In August 2007, First Wind, LLC received approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to erect sixteen 2.5 megawatt wind turbines in Sheffield, Vermont. Residents of Sheffield, neighboring Sutton, and others in the region fought the project from the beginning. And when First Wind was issued a NPDES storm water permit in 2009 from the State, the permit was appealed . The appellants argued that First Wind failed to identify the full extent of the area of disturbance, impacts to streams and stream biota, and violated the VT Water Quality Standards.
In advance of the Environmental Court proceedings, First Wind approached the appellants and others who opposed the project seeking settlement discussions.
A draft agreement was prepared by Kurt Adams1, executive vice president at the company. It allowed for a $500,000 settlement to be paid over 20 years and allocated according to proximity to the project. The expectation was that those living closest to the project would receive more money; those further away would receive less.
Adams explained that the payment represented the "financial component" for sound easements only and that no consideration would be given for other negative effects caused by the turbines. In fact, a clause in the agreement specifically released the company from any and all actions, claims, or suits that might arise due to impacts of the project except those attributable to negligence of First Wind or its affiliates.
Adams also required that the stormwater appeal be dropped.
The parties overwhelming opted not to settle. Aside from problems with the agreement itself, the parties refused to be placed in the position of approving the destruction of Sheffield's mountain tops and felt that by agreeing to the terms they would pave the way for industrial wind development throughout Vermont. It was also important to them that they preserve future options. "None in the group could tolerate the thought of signing the non-disclosure, non-disparagement clause in the proposed agreement, nor did they believe First Wind would be around for 20 years to make good on the payments," one resident told Windaction.org.
Windaction.org has learned that upon hearing no deal, Kurt Adams upped the offer to $2 million. Still no agreement.
The trial proceeded as scheduled, and good that it did. Expert testimony revealed that the area of disturbance impacted by the project would be 40% greater than First Wind claimed. Is this the reason Adams tried to settle now?
 Recent press accounts show that Kurt Adams accepted his job with First Wind prior to leaving his position as Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. First Wind is the largest developer of wind in the State of Maine with 124 megawatts installed and more proposed. A law suit filed by residents living near First Wind's Mars Hill wind energy facility is still pending.
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Last week, First Wind (formerly UPC Wind) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its newest wind farm in New England, the Stetson wind energy facility located in Danforth, Maine. The event celebrated completion of the 38-turbine (57-megawatt) facility and was attended by 100 state and local officials including Maine's Governor Baldacci, construction company representatives, and local business owners.
The Governor addressed the crowd by praising his administration's proactive agenda on wind power development and the State's willingness "...to change for the future while safeguarding its natural resources."
Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner thanked First Wind for its investment and called the company "tremendous stewards of our environmental resources and, most importantly, the public trust."
The public fawning by Maine's officials is typical of what we've come to expect from Baldacci and other politicos in Maine and its neighboring States of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but in this case one needn't dig too deep to realize the "feel-good" messages belie the harsh realities surrounding Stetson.
The Stetson wind project involved two separate permit applications submitted to two different State regulatory bodies. The primary application covering the wind farm itself was submitted to and approved by Maine's Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC). The second, known as the "Line 56 Project", detailed construction of a 38-mile, 115 kV (Line 56) transmission line from Stetson Wind to the Keene Road substation in Chester, Maine and was approved by the State's Department of Environmental Protection (ME-DEP).
According to the "Line 56 Project" application, the 38-mile line involved impacts to 81.1 acres of wetlands including crossing the Penobscot River, the Mattagodus Stream Wildlife Management Area1, and the Mattawamkeag River twice! Windaction.org wonders whether Governor Baldacci was even aware of what his ME-DEP approved when he praised Maine for "safeguarding its natural resources". Impacts to the natural environment notwithstanding, First Wind described the aesthetic impact of building Line 56 as ‘Low' despite the fact that 173 dwellings were located within 300-feet of the line.
But the situation surrounding Stetson is more dire.
In June 2007, three months prior to First Wind submitting its application for permission to construct Line 56, the final draft copy of the Interconnection System Impact Study was released detailing the local- and grid- wide impacts to the New England power grid should Stetson feed 57 MW to the grid. The findings of the study were clear.
The System Impact Study asserted Stetson would have "no significant system impact to the stability, reliability, and operating characteristics" of the New England transmission system but that conclusion tells only part of the story. The study also showed that the existing transmission Line 64, into which Line 56 would feed, was at full capacity (151 MW) servicing Brookfield Power's 126 MW hydroelectric system and Indeck's 25 MW biomass power plant - both base load renewable generators. With the introduction of Stetson energy into Line 64, energy output from Brookfield and/or Indeck would have to be significantly curtailed resulting in a 0 MW net gain in renewable generation for the region. Put another way, Stetson Wind, an intermittent unpredictable generator, could displace existing reliable base load renewables.
In its March 13, 2008 letter to the ME-DEP, Brookfield Power New England LLC correctly stated through its attorney Matthew D. Manahan that "It is not in the public interest for new intermittent renewable generation to be constructed and to pass over Line 56 if it simply displaces existing renewable generation - that can provide capacity to Maine - on another transmission line, Line 64."
Regardless the environmental, visual and transmission impacts of Line 56, ME-DEP granted First Wind the permit.
It's not certain how much, if any of Stetson's 57 MWs of wind energy will ever reach the New England power grid, but according to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, the ISO-New England and Maine state officials assured Brookfield and Indeck that the established power generators' needs would come first when the Stetson Mountain project goes active. Brookfield Renewable Power Inc.'s general manager told the paper "In layman's terms, they [First Wind] were going to have to take a back seat to our transmission needs." That may be true, but Windaction.org wonders whether First Wind's banker, HSH Nordbank, who wrote a letter endorsing First Wind and the Stetson proposal to ME DEP is aware of this fact. And did Governor Baldacci know this last week when he bowed before the massive towers.
Still, none of these issues have dampened First Wind's plans to build Stetson II, a 17-turbine 25.5 MW facility. According to published documents submitted to LURC in November 2008, Stetson II will connect to the same substation as Stetson I and has no need for additional transmission. (The same holds for First Wind's proposed 60 MW Rollins Wind project.)
First Wind's Stetson II (and Rollins Wind) will further exacerbate the congestion on Line 64, and its energy may never get to the New England grid.
But apparently, First Wind is confident it will still get Maine's permission to build Stetson II.
Windaction.org has learned First Wind has already taken delivery of Stetson II's seventeen turbines. These photos (photo1, photo2) dated December 20, 2008 show the turbine components on the Stetson Mountain leased property and at the old staging area for Stetson I.
With powerful wind proponents like Governor Baldacci and First Wind's Chief Development Officer Kurt Adams (former chairman of Maine's Public Utilities Commission, Maine's primary regulator of transmission infrastructure), First Wind has no reason to sweat the hard questions. But to be safe, Bill LD 199 was introduced in the legislature to squash all possible local obstacles. The summary of LD 199 states:
"The bill grants the state-level wind power siting authority, which is the Department of Environmental Protection or the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission depending on the location of a given wind power development, sole jurisdiction for approving the construction and initial operation of a wind energy development. Specifically, the bill prohibits any other state or local governmental entity from requiring any approval, permit or other condition for the construction or initial operation of a wind energy development that has been certified or permitted by the wind power siting authority."
Contrary to Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner praise of First Wind as "tremendous stewards ...of the public trust", in fact, First Wind, and those Maine officials entrusted to protect the environment and the health, safety, and welfare of the residents have shown nothing but contempt for the public trust.
Unfortunately, it will be Maine's citizens and the greater New England region who pay the price for Baldacci's ignorance, Kurt Adams audacity, and First Wind's arrogance.
1The Mattagodus wetland system includes one of New England’s most ecologically significant fens (groundwater-fed wetlands), at least ten endangered and threatened species including the Clayton’s copper butterfly (which only occurs at ten sites in the world), and a rare mayfly species whose only known occurrence is in Maine.
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In 2004, the U.S. Government Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted Pacific Wind Development LLC (now Iberdrola/PPM) a 3-year Right-of-Way Temporary Use Permit for 17,617 acres of public lands for "wind energy testing and monitoring facilities". The testing right-of-way was permitted without the benefit of public notice or comments, apparently based on the assumption that wind testing would not prove controversial. Letters objecting to the right-of-way grant were submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity, the San Diego Sierra Club, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and others.
In December 2007 the BLM released an updated Eastern San Diego County Proposed Resource Management Plan (PRMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that allowed Iberdrola/PPM to develop wind energy in the vicinity of McCain Valley on 6,931 acres, reduced from the initial 17,617 acres granted. Opposition mounted and letters of protest were lodged with the bureau of which only one, written by Iberdrola/PPM, argued that more land should be granted.
In response to the protest letters, the BLM filed a public notice of "significant change" in the Federal Register last month in which it stated: "Concerns have been raised by the public that the Eastern San Diego County PRMP is overly restrictive regarding wind energy development and is not adequately responsive to national goals and directives... regarding renewable energy development on public lands". Per its public notice, the BLM now proposes downgrading an additional 13,000 acres of public land to allow for Iberdrola's development plans. The land in question is immediately adjacent to areas of critical environmental concern, and BLM Wilderness Areas.
In its detailed letter of protest to the BLM, the Boulevard Planning Group wrote "Any plans to industrialize (rape) our local public lands, especially at the expense of US taxpayers and local property owners, will be met with fierce scrutiny and opposition. We are not alone." Written comments on the changes to the PRMP will be accepted until August 27, 2008.
Windaction.org encourages all of its subscribers to join the Boulevard Planning Group and file protest comments with the BLM.
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Two different, but very similar news reports (CBS News: Winds of change blow in Texas and NPR: Winds of change blow into Roscoe, Texas) were published in the last two weeks. Each highlighted the economic opportunities resulting from wind energy development in West Texas and the revitalization of otherwise land-rich, resource-poor communities of the State. CBS termed it a "wind energy gold rush".
These stories stand in stark contrast to the message offered in this short video from the same area. Further, not all landowners who lease land for wind development continue to support their decision after the turbines are operational. This paid ad, which appeared in a Wisconsin paper in October 2007, tells a disheartening story of a landowner who recognized the fallout of his decision after the damage was done.
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