt Pond on the island's west side would be the first significant physical sign of the company's plan to install turbines near the island. As can be expected, the residents of Block Island took notice.
On February 27, 2009, Attorney Mark J. Hagopian submitted a letter to the Council on behalf of several property owners in Town. His letter raised serious legal questions about the Council's use of Special Temporary Permits in approving Deepwater's requests. Such special permits, according to Town zoning (section 112), are reserved for "circumstances of emergency or other urgent necessity for the public health and safety" and may only be granted for a use or purpose that cannot be accomplished through the normal planning process.
Windaction.org fully concurs with Attorney Hagopian's assertion that "Deepwater's proposal is a run-of-the-mill request for the commercial use of property in a residential zone and is profit motivated". He correctly argues that there is no apparent reason for Deepwater to bypass the normal process and, in fact, the Council's willingness to act on Deepwater's request is not only unwise, it "violates fundamental notions of due process".
Despite Hagopian's letter, and the very vocal public objections voiced at the March 2 Council meeting, the vote was unanimous to grant Deepwater its second Special Temporary Permit.
A quick read of the meeting minutes reveals a level of ignorance about land use law and wind energy on the part of the Council that will almost certainly prove harmful to the residents of Block Island if left unaddressed.
Minutes of the March 2 meeting show that First Warden Kimberly Gaffett claimed to have conferred with the Town's Land Use attorney, Donald Packer, on the question of Special Temporary Permits and was informed they were lawful in this case. There is no record in the minutes that Parker provided his opinion in writing.
But the more disturbing comments came from Council member Dr. Peter Baute who reacted to whether Deepwater's request represented an urgent, public health necessity. The minutes state:
"Dr. Baute said the application was clearly an urgent necessity critical to the well-being of the town. Merchants and hotel owners, their employees, their families and customers, were critically impacted by the second highest electric rates in the country. The Island has a short season in competition with Newport, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and many other seaside resorts, and the electric bills put businesses at an enormous economic disadvantage. The spiking power bills and disappearing profit margins create stress, a medically unhealthy condition. The application for the met tower is one of the first steps to accessing reliable, price-stable power, which can relieve one cause of the Island's stress, and the Council should approve the tower application."
Dr. Baute's comments are more ranting than reasoned. How could a tower erected to gather yearly wind data for the benefit of a for-profit, private entity be deemed a public health emergency? In fact, Deepwater did not install the tower until August. And his claim that high electricity costs and shrinking profit margins were creating stress, and thus a medical emergency for the town is laughable. We note that no economic analysis of Deepwater's proposal was available to him at the time the vote was taken.
In fact, the true cost-benefit to island ratepayers is still under review. Case in point: Rhode Island's legislature voted this year to require island electricity customers to shoulder more of the wind farm's $20-million underwater cable cost because, according to members of the General Assembly, the island would be the primary beneficiary.
More information about Block Island's wind farm will be made available in the coming year. Windaction.org encourages the residents of Block Island to get the facts on the project and watch the Town Council's actions closely. Wishful thinking and fantasy on the part of the Council are no excuse for corrupting the plain reading of town laws or for substituting blind faith for facts.
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There are several news stories we've been following that we thought important to highlight this week given the similarities to other cases our readers are involved with.
In August, 2008, the Bingham County Idaho Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a special permit allowing the construction of a 150-turbine wind "farm" on nearly 20,000 acres along Wolverine Canyon. At the time, Commissioner Wayne Brower told news outlets that it was a "tough decision", but the "need for renewable energy won out". The area where the wind facility is proposed is locally designated as a Natural Resource/ Agriculture district which, by definition, does not permit industrial, energy-producing, structures.
County residents appealed the decision claiming conflict of interest involving two of the County Board members. They also argued that an industrial wind plant was not an agricultural use under County zoning, thus should not be permitted.
This week Bingham County Judge Richard St. Clair ruled in favor of the residents. According to his 38-page ruling, the Judge found that several errors were made by the County Board which rendered the proceedings unlawful under Idaho law. The developer, Ridgeline Energy, must now reapply for a special permit.
In the meantime, the Bingham Planning and Zoning board drafted a new wind ordinance that establishes setback requirements. We hope that after two years of controversy surrounding this wind proposal the County will take the time to listen to those residents who will be negatively impacted by the development and find a way to address their concerns through the county ordinance.
Earlier this summer we reported on a story from Libertyville, IL involving a 120-foot tall, 50 kilowatt Entegrity wind turbine erected within 250-feet of residential properties. Despite assurances from the owner, Aldridge Electric, and Libertyville officials, that the turbine would be quiet and blade/shadow flicker would not be a problem, the noise and other nuisances proved unbearable to the neighbors. A civil suit was filed and in July Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffman issued his final compromise ruling confirming the turbine was causing harm to nearby residents and ordered turbine operation restricted to weekdays between the hours of 9am to 3pm.
The transcript of the Judge's decision includes important information on nuisance law in Illinois. Since this decision, Libertyville officials voted to impose a six-month moratorium; Village Trustees asked the village's plan commission to consider possible changes to the rules governing electric power-generating facilities.
The State of Rhode Island, in its aggressive pursuit of wind energy development, announced the selection of Deepwater Wind to develop a privately financed project off Rhode Island's coast. Deepwater is currently moving forward with a pilot project to be sited within 2 miles of Block Island.
Public reaction to industrial-scale wind turbines is largely untested in Rhode Island, but the State is well aware of the powerful opposition that delayed the Cape Wind proposal in nearby Massachusetts. To gauge public acceptance of the turbines, surveys were sent to 1,484 voters on Block Island. Of the 547 surveys completed and returned, an overwhelming number supported the siting of the project either onshore or offshore, with one important condition - that the facility would be far enough away to be "impossible to hear".
RI residents need to be aware of reported noise problems at similar projects. Windaction.org is in close contact with residents of Cape Vincent, New York which is situated 2-3 miles from Wolfe Island off the coast of Ontario. Eighty-six turbines were erected and commissioned on the island this spring.
One Cape Vincent resident wrote this:
"From the Village of Cape Vincent the turbines on Wolfe Island can easily be heard. The sound is like a jet flying over at altitude and it is very distinct. It also resembles the sounds emanating from outside a large, busy city. If you are in a calm spot protected from the wind the sound is really clear."
This week, our contact reported that "atmospheric conditions were just right last night. At 6 to 7 miles away the turbines could be heard. Loudest so far."
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The trend at all levels of governance is clear: Deployment of wind energy facilities will be expedited and no location deemed to be suitable by the industry will be denied.
Laws are being written and adopted that legally ban public participation from the decision process. In the remaining venues where communities can intervene, the enormous financial burden of "fighting city hall" is often prohibitive. Even when objections are recognized and validated by the decision makers, projects still get approved.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
This list of recent public actions represents only a small fraction of what Windaction.org is tracking daily.
United Kingdom: In March, Britain's Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband asserted that opposing wind farms should be as "socially unacceptable" as not wearing seat belts or failing to stop at a crosswalk.
In the State of Maine, psychiatrist Richard Jennings used a similar manipulative analogy when he advocated wind power before the State's Wind Power Task Force.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
Canada: This week, Ontario Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman reminded the public that the newly adopted Green Energy Act outlaws any resistance to the siting of wind energy facilities by municipalities regardless their concerns. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's edict that "NIMBYism will no longer prevail" sparked fears that all expressed concerns will be viewed as illegitimate or inconsequential.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
Illinois: Following a March 21 hearing which lasted a grueling 19 hours, DeKalb County hearing officer David Dockus recommended the County Planning and Zoning Committee deny a permit for NextEra Energy Resources' (formerly FPL Energy) proposed 151-turbine wind energy plant. NextEra submitted supplemental information to address some of the concerns, prompting a second hearing.
NextEra offered no witnesses for cross-examination at the second hearing. Dockus reversed his position and recommended the permit be approved.
The citizen group ‘Citizens for Open Government' filed a Motion to Dismiss detailing how NextEra's Application failed to meet the criteria for a permit and would require existing laws be ignored. Instead, the motion was ignored by Dockus and the County.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
New Hampshire: In March, Counsel for the Public Peter Roth eloquently delivered closing comments before the State's Site Evaluation Committee considering Noble Environmental's proposal to construct a 99 megawatt wind energy facility in Coos County. The project, located on some of the region's most sensitive mountain habitat, will negatively impact at least three State endangered or threatened species.
Having objectively weighed the evidence on behalf of the public, Mr. Roth concluded at the hearings "...based on what I've seen of the evidence, I don't think the Applicant has met its burden ...I honestly believe that this Project creates more impact than the power it will do [generate] is worth."
Shortly thereafter, State Attorney General Kelly Ayotte under political pressure, reversed Mr. Roth calling his statements "a misunderstanding". In the final memo to the Committee, Roth changed his position and delivered a letter of support with conditions - most of which were entirely ignored by the Committee.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
Massachusetts: The governor and legislature are moving quickly to pass a bill to promote industrial wind development in every community within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The legislation removes all local zoning control and veto power over onshore wind power plants at least 2 megawatts (MW) and shifts permitting authority to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board.
The Siting Board has never turned down a power plant application, according to records in its online database.
The proposed legislation also aims to reverse constitutional protections of public lands (including state forests, reservations, and parks) for industrial wind development, without public say. Similar legislation is pending in Wisconsin and New York.
Memo to the public: "Just shut up"
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Windaction.org has been tracking a number of controversial wind energy stories that we will be commenting on in future Wind Alert! newsletters.
a) Legislation proposed in Ontario Canada, Montana, and Wisconsin aimed at fast-tracking wind energy development and silencing the voices of those concerned about massive towers spanning the landscape.
b) Active and substantial public participation in Nevada, Maine, Illinois, and Canada by those seeking to have their concerns addressed before green-lighting of wind energy projects. Over 350 people tried to attend one hearing in Illinois before it was postponed due to overcrowding conditions.
c) A "wind farmer" in Cohocton, New York who broke his silence and spoke out about the unbearable wind turbine noise he is living with. He joins a chorus of others cited in our opinions section who took the time to tell their stories.
d) The most oft reported story this week, the push to build an expansive transmission network to deliver renewable energy US-wide. Lisa Linowes of Windaction.org will be speaking on this topic next week at the 12th Annual Midwest Energy Conference in Chicago. Watch for her presentation, "Transmission to Everywhere", that focuses on the flaws and high costs of this effort.
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It is fundamental that the benefits of any proposed wind energy facility outweigh its impacts. Since there are no intrinsic environmental benefits to erecting wind turbines on ridge lines, prairie lands or coastal areas, the benefits of wind-powered electricity are expected to accrue through the displacement of fossil fuel generation, and the offsetting of associated CO2 emissions and other pollutants.
In September, the ISO-NE, which holds responsibility for managing the electric grid system for the New England area, released its 2006 New England Marginal Emission Rate Analysis where it analyzed the annual marginal emission rates of the New England Generation System. The 2006 marginal emission rate values were calculated using actual 2006 hourly generation.
Table 5.9 of the report states the average CO2 emissions for the entire six-state region was 993 lbs per megawatt hour (lbs/MWh) generated. Put another way 993 lbs/MWh of CO2 could be offset should electricity from wind-generation or other renewable energy sources displace the electricity which otherwise would be produced on the grid from power plants operating on the "margin". The ISO defines “marginal units” for energy and emissions purposes as largely oil and gas units that are needed in the event of higher load on the system.
Given that New England power plants emitted nearly 52-million tons of CO2 in 2006, according to the ISO, it would require nearly 10,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity -- more than 4,500 massive towers -- to offset or displace just 25% of New England's annual power plant emissions of CO2 for 2006.
However, the overriding issue is whether wind turbines will significantly REDUCE the CO2 emissions in New England.
Under New England's cap and trade program (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - RGGI), owners of wind energy facilities could displace any CO2 emissions produced from another power source, and the generator may sell and/or transfer his unused emissions credits to another source. Thus CO2 emissions which are regulated under the RGGI cap and trade program may be transferred but are never avoided.
Wind proponents are quick to proclaim the effect of wind generation on greenhouse gas emissions but Windaction.org warns these benefits are less apparent in the New England region for two important reasons:
1) New England relies heavily on clean natural gas for its marginal fuel source, which produces far less CO2 emissions than coal, for example. Any displacement of CO2 due to wind energy generation in the region would be far less than in other parts of the U.S. which are more dependent on coal. Yet the negative environment, economic, and social impacts of a wind facility can be enormous.
2) Under the region’s cap and trade scheme, emissions are displaced but will never be avoided.
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Last June, Windaction.org commented on the US Department of Energy's report "20% Wind Power by 2030" touting wind power could supply 20% of the US electricity needs by 2030. Buried in the document was a remarkable admission - that wind power cannot replace the need for many "capacity resources", i.e. those generators that supply electricity during periods when we need it. In other words, while utilities are obligated to provide electricity, instantaneously, when customers demand it, wind does not, nor can it ever, do that.
We liken wind energy to the wayward child. It's unavailable when needed, shows up when unexpected, and when it does arrive it often behaves erratically. Thus, the wind cannot be relied on as a primary fuel source.
As installed wind capacity increases on the grid, up to ninety-percent of this amount may be required in the form of redundant, backup generation from more reliable sources (coal, gas) to ensure supply when the winds die out. Without such redundant power plants, utilities will not be able to meet peak demand, and grid reliability will be compromised.
Today, wind proponents are advocating we populate our rural open spaces, ridge tops, and coastal areas with thousands of massive turbines and added infrastructure (transmission). The impacts of this development on the natural environment and on those living near the towers are far from understood. The need for independent, unbiased study is crucial.
Yet, if the public knew what the DOE already knows -- that no number of towers erected would result in the decommissioning of an existing power plant, nor will they negate the need to build new, reliable generation - would they tolerate the potential harm these turbines cause? We highly doubt it.
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Pressure is mounting in the United States to construct new and extensive transmission lines necessary to transport wind energy from remote areas where it's generated to markets where it will be consumed. Power lines hundreds of miles long are proposed to criss-cross the country costing billions of dollars. While wind generators are willing to commit to building projects (heavily subsidized by federal tax credits), the cost of new transmission is expected to be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers in the different regions.
Last week, Texas regulators approved $4.93 billion in public dollars to be spent on a web of transmission lines slated to carry west Texas wind to east Texas. The plan is expected to cost residential electricity customers $4 extra per month to cover the cost. While Texas races to claim the moniker of "wind capital", little has been established as to the economic, environmental, and social impacts of this decision.
Contrast this with the debate occurring within the New England regional power pool. Last spring, several proposals were submitted to the ISO-New England to study whether costs for new transmission to remote areas can be regionalized. A key question before the ISO and the region as a whole is "Who is or should be responsible for paying for transmission system projects that are not focused on maintaining power system reliability, or reducing congestion, but instead are entirely or largely driven by the interconnection of new generation resources?" This is one of several questions posed by Paul Hibbard, Chairman of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, to the ISO-NE. In most cases, the new generating resources referenced by Chairman Hibbard are wind projects proposed for the far northern reaches of Maine and New Hampshire.
In his follow-up comments to the Economic Studies Working Group, Hibbard further notes "the [wind] industry is no longer one that needs to be pampered - wind resource development is now being driven not by local interests or wind wildcatters, but by institutions with extremely deep pockets and sophisticated development strategies" including FPL, T. Boone Pickens, Iberdrola, and Energias de Portugal (EDP).
It is well known that energy prices will be governed at least over the next few decades by the marginal price of the dominant fossil fuel(s) for a region -- which for New England is natural gas and some oil. If the ratepayers in New England and Texas are further asked to bear the mounting costs to construct transmission to remote, windy areas, the much touted "free fuel" starts to look very expensive in real dollars and in environmental costs. (Note: several reports in this week's newsletter focus on the impacts and opposition to new transmission lines).
In addition to socializing the huge costs, building new transmission inevitably involves arm-twisting and outright taking of private property. Texans are known to be at least as protective of their property rights as New Englanders, so where's the outrage?
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The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), a quasi-public agency tasked with encouraging renewable energy technologies in the State, is funded through a monthly systems benefit surcharge to all electricity users statewide. MTC has spent millions speculating on wind proposals, including $250k on the out-of-state Redington, Maine project which was denied a permit.
Windaction.org has watched MTC continuously speculate and pressure small towns into adopting community wind energy regardless of need and with no apparent understanding of competing community interests and land use restrictions.
Ratepayer money was gambled and spent before any final approvals for erection of wind turbines in the Town of Orleans. In 2005, MTC contracted to purchase two new Vestes V82 – 1.65 megawatt wind turbines for $5.28 million. They took delivery of the turbines nine months later on Sep 20, 2006 and warehoused them in Houston, TX at storage fees as high as $3,000 a month.
As it turns out, issues with sensitive watershed areas compromised the plan. Then the agency aggressively worked to get the turbines placed in Mattapoisett, MA and neighboring Fairhaven, MA, but public opposition to the giant structures too close to residential areas stymied that effort. Last month, Fairhaven residents filed a civil suit to keep the turbines out.
MTC is now looking to cut its losses and unload the turbines at the original purchase price, less the service warranty which has expired.
Perhaps it’s time for MTC to reevaluate its tactics and how best to implement its mission. Building green communities involves more than moving town to town and leaving a trail of turbines behind. The ratepayers of Massachusetts deserve more accountability from their quasi-public agencies.
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Giant utility, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is proposing a six-turbine wind energy facility for Hutchinson Island, a barrier island off the east coast of Florida. The project site is home to about 180 species of birds and animals including 36 species that are endangered or threatened. The proposal has been met with considerable opposition by area residents and environmental groups .
In a May 19 letter to St. Lucie County (FL) Board of County Commissioners, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) expressed its apparent support for the FPL wind project. An article about the letter in Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper was originally headlined "Turbine plan gains support from National Resources Defense Council".
Members of the Save St. Lucie Alliance, a local citizen organization, responded to the letter and press coverage by contacting the letter's author, Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for NRDC. Mr. Greene disclosed that FPL had asked him to write the letter, and admitted he had no knowledge of the project site nor did he understand the potential environmental impacts should the turbines get built. He stated his intent was to express NRDC's support for wind energy in general, not this project specifically.
Mr. Greene phoned the reporter to correct the record and a correction has since been published in the paper. The updated article with new headline, "National Resources Defense Council urges fair hearing for FPL wind turbine plan", includes a sidebar stating "This article has been modified from its original version... The council has not taken a position on the [wind project]".
WindAction.org applauds local citizens, like the Save St. Lucie Alliance, willing to investigate suspicious press reports and take action to correct the record where necessary.
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Property owners in Oswego County, NY were notified last week that Babcock & Brown, an Australia wind developer with twenty wind farms in the U.S., could execute eminent domain to secure a 150-foot wide swath across private land needed to erect transmission lines to a proposed wind project on Galloo Island.
This is not the first time international wind concerns have threatened property owners with eminent domain. Early last year, Montana Alberta Tie Ltd. (MATL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tonbridge Power Inc. of Toronto, Ontario, advertised its right of eminent domain to secure land to build a 203-mile "merchant" transmission line across cropland. Three wind energy developers have reserved MATL's transmission capacity and plan wind parks all along the MATL line beginning in 2008.
Three years ago, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) granted Scottish Power, a Scottish-owned corporation, the power of eminent domain for the purpose of building transmission lines from their Elk River wind energy facility. The KCC granted the authority with no public hearing. With the exception of notices sent to other utilities, the entire process was quietly accomplished in less than three weeks.
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The USDA's Forest Service proposes to make sweeping changes to its internal directives governing wildlife monitoring and special use authorizations. These proposed changes will greatly facilitate the siting of industrial wind turbines within our National Forests. The new language contained in the Forest Service Manual section now lists the Forest Service's #1 goal as: "Authorize wind energy facilities on National Forest System lands to help meet the nation's energy needs." The Service has declared these proposed revisions as "non-significant", thus exempting this policy action from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, i.e. no Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needed to evaluate the cumulative impacts of these extensive policy revisions. Please write to insist that the Forest Service not finalize these proposed revisions until they complete an EIS - as should be required pursuant to the letter and intent of NEPA.
The deadline for comments is Jan 23. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to sign on to a joint letter.
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Wind energy developers are increasingly benefiting from local town officers who have a conflict of interest in seeing developments built on their own lands. News of such conflicts emerged during the past year from communities in New York, Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.
In the town of Burke NY, two town board members voting on a proposed Wind Energy Facilities Law were exposed as clearly having "direct pecuniary interest in the placement of wind towers", according to a letter filed by an attorney representing citizens of Burke. The letter asserts "Town Board member Arnold Lobdell is a party to an Option and Lease Agreement with Jericho Rise Wind Farm, LLC.," and "Town Board member David Vincent has entered into an Easement Agreement with Noble Chateaugay Windpark LLC." (see agreements)
Such conflict is destructive to the democratic process and should not be tolerated anywhere in the United States of America. In the case of Burke NY, WindAction.org and others recommends swift action be taken by the Town Board to disavow the draft wind energy facilities law, and re-initiate the effort from scratch with the conflicted members removed from the process.
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