Wind energy is unreliable.
But there's one thing we can always count on -- AWEA tantrums, which are getting to be regular occurrences.
Last month we were treated to a week of whining by the American Wind Energy Association after the Obama Administration and GOP leaders released the terms for extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The outburst was triggered after learning the tax agreement negotiated with the White House omitted any reference to extending the Section 1603 tax grant program (ITC), a program introduced in 2009 under ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and due to sunset end of 2010. The costly stimulus program provides direct cash grants to wind developers in lieu of the production tax credit for up to 30% of their capital costs, no questions asked. Like a recording stuck on replay, AWEA's Denise Bode's shrill warnings about job loss and immediate harm to the industry repeated non-stop until lawmakers relented and sanctioned a 1-year extension.
Last week, AWEA was in a huff again. This time the target was the new governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
For more than five years, communities throughout Wisconsin worked within State law to establish local regulations that would protect homeowners and families from improperly sited wind energy projects. Projects under 100 megawatts were subject to these local standards which stood as models for other communities worldwide.
The wind industry complained bitterly to then governor Jim Doyle and the State legislature about the new local regulations. With setbacks ranging from 1800 feet to 1 mile, the industry insisted the laws were nothing more than "de facto moratoria" and should be overturned.
In September 2009 the State complied. Senate Bill 185 was signed into law placing all wind energy oversight in the hands of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission ("PSC"). Last year, the Commission voted on siting rules recommended by the advisory Wind Siting Council. The PSC's new siting standards became law on January 1.
Thousands of man-hours invested by communities in research, public hearings, and expert testimony were erased and replaced with some of the weakest standards Windaction.org has reviewed, especially for a State with a long history of turbine complaints filed by its residents. The most egregious of the rules involved setback distances (1250 feet as measured from to the outside wall of a residence or community building), noise limits (50 dBA during daytime hours and 45 dBA during nighttime hours) and shadow flicker (30 hours per year).
Last week, Wisconsin's new governor, Scott Walker entered the debate and like clockwork, AWEA had a fit.
In his proposed regulatory bill, Walker included a provision that increased turbine setbacks to 1800 feet from the property line.
Within a day of his bill going public AWEA's temper tantrum was in full swing.
"New regulation effectively bans wind energy projects in Wisconsin."
"One of the most onerous regulations we have seen."
"A shock to those of us in the wind industry."
"Wisconsin does not want our business."
You get the picture.
And there's no question the pitch will rise and the rhetoric will become even more extreme in the days ahead. We've seen it before from AWEA -- wild and unsubstantiated claims played over and over until the government blinks. And since the group has had some success with tantrums it's no surprise it doesn't bother to change tactics.
But Ms. Bode may want to check her facts on wind regulations. Setbacks of 1,800 feet are hardly the largest in the United States or worldwide. If projects in Wisconsin are unable to meet this limited standard then it could be the population density in the State is too high for safe wind development. But expecting AWEA to respond in a realistic and professional manner is probably asking too much.
Governor Walker has taken an important first step towards recognizing that the residents of Wisconsin deserve consideration. In an e-mail statement to media outlets in Wisconsin, Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said the proposal is aimed at "addressing concerns on wind energy policy that impact homeowners" and that "the proposed legislation, if enacted, will protect private property owners' rights."
Perhaps AWEA's members should remove their wind hats for a moment and at least try to imagine what it means to live in the shadows of the massive towers they're erecting. They might see that eighteen-hundred feet is still much too close.
 Larger projects, those greater than 100 megawatts, fell under the jurisdiction of the State's Public Service Commission.
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On March 27, 2009, residents of Mars Hill living within 3600 feet of First Wind's wind facility filed a civil complaint in Maine's Superior Court seeking relief from the "significant harm" caused by First Wind and others by the construction and operation of the site. Medical professionals recognize the health problems related to the turbines at Mars Hill are valid.
The past two and one-half years have been a trying and difficult time for the families of Mars Hill and their decision to file the suit was not an easy one. But it is also clear to Windaction.org that the State of Maine has washed its hands of Mars Hill, placing its pursuit of wind energy development ahead of the health, welfare, and safety of its residents. And the State's continuing down this path in Roxbury, Maine.
Here's the history: Shortly before the Mars Hill wind project went online in March 2007, problems of intrusive sound levels were reported despite repeated assurances by developer, First Wind, and town officials that there would be no noise. Andrew Fisk of the Bureau of Land & Water Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (ME-DEP), the agency which approved the facility, responded by requiring First Wind to conduct sound surveys during four seasons of operation to determine whether the project was in compliance with its permit. The permit allows the project to produce nighttime noise levels of 50 decibels at sensitive receptors near the homes. Resource Systems Engineering (RSE), who designed and conducted the pre-construction noise modeling study for First Wind was also engaged to conduct the subsequent monitoring studies.
When RES delivered its first sound survey report in June 2007, the residents, and others, raised questions related to the protocols used. ME-DEP hired Warren Brown of EnRad Consulting to peer-review and validate the survey work. Mr. Brown identified problems with the methodology employed by RSE but determined the findings to date were still substantially in compliance with the permit conditions.
RSE implemented some adjustments and the last two surveys were conducted in winter and spring 2008. It was not until December 5, 2008 that Warren Brown issued his final report to the State; the families received their copy of Brown's report on December 17, 2008 one day prior to a face-to-face meeting scheduled between the Mars Hill residents, First Wind representatives and Andrew Fisk to discuss Brown's findings. Other attendees at the meeting included Richard James of E-Coustic Solutions , an acoustics engineer engaged by the families to help sort through the noise issues, and Lisa Linowes of Windaction.org.
Despite having only one day to review Brown's findings, the families were well aware that doubts about the project's compliance remained. Even in his vaguely worded report, it was apparent Brown still had concerns:
"It is the opinion of the reviewer that this 4th assessment of the project demonstrates compliance at nearly all bordering protected locations, except the protected location adjacent MP-8, as established in the Control of Noise rules and the variance given in Department Order L-21635-26-A-N/L-21365-TG-B-N, dated June 1, 2004. ...In instances where operation levels approach or exceed regulatory limits testing methodologies have not been sufficiently refined to adequately isolate operation sound levels."
And Rick James raised the point that RSE's sampling of turbine noise at 5 second intervals, outside the protocol defined under Maine State law which requires 1/8 of a second intervals, would mute, or even mask short duration repetitive sounds (thumping, whooshing, popping) generally accepted as a characteristic of all modern industrial wind turbines.
Despite these and other serious questions regarding the adequacy of the sound surveys, Fisk announced at the outset of the December 18 meeting that he had approved and mailed on that day, a letter to First Wind notifying the developer that the project was in compliance with its permit.
We disagree with Mr. Fisk.
And it's quite possible so does Mr. Brown. Meeting minutes taken during a March 5, 2009 conference call with Maine's Public Health Director Dr. Dora Mills, Andrew Fisk, Warren Brown and others reveals a very different situation. Here, Mr. Brown highlights concerns with existing studies and states "Wind turbine noise needs more investigation!" (exclamation included).
What's more intriguing from the meeting minutes are the statements by Dr. Mills who appears to be quarreling with Brown over whether turbine noise has any adverse health effects. While Mr. Brown is steadfast in raising his concerns, it is disconcerting to see how Dr. Mills carefully scripted her June 21 public comments after knowing what she was told just three months before.
Today we learned that the Record Hill wind energy facility in Roxbury Maine received conditional approval by the Maine DEP to proceed. Based on the brief glimpse afforded us by the meeting minutes, we can only guess what the internal debates were like within ME-DEP prior to ‘green-lighting' this project. What is obvious, however, is that Maine has picked its sides, and we can expect Roxbury to be a repeat of Mars Hill.
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The public push for renewable energy solutions has quickly filtered into the business and personal market and more and more communities are finding themselves confronted with some of the same land use issues we see with utility-scale turbines. Establishing appropriate siting standards to address minimum lot size, maximum tower heights, property line setbacks, and noise levels are essential in ensuring adjacent properties are not harmed and the health and safety of the public are maintained.
In a few instances, communities made the conscious decision to move slowly, enacting moratoria until reasonable regulatory protections are developed. But this is not the norm. Rather, we are finding communities racing to adopt land use laws aimed at inviting the turbines but with little regard for the impacts. In an extreme example, the State of New Hampshire applied the heavy-hand of "governance" and imposed standards on its communities that prohibited "unreasonable limits" on turbine installations related to tower height, setbacks, and noise. In every case where regulations were pushed through to accommodate turbine use, including in New Hampshire, Windaction.org found little justification for the standards adopted.
This reckless approach to permitting small wind systems was certain to lead to a court case, and that's exactly what happened in Libertyville, Illinois.
The residents of Libertyville, IL have been struggling since April with the decision made by Libertyville officials to permit Aldridge Electric to erect a 50 kilowatt Entegrity wind turbine to help power the business. The 120-foot structure is located as close as 250-feet1 to a residential property. Despite assertions by Aldridge Electric and officials of Libertyville that the turbine would be quiet and blade/shadow flicker would not be a problem, in fact, the noise and other nuisances have proven unbearable to the neighbors.
In May, Chicago Attorney Richard Porter filed this motion on behalf of the residents seeking a temporary and permanent shut down of the turbine. He argues in the filing that procedural errors made by Libertyville officials in approving the special permit violated his clients' rights of due process and that the operating turbine has, and continues to endanger the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the public.
Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffmann, in his initial ruling last June, granted the injunction to turn the turbine off. Last week Judge Hoffmann issued his final compromise ruling where he confirmed the turbine was negatively affecting the neighbors and ordered that turbine operation be restricted to weekdays only during the hours of 9am to 3pm.
This action by the Illinois court should be applauded.
It remains to be seen whether the Illinois courts would consider similar action if the case involved an industrial wind facility and the opportunity for millions in county revenues at stake. We may find out soon enough.
A group of Illinois residents is suing Dekalb County over its recent decision to permit NextEra (formerly FPL Energy) to construct and operate a massive industrial-scale wind energy facility adjacent to their homes. Although the Dekalb County residents are not living with the impacts of the towers yet, they, like their counterparts in Libertyville, have fully documented procedural irregularities that paved the way for the project's approval.
1 A resident of Libertyville supplied Windaction.org with the corrected distance of 250-feet.
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This year, the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts paved the way for large-scale wind turbines within the city limits. A three-person subcommittee was formed in January, 2008 and charged with writing an ordinance governing the siting and construction of turbines.
The city's planning director, Nancy Colbert (no longer with the City), acknowledged in the press that "The structures can be obtrusive, and that is why it is even more important for the city to weigh in."
By March 5, according to minutes of the Newburyport Planning Board, the subcommittee reported "They are trying to fast track the zoning because they are expecting a proposal to be submitted soon and would like to have a zoning ordinance in place beforehand." By April, the City amended its zoning ordinance allowing turbines up to 400-feet in height with minimum setbacks of 150 feet from abutting property lines and 300-feet from residential zoning districts.
There's no question the ordinance was "fast-tracked", and perhaps tailor made to accommodate the expected proposal. In August, the City granted a special permit for Mark Richey to erect a 292-foot wind turbine located just 319-feet from the public pedestrian rail trail, 350-feet from heavily-traveled U.S. Route 1, and 800-feet from the nearest residence. Last month, Windaction.org highlighted some of the safety risks to the public should the Richey turbine be erected.
Immediately after the special permit was granted, two families living near the project site filed an appeal seeking to have the permit overturned. With the appeal still pending, Richey announced the turbine components had been secured and construction was to begin January 5th.
Last week, one City Councilor sent a letter to fellow councilors asking that they take another look at the wind turbine ordinance stating there is "public safety concern affecting the health and welfare of our citizens with respect to industrial wind turbines" over 100 feet high. In addition, a petition containing two-hundred and seventy signatures was submitted to the Council in support of the request and the majority of residents who spoke at the December 29 Council meeting pleaded for action.
But the Council refused.
At-large Councilor Donna Holaday informed the residents that the City's attorneys advised no action due to the pending appeal. Pointing the finger of blame at all residents Holaday added "You have made a choice to file a lawsuit naming the city. We need to wait." (Only two families filed the appeal.)
Holaday's statements were grossly out of line and should outrage all citizens of Newburyport, no matter where they stand on the wind turbine issue.
Further, using the ineffectual excuse of pending litigation as the reason for delaying another look at the ordinance is unsupportable. At the point when the application for a special permit was submitted to the City, all actions pertaining to approvals and subsequent appeals became subject to the laws then on the books. Whether the ordinance were to be changed, rescinded, or a moratorium enacted, there would be no impact on how the appeal was dealt with in the courts, with one important exception and perhaps the true reason the Council is uninterested in acting now.
If the courts were to find in favor of the appellants and overturn the City's decision on the special permit, Mr. Richey's application might be subject to any new zoning changes. If the City took the time to enact even the most minor changes aimed at protecting the public, such changes could outlaw the proposed turbine, and for good reason.
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A zoning variance is an administrative exception to the land use regulations for a municipality. A property owner can obtain permission to "break" a zoning law if applying the existing law either renders his property unbuildable or otherwise causes hardship to the landowner. It is the burden of the applicant to justify the hardship claim.
Last June, Attorney Eliu Romero submitted an application to the Taos County, New Mexico Planning Commission seeking permission to erect sixty-five industrial wind turbines, each exceeding the maximum height permitted for structures in the county. At the public hearing on the application, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to postpone its decision in order to receive more technical information on the proposal.
Indeed! The responses Mr. Romero entered on the variance application suggest he has no knowledge of law pertaining to variance requests. Or worse. He blew off the planning process and ignored the minimum criteria required to protect the health, safety, and welfare of those affected by relaxing the laws.
Below are several responses in Mr. Romero's variance application (underlined):
Explain how the variance requested is not substantial: (left blank)
State how the failure of the Commission to grant the variance would result in such practical difficulties as to make it unreasonable to apply the strict letter of the regulations to the property which is the subject of the variance application: Denial of the variance would kill the project.
State how the granting of the variance will not create a danger to the public health, safety, or welfare: This is a true statement.
State how the granting of the variance will not cause extraordinary public expense, create a nuisance or cause a significant detriment to nearby properties: This is a true statement.
Mr. Romero's application was not only inadequate, it was inaccurate. He cited the turbine height as 284-feet rather than 384-feet, an inexcusable oversight considering he was seeking relief from the County's height ordinance.
Perhaps sometimes concepts behind zoning variances may be confusing, even to lawyers like Mr. Romero. However, Windaction.org was very surprised to learn that the County Planning Commission agreed to accept the grossly deficient application, deeming Mr. Romero's sloppy work sufficient to hold a public hearing.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. Windaction.org has corresponded with many people across the U.S., Canada, and in Europe where similar "misunderstandings" have been allowed in the name of wind energy development. Planning Commission members do not seem to understand that by considering such variance requests, the Commissioners threaten the surrounding property owners and abuse the public's trust.
In September, the Taos Planning Commission voted again, deciding to continue the hearing until December 9 citing "a lack of technical information and time to digest it". A more appropriate action would have been to deny the application immediately, and respectfully ask that Mr. Romero not waste the public's time or resources.
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Earlier this year, Windaction.org reported on efforts by Roxbury, Maine town officials, together with Independence Wind LLC, to push through zoning changes that would permit industrial wind development in the town. Shortly thereafter, the town residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a citizen petition to adopt a 180-day moratorium on wind power development. The intent of the moratorium was to give the town time to rewrite the zoning to be consistent with the town's Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 1993), and provide appropriate protections for town residents.
Two weeks ago, the Roxbury planning board held a public hearing to present an updated ordinance. Remarkably, the wording was identical to the previous version. None of the changes expected by town residents were incorporated, and the ordinance remains illegal under Maine law which requires such ordinances be consistent with a town's Comprehensive Plan.
Rob Gardner of Independence Wind LLC, the wind developer in town, apparently speaking for the planning board, explained it would be better to modify the Comprehensive Plan and pass the ordinance as is, rather than adapt the ordinance. He described it as a "two-step process that could be handled at one town meeting." How convenient! He then introduced a municipal law attorney who explained the process to the audience.
WindAction.org is appalled by the arrogance of Independence Wind, LLC, and the apparent complacency of the Roxbury planning board, in ignoring the foresight offered in the town's Comprehensive Plan and the concerns of the town's citizenry. We encourage the residents of Roxbury to vote "No" on any proposed changes to the zoning and/or the Comprehensive Plan unless their health, safety, and welfare are ensured, and the "current character and environment" of Roxbury are preserved.
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The State of New Hampshire, long recognized for respecting local governance, stepped over the bounds last month when the Governor signed into law HB 310, a statute oddly described as “allowing municipalities to regulate small wind energy systems”. In fact, the law is designed to deliberately remove authority from municipalities by establishing prohibitions on what a community can and cannot regulate.
HB 310 asserts that any “ordinances or regulations adopted by municipalities to regulate the installation and operation of small wind energy systems shall not unreasonably limit such installations or unreasonably hinder the performance of such installations”. The statute defines unreasonable limits as those including:
1) restricting tower heights through a generic ordinance that does not specifically address small wind energy systems.
2) establishing turbine setbacks from property lines larger than 1.5x the system height (tower plus blade).
3) defining noise level limits lower than 55 decibels, as measured at the property line, or not allowing for limit overages during utility outages and severe wind storms.
In an apparent attempt to show its “green” credentials, the State of New Hampshire demonstrated surprising ignorance of the facts and arrogance in its authority. Had the bill’s sponsors bothered to look, they would have found a large body of stories nationwide detailing cases where other States wrestled with small wind systems.
Consider these four recent news reports:
Coming soon to a neighbor near you, a 200-foot wind tower?
Wind turbines found to cause sickness
Neighbor's windmill lowers property value, civil board rules
Trees Block Solar Panels, and a Feud Ends in Court
The last article tells the story of a California man who sued his neighbors because their redwoods cast shadows on his solar panels. The court found in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the trees cut. Similar wording in HB 310 could easily create similar unfortunate circumstances.
Windaction.org has no issue with small wind systems if properly regulated and the health, safety, and welfare of surrounding property owners protected. As written, the State failed to comprehend the implications of HB 310 at the peril of New Hampshire residents. But worse, the State’s actions portend comparable reckless efforts to force industrial-scale wind turbines on rural New Hampshire communities.
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Windaction.org is closely tracking the controversies surrounding wind energy development in the State of Illinois. Six major projects have received substantial press coverage just in the last two months. The appeal of one project is headed to court; others are certain to follow suit.
Apparently seduced by potential tax revenues, County Board members have whitewashed objections to noise, property values, and compliance with existing land use regulations.
In January, residents of Illinois' Logan and Tazewell counties had a chance to learn about Horizon Wind's latest proposal, the Rail Splitter wind farm, a 67 turbine project spanning 11,000 acres in both counties. Confident the project would proceed unchallenged, Horizon announced construction would begin in June and the project operational by December 2008.
At hearings before the Zoning Board of Appeals for Logan and Tazewell, compelling testimony was delivered by expert witness Michael McCann who spoke about the impact to surrounding residential property values. The turbines would be sited within 1500 feet of neighboring property lines. Richard R. James, a noise control and acoustical consultant explained the flaws in the sound modeling software utilized by Horizon and demonstrated how the project would be out of compliance with the Illinois Pollution Control Standards regarding acceptable limits of noise. Further, Mr. James was clear that Horizon's practice of measuring sound at the wall of a residence, rather than the property line, was not supported by Illinois noise standards.
Despite testimony by McCann and James, the Zoning Boards for both counties recommended approval, and the County Commissioners readily complied.
In Logan County, Attorney Rick Porter pleaded for the Board to require Horizon Wind sign a property value guarantee with neighboring property owners. Such a guarantee would cost nothing to the County. Nor would there be any expected cost to the developer since it merely enforced what Horizon Wind had already promised -- that no properties would be devalued as a result of the turbines. Still the County refused.
Windaction.org encourages the residents of Logan and Tazewell to appeal the Rail Splitter project approval.
Windaction.org questions at what point the Counties will be forced to account for their actions. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has initiated an investigation into improper dealings between local governing boards and wind interests in New York State. Perhaps it's time Illinois' Attorney General consider similar action.
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Last month, Barrington, RI voters approved plans to fund and erect a $2.4 million wind turbine to power the local high school. Town leaders anticipate the 600 KW turbine to supply a substantial portion of the school's energy demand. Windaction.org tried to determine a cost breakdown, expected electric generation, and suggested payback period but documentation on the Town's website showed numbers to be inconsistent and difficult to reconcile. For example, documents put the turbine cost at $1.4 million installed with published annual capacity factors varying between 19% and 25%. Further, no wind studies were done to gauge whether the marginal area winds meshed with periods of high demand.
Financials aside, Windaction.org is most concern with the suggested placement of the turbine. According to published reports, the base of the 328-foot structure will be located roughly 200-feet from the high school building, between the football and baseball fields and at 500-feet (or less) from the nearest residence. Town reports justify the minimal setbacks with rhetoric like "In order to attract investment, this new industry cannot afford any failures so the machines have to be designed to meet extremely high safety standards and have thereby enjoyed an excellent safety record ..."
Windaction.org encourages Barrington residents to demand a more thorough investigation into the risks of placing turbines so close to where people gather. Turbine collapse, blade throw, ice drop, and fire are a few of the accidents reported in the US just in the last 10 months. See also: http://www.windaction.org/faqs/14347 . Turbine manufacturer Vestas recommends no less than 1,300-feet clearance for technicians. And noise is another important factor. The noise level of the 600 KW machine at hub height is 98 decibels, only slightly lower then the turbines installed at Mars Hill, ME.
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Independence Wind, LLC which includes Former Maine Governor Angus King as a principal, is seeking to build a 50 megawatt wind energy facility in rural Roxbury, Maine. King's authority to build the project is governed by a poorly-written zoning amendment rushed to the voters last March. The amendment permits industrial wind turbines, but establishes no setback buffers, noise limits, or other requirements necessary to protect the residents and real property from the large-scale development.
Just three weeks after the amendment passed, attorneys for a citizen's group submitted detailed letters to the town highlighting procedural illegalities pertaining to the March vote and other gross inadequacies with the zoning amendment itself. On June 17, the Town will vote again to consider a 180-day moratorium on the construction of wind energy facilities.
Independence Wind and Governor King, who stand to gain financially by the zoning amendment now in place, were involved in its adoption each step of the way, including King's presence at the March vote. As a former Chief of State and an attorney, Governor King knows the laws of his State, the importance of open and fair government, and the value of maintaining the public's trust -- all of which appear to have been abused in this process.
Windaction.org calls on Governor King and Roxbury's Select board to denounce the zoning amendment now on the books, endorse the moratorium, and make every effort to ensure a new ordinance is written that protects the rights and interests of Roxbury taxpayers.
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Wind Powering America (WPA), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is a governmental wind energy advocacy group committed to increasing the use of wind energy in the United States through funding of pro-wind non-profit organizations across the country. WPA released its 2007 annual summary report where it details its advocacy efforts and accomplishments by State.
As part of this effort, Mr. Gary Seifert of DOE's Idaho National Laboratory Wind Power program and Wind Powering America travels the mountain states of Idaho and Montana advocating for large-scale wind development. Earlier this month Mr. Seifert -- "representing himself as a neutral party" -- showed up at public hearings held by the local Bingham County Zoning and Planning Commission. The proposal before the commission entails building 81 miles of road and erecting 150 wind turbines across the expansive Wolverine Canyon, an area designated as a Natural Resource/Agriculture district that does not permit industrial, energy-producing structures.
Attendees tell Windaction.org that Mr. Seifert's comments included unsupported claims that the proposal would not affect wildlife, would not be noisy, and would not decrease property values. The County commission voted 4-3 to approve the project citing Mr. Seifert's "expert" testimony. Windaction.org questions Mr. Seifert's appearance, a federal public servant, before a local land use board under the guise of neutrality. And members of the community deserve to see what studies, if any exist, that he relied on in making his claims about the Bingham County proposal.
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Within two days of the vote by Wisconsin's Calumet County Board of Supervisors to amend its wind energy ordinance governing safe placement of commercial turbines, Midwest Wind Energy's Tom Swierczewski distributed a memorandum to select landowners in the county in which he laid out his strategy to bypass local authorities and file an application with the State's Public Service Commission (PSC). According to Midwest's website, the company has now decided to nearly double the Stony Brook Wind Farm proposal in order to meet the State's minimum requirement of 100+ megawatts for the PSC to assert jurisdiction.
Swierczewski states it's "in our best interest to combine all of the turbine locations we have secured in the Towns of Brothertown and Stockbridge in this application." Pitting neighbor against neighbor, he encourages landowners to assist him in locating others to sign up more turbine locations. Perhaps Midwest has reason for optimism. Tim LeMonds, the PSC's director of governmental and public affairs, stated recently the "PSC would take the town's concerns into consideration..." but, admitted that "when it comes to large wind farm projects, the PSC refuses little."
In an attempt to ambush local authority, Mr. Swierczewski's memo states: "Midwest Wind Energy is fully committed to this effort as we now see this as "the war to end all wars" regarding wind power in Wisconsin", and that "we have every confidence that Stony Brook will eventually get built."
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Throughout much of the United States (and other countries) siting of wind energy development is governed primarily through local land use regulations as adopted by a host town or county. In jurisdictions with no regulations, there are no rules regarding height limitations, setback buffer requirements, noise enforcement guidelines, or other standards necessary to ensure the safe placement and operation of the turbines. Even with regulations in place, rural towns rarely have experience in large-scale developments, and their land use boards often fail to exercise the full scope of their authority to regulate wind towers.
But a more dangerous circumstance pertaining to wind development exists - one Windaction.org has observed across the US. That is the apparent and blatant disregard by some local board members for the laws on the books. In some cases, the board members do not understand the purpose, intent, and letter of the existing laws in their town or county. In other cases, members are well aware of the laws but freely bend them to ensure a specific outcome.
Last week, the planning commission for Bingham County, Idaho held a public hearing on a proposal to build 81 miles of road and erect 150 wind turbines across more than 17,600 acres of Wolverine Canyon. This area is locally designated as a Natural Resource/Agriculture district which, by definition, does not permit industrial, energy-producing, structures. Yet, last fall, this same application was approved by the planning commission, and later withdrawn by the developer only after it was revealed that several abutting property owners were not notified of the proposal (a technicality unrelated to the land use issues).
It is unclear how the planning commission could have approved the original application since the towers are not a 'permitted use' in the NR/A district, nor can we understand how the plan could be accepted for public hearing again last week if it continues to be in violation of existing land use regulations.
Windaction.org encourages all residents of a community to understand your local regulations and ensure your local boards respect and follow the laws as adopted, including permitted uses, height limits, setbacks, noise, safety, etc.
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The lack of regional system planning coupled with the haphazard political approach to incentivizing renewables in New England may adversely impact the business of two renewable generation plants in the State of Maine.
Windaction.org has learned that UPC Wind's Stetson Mountain project, a 57MW wind energy facility now under construction, is scheduled to feed into a congested transmission line ("Line 64") that services two other generators: a) Brookfield Power's 126MW hydroelectric system and b) Indeck's 25MW biomass power plant, both baseload renewable facilities. The constraints of Line 64 will force energy output from Brookfield and/or Indeck to be significantly curtailed with a possible 0 MW net gain in renewable generation for the region. Put another way, Stetson Wind, an intermittent unpredictable renewable, will displace existing reliable baseload renewables.
According to the 2007 Interconnection System Impact Study conducted for the ISO New England, the UPC proposal will have "no significant system impact to the stability, reliability, and operating characteristics" of the New England transmission system and that no network upgrades are needed except at the Project's interconnection point.
The consequences of the Line 64 congestion may prove even more dire. If the Brookfield or Indeck merchant plants become financially unviable operating at the reduced output (see Section 5.1.2 of the study), they may be forced to shut down thus undermining regional energy goals and result in a significant net loss of jobs.
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In the past year, several Wisconsin townships and counties established study committees to evaluate and recommend local ordinances for smaller renewable energy projects (as provided by State law for projects under 100 megawatts). Having carefully studied the State's draft Model Wind Ordinance, these committees found the Model to have serious flaws and unfounded recommendations, as revealed in this video segment.
New local laws were passed pertaining to turbine placement which were more restrictive than the State's model. The municipalities sought to protect public health and safety through larger setbacks and more comprehensive sound-level limits. WindAction.org applauds those who dedicated long hours to researching the facts, and enacted justifiable ordinances within the bounds of their authority.
However, Wisconsin State legislators, intolerant of these efforts, moved quickly this month to rush Assembly Bill 899 / Senate Bill 544 designed to abolish local authority and place all wind siting control in the hands of the State's Public Service Commission. In a 4-3 vote on March 7, SB544 was voted from committee onto the Senate floor for passage. WindAction.org cautions that adoption of SB544 would be a mistake.
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The U.S. Forest Service is proposing new directives pertaining to wind energy development on national forest system (NFS) lands. To date, there are no wind energy facilities on forest lands so this direction will set the rules for an entirely new public land use across all national forests and grasslands. The Federal Register notice and other information about this matter can be accessed at http://www.thefederalregister.com/d.p/2007-09-24-E7-18715
IWA and others are raising issue with the proposed Forest Service policy. Our main concerns are:
1) Failure to assess environmental impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
2) Failure to consult with US Fish & Wildlife Service under Endangered Species Act (ESA);
3) Wildlife monitoring guidance grants too much discretion to local Forest Service officials and wind energy developers;
4) Forest Service has determined these directives will have no economic impact on small business (tourism, etc.), despite lack of assessment under NEPA.
The deadline for filing comments to the Forest Service is November 23, 2007, but a request will soon be filed for a 60-day extension. Please contact Judy Rodd (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Friends of Blackwater (WV) if your group can lend support to this request for extension. Judy will need your group's name, contact person, address, and e-mail/phone number. Thank you for your help.
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Wind developers encumber the private land on which they propose to build a wind plant through a legal contract referred to as a Wind Energy Easement Agreement. Landowners often sign these agreements without first receiving advice from an attorney. An attorney reviewed one such agreement. His comments, embedded in this document http://www.windaction.org/documents/11774 , highlight the common pitfalls of signing without legal advice.
A second contract, often referred to as a Good Neighbor Agreement, might be executed between a developer and landowners who own property near the project site but whose land will not host turbines. One agreement can be found at http://www.windaction.org/documents/11807 along with comments provided by an attorney. Other examples of agreements can be found on windaction.org at http://www.windaction.org/documents/2435
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