Friday, December 13, 2013

Maine environmental groups clash over wind power

Two environmental groups are going head to head over the impact on wildlife and the future benefits of wind energy development in Maine.

Friends of Maine’s Mountains challenged Maine Audubon on Thursday to retract a recent report that says wind energy is sometimes compatible with wildlife, and to acknowledge funding it receives from the wind power industry.

Maine Audubon defended its report, “Wind Power and Wildlife in Maine,” and questioned whether the leaders of Friends of Maine’s Mountains fully understand its parameters and recommendations.

Maine Audubon, a nonprofit based in Falmouth, released a report Dec. 4 saying that the state has 1.1 million acres that are windy enough for power generation, and that wind turbines could be developed on 84 percent of that area with minimal impact on some wildlife and habitat resources.

Friends of Maine’s Mountains questioned why Maine Audubon would endorse the installation of more “bird-killing machines” based on a study that – in its view – failed to throughly investigate the benefits of wind power and its effects on migratory birds and other wildlife.

“The Audubon brand is a strong environmental brand,” said Richard McDonald, a board member of Friends of Maine’s Mountains. “It’s like giving wind-energy development the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”

Friends of Maine’s Mountains is a Weld-based nonprofit that has opposed wind-energy projects and advocates on behalf of natural resources, reliable energy and affordable power.

Michelle Smith, Maine Audubon’s spokeswoman, said she was surprised that Friends of Maine’s Mountains came out against the report, because it recommends that “any land-based wind development in the mountainous areas of northern and western Maine and along our coast be carefully studied.”

“We’re not advocating that wind turbines can be sited anywhere,” Smith said. “The goal of this report is to start a dialogue about where we can rightly site wind turbines in Maine that has the least impact on wildlife and its habitat.”

Smith noted that state officials have set a goal to have capacity to produce 3,000 megawatts of land-based wind energy by 2030, which would require adding 600 wind turbines to Maine’s landscape. The state now has 200 turbines.


Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to extend the period in which wind power companies are permitted to kill or injure bald or golden eagles with wind turbines without penalty from five to 30 years.

The decision was immediately controversial. Although bald eagles are no longer listed as threatened or endangered, bald and golden eagles are still protected species.

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

On Thursday, Friends of Maine’s Mountains asked Maine Audubon, which is independent from the national group, to reconcile the recommendations in its wind energy report with its advocacy for wildlife.

“I’m not sure where (Friends of Maine’s Mountains) is going with that,” Smith responded. “We would never support the killing of eagles.”

The friends group also concluded that Maine Audubon’s report gives the wind power industry a “free pass” to develop projects without regard for their impact on wildlife. The group’s leaders urged Maine Audubon to re-evaluate its association with wind energy companies.

Among Maine Audubon’s top corporate donors is First Wind, a renewable-energy company that has developed and operates 16 wind power projects in Maine, New York, Vermont, Utah, Washington and Hawaii.

According to Maine Audubon’s website, the Boston-based company is an Eagle-level donor, along with L.L. Bean and Maine Magazine, each having contributed more than $10,000 this year.

Friends of Maine’s Mountains indicated that corporate donors that gave at lower levels also benefit from Maine Audubon’s support for wind power development, including Falcon-level ($5,000-plus) donor Reed & Reed general contractors and Osprey-level ($2,500-plus) donor Central Maine Power Co.

The friends group also said in a news release Thursday that Maine Audubon’s report is “deficient in necessary scientific rigor required to conclude that industrial wind turbines are not detrimental to Maine’s wildlife and their habitats.”

The group called on Rebecca Holberton, a professor of biology and ecology at the University of Maine who saw a lack of reliable field study data and collision-risk assessment in Maine Audubon’s report.

Holberton noted that the report is “replete with disclaimers” about the limits of its findings, and questioned whether it should have been presented as a valid guide for siting wind turbines.


Susan Gallo, the wildlife biologist at Maine Audubon who wrote the report, acknowledged that the study is based on existing data, such as wildlife habitat maps. She said the report doesn’t eliminate the need for site-by-site analysis of wind energy proposals, but it does balance Maine Audubon’s concern for wildlife preservation and bird migration patterns with a policy goal to stem climate change and end dependence on fossil fuels.

“We knew this was going to happen,” Gallo said. “This report wasn’t a comprehensive analysis of risks to wildlife. We didn’t address whether turbines are good or bad. We support wind in concept but not every wind development. And because of that, we often get attacked from both pro-wind and anti-wind.”
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, defended Maine Audubon’s report.

“It’s shameful (that Friends of Maine’s Mountains) continually try and stand in the way of this clean, renewable power that is creating jobs, driving investment and increasing tax revenues for municipalities, counties and state government,” Payne said in a written statement.

Payne challenged the friends group to reveal its funding sources.

“We’re a volunteer organization with about 150 members and four board members who do most of the work,” said McDonald, who is a real estate agent in Kennebunk. “We rely on individual contributions. We have about $200 in the bank right now.”


Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Answer, for Republicans on Tax Incentive, Isn't Always Blowing in the Wind

House Republicans hailing from the windiest of districts are coming out on different sides of the fight over the production tax credit, which the wind-power industry considers key to its growth—and which will expire at year's end unless Congress votes to renew it.
"I have supported it in the past, and there are efforts being worked on now to try to maybe change, ramp it down," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., whose district is the sixth-windiest in the country, according to data compiled by the American Wind Energy Association. After a pause, Gardner added: "But, I would support it, yes."
Of the top 10 windiest congressional districts in the country, nine are represented by Republicans, according to AWEA's 2012 annual report.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., whose district ranks fifth on the list, said in a statement to National Journal Daily that he, too, supports an extension of the PTC. "While it is not completely clear in what form it would be extended, I believe it is important that we continue investing in this resource to help increase the production of all forms of American made energy," Lucas said.
Every year around this time, the pressure builds in Congress to pass a host of temporary tax policies—often called extenders—including the wind-energy tax credit, which has been on the books for 22 years with just a couple of short lapses. After expiring for two days in early January, Congress voted to extend the PTC for one year.
With another expiration date looming, wind-energy lobbyists privately say Congress is unlikely to extend the policy by year's end. This is for a couple reasons: 1) The most obvious legislative vehicle for the tax-extenders package—the budget—does not include them; and 2) Republican leadership in the House is reluctant to act on any individual tax policies before House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and his counterpart in the Senate, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., make progress on comprehensive tax reform, which they've both pledged to pursue.
This effort is the key reason why House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., whose district is the fourth-windiest in the country, is not coming out in support of an extension this year.
"The Whip is supportive of the current efforts by Chairman Camp and the Ways and Means Committee to reform our tax code," a spokesman for McCarthy said in an email to National Journal Daily. That's a change in tone from last year. "I think we should do it," McCarthy said when asked at a National Journal event whether he supports extending it.
Texas, the biggest wind-producing state, includes three of the windiest districts, all represented by Republicans who support, to varying degrees, phasing out the tax credit.
"The wind industry has been a great success in Texas, and according to its own reports, it will soon be cost-competitive with cheaper forms of electricity," Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, who represents the windiest district in the country, said in a statement. "Because of this success, I believe it's time for a gradual phase-out of the Production Tax Credit."
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, whose district is the eighth-windiest, has shifted his position over the past couple of years. In 2011, he introduced a bill to extend the policy for 10 years, but a similar proposal he introduced in May called for a phase-out.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., whose district rounds out the top 10, also opposes extending the policy. "I have long supported an 'all-of-the-above' approach to America's energy needs, but I believe it is time for wind energy to learn to survive without the support of the production tax credit," Kinzinger said in a statement.
Kinzinger's district also includes a heavy presence from Exelon, the nation's largest generator of nuclear power, which has been lobbying to end the wind tax credit over the past year or more.
The House's biggest opponent of the wind tax credit—and most other temporary energy tax incentives—sees support growing for his cause. "I have noticed a difference," said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan. "Even those folks who have been on the other side aren't as vocal. I think there is an increasing recognition that this kind of narrow carve-out doesn't make sense."
When asked about his colleagues who support extending the PTC, Pompeo responded: "We just have a disagreement."
Having a lot of wind in your district shouldn't be the only reason to support a tax incentive, Pompeo said. "We have a tremendous amount of wind energy in Kansas," he said. (The state is fifth in the country for wind generation, according to AWEA.) "One could make the case that for that reason alone I should support it," Pompeo said. "But it doesn't make sense for Kansas consumers."
To what extent, if at all, Congress tackles comprehensive tax reform next year will affect whether lawmakers vote to retroactively extend the wind tax credit sometime next year. Lobbyists say that the expiration of the PTC would start having a measurable negative impact by April.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

First Wind CEO to Address the Future of Wind Energy


The Energy Sustainability Center and the Center for a Sustainable WPI will present Paul J. Gaynor, chief executive officer of First Wind, who will give a talk titled, “Wind Energy: Will the Growth Continue?”


Paul Gaynor graduated from WPI in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He also holds a master of business administration from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Gaynor is responsible for the strategic direction and overall management of First Wind Corp. of Boston. He has more than 20 years of experience in the energy field, with leadership and finance roles in the energy, power and pipeline sectors. In addition, he has been engaged in several landmark energy and power financings around the globe.


Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served at 4 o'clock, with the presentation to begin at 4:30.


Salisbury Labs Room 104, WPI campus, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, Mass.


From 2002 to 2012, total installed wind energy capacity in the U.S. grew from 4.7 to 60 gigawatts, a significant fraction of the approximately 1,000 gigawatts of total U.S. electric generation capacity. First Wind Corp. has played a major role in that expansion, with wind farms from Hawaii to Maine. Gaynor will summarize the current status of wind generation and describe prospects for continued growth. He will explain the process followed by First Wind to bring major wind generation facilities online and will offer advice on preparation for careers in the renewable energy field.

More Information

First Wind is a Boston-based independent wind energy company focused on the operation of utility-scale wind projects around the country. It is the owner-operator of wind projects in Vermont, Maine, and five other states.


Friday, December 06, 2013

Feds give wind farms the OK to kill eagles for 30 years

The Obama administration has just given wind turbine operators the license to kill birds and eagles for 30 years, a move welcomed by the wind industry but derided by environmentalists and Republicans.
The Interior Department changed a rule that now enables the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the amount of time renewable energy companies can kill migratory birds and eagles in a bid to boost green energy development. Wind operators can now get a permit to kill birds for 30 years, up from five years.
“Eagles symbolize America’s national heritage and deserve more protection, not less. This rule change will make it harder to protect the remaining eagles that San Diegans love,” said Donna Tisdale, secretary of the environmental group Protect Our Communities Foundation.
The permitting extension would allow renewable energy companies to kill a specified number of birds and eagles at their facilities for 30 years, but only if those bird deaths were unintentional and if companies made efforts to minimize avian deaths.
The Obama administration has been repeatedly criticized by the environmentalists and Republicans for allowing wind turbine sites to kill hundreds of thousands of birds annually with no legal punishment. In particularly, while oil, gas and electrical companies were being heavily fined for killing birds.
“Permits to kill eagles just seems unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “The Administration’s has repeatedly prosecuted oil, gas, and other businesses for taking birds, but looks the other way when wind farms or other renewable energy companies do the exact same thing.”
In November, the Obama administration finally prosecuted an energy company for bird deaths at wind farms. A subsidiary of Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds at two wind farms in Wyoming.
The wind industry welcomed the administration’s decision to extend permitting times for wind farms, saying it will protect birds and help the industry grow.
“In summary, this permit duration change will facilitate much needed, long-term eagle conservation efforts, while allowing wind companies to continue to increase the amount of clean, renewable, affordable energy they supply to American consumers,” the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.
“If you increase the length of eagle take permits from five years to 30 years, common sense says there are going to be some effects on eagles,” said Kelly Fuller, consultant to The Protect Our Communities Foundation and former campaigner at the American Bird Conservancy.
“According to the [Fish and Wildlife Service’s] own Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance, there are no proven measures that will reduce the numbers of eagles killed once the wind turbines are installed,” she added. “This rule change is a disaster.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 440,000 birds are killed by wind turbines every year in the U.S. However, that number is said to be a low-ball estimate by independent researchers. Each year 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind turbines in the U.S., according a study by K. Shawn Smallwood that was published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

First Wind Purchases Wind Iris LIDAR System

Avent Lidar Technology, a joint venture between Renewable NRG Systems and Leosphere, reports that Boston-based developer First Wind has purchased a Wind Iris LIDAR to optimize the performance of its wind turbines.

According to Avent, the decision resulted from a successful field trial that used data from the nacelle-mounted LIDAR to correct yaw error and increase total energy production. First Wind wanted to improve the yaw alignment of an underperforming wind turbine and decided to test a Wind Iris on the machine, Avent adds.

The Wind Iris collected wind speed and direction data ahead of the turbine for 30 days. Analysis showed an average yaw error of seven degrees, and a correction factor was then applied to the yaw measurement.

“By detecting and accurately quantifying the yaw misalignment, we were able to correct the error and gain significant [annual energy production] improvement,” explains Cegeon Chan, wind resource manager at First Wind. “Based on this evaluation, we decided to purchase a Wind Iris to optimize more turbines in our fleet.”


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that's not ready

In a sprawling complex of laboratories and futuristic gadgets in Golden, Colo., a supercomputer named Peregrine does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on.
Peregrine was turned on this year by the U.S. Energy Department. It has the world's largest "petascale" computing capability. It is the size of a Mack truck.
Its job is to figure out how to cope with a risk from something the public generally thinks of as benign — renewable energy.
Energy officials worry a lot these days about the stability of the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing. They rattle off several scenarios that could lead to a collapse of the power grid — a well-executed cyberattack, a freak storm, sabotage.
But as states, led by California, race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.
Green energy is the least predictable kind. Nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine. A field of solar panels might be cranking out huge amounts of energy one minute and a tiny amount the next if a thick cloud arrives. In many cases, renewable resources exist where transmission lines don't.
"The grid was not built for renewables," said Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The frailty imperils lofty goals for greenhouse gas reductions. Concerned state and federal officials are spending billions of dollars in ratepayer and taxpayer money in an effort to hasten the technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy.
Making a green energy future work will be "one of the greatest technological challenges industrialized societies have undertaken," a group of scholars at Caltech said in a recent report. The report notes that by 2030, about $1 trillion is expected to be spent nationwide in bringing the grid up to date.
The role of the grid is to keep the supply of power steady and predictable. Engineers carefully calibrate how much juice to feed into the system as everything from porch lights to factory machines are switched on and off. The balancing requires painstaking precision. A momentary overload can crash the system.
California has taken some of the earliest steps to address the problems. The California Public Utilities Commission last month ordered large power companies to invest heavily in efforts to develop storage technologies that could bottle up wind and solar power, allowing the energy to be distributed more evenly over time.
Whether those technologies will ever be economically viable on a large scale is hotly debated. The commission mandate nonetheless requires companies to produce enough storage by 2024 to power about 1 million homes.
"Energy storage has the potential to be a game changer for our electric grid," Commissioner Mark Ferron said.
Some utility officials warn, however, that the only guarantee is that ratepayers will be spending a lot. The commission's goals, while laudable, "could cost up to $3 billion with uncertain net benefits for customers," Southern California Edison declared in a filing.
But regulators are desperate to move past the status quo. Already, power grid operators in some states have had to dump energy produced by wind turbines on blustery days because regional power systems had no room for it. Officials at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the grid in California, say renewable energy producers are making the juggling act increasingly complex.
"We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power," said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a system operator board member.
A bigger fear is that the grid is becoming more vulnerable to collapse, leaving the public exposed to the kind of blackouts that hit San Diego, parts of Arizona and a chunk of Baja California on a blistering hot September day in 2011.
Rush-hour traffic jammed as streetlights went dark. Flights were grounded. Pumping stations came to a halt, causing sewage to flow onto beaches. People were trapped in office elevators and on rides at Sea World.
An employee's misstep at a substation near Yuma, Ariz., caused that blackout, but energy experts see it as a harbinger of the sorts of problems that could become frequent if the nation fails to refashion its outmoded power grid.
Foster has been working with other regulators and power company executives to redesign the system. The work involves ideas for mapping and building vast networks of electrical lines, industrial-scale solar- and wind-power plants and backup natural gas plants that can keep the lights on when shifts in weather cause renewable sources to falter. That's the tangible stuff they can easily explain.
But the grid is also built on an antiquated tangle of market rules, operational formulas and business models. It makes for a formidable riddle.
Planners are struggling to plot where and when to deploy solar panels, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells without knowing whether regulators will approve the transmission lines to support them.
"One of the biggest challenges is you can't create a market for these resources without solving the demands of moving electricity from one physical place to another," said Neil Fromer, executive director of Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute. "But you can't solve that problem until you understand what the market structure looks like."
Back in Colorado, Peregrine is furiously working to map out grid scenarios involving wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. Sharing space with Peregrine at the Energy Systems Integration Facility is a "visualization room" with a 16-foot screen that creates 3-D images of how different wind patterns interact with turbines, or how molecules interact inside a solar cell.
Federal regulators see an expanded role for themselves as the best hope for powering the nation with as much as 80% renewable energy within the next 35 or so years. Maintaining stability will hinge increasingly on interstate cooperation, they say.
But state regulators are reluctant to cede authority. That's particularly true in California, where bitterness over the energy crisis of more than a decade ago remains intense and makes officials reluctant to cede an inch of jurisdiction to Washington.
Regardless of who wins that power struggle, some of those involved in the day-to-day business of keeping the lights on in California say the limitations of the grid will undermine efforts by activists to move more quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
At the Independent Energy Producers Assn. in Sacramento, which represents owners of renewable and gas power plants, Executive Director Jan Smutny-Jones says proposals by academics and others to move California to as much as 80% renewable energy within the next two decades are bumping up against the challenges of avoiding another San Diego-type blackout.
"Some day that may be the way the world is going to work," he said. "But in the next five or six years, it is not."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Could this be the end of wind subsidies?

Could Congress actually end lucrative tax credits for wind energy production? Former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles is optimistic that lawmakers will not extend tax credits for wind energy as pressure mounts to reform the tax code and cut spending.

“I think there is a good chance it won’t be extended,” Nickles told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think a lot of members are really focused on it. Members realize if you do it, it will cost billions more.”

“I think they realized the sentiment has turned, the economics have turned — big time,” said Nickles, who served as Oklahoma’s Republican Senator from 1981 to 2005 and was around when wind was first subsidized in the early 1990s.

Congressional Republicans have ramped up their campaign against the Wind Production Tax Credit, or Wind PTC, arguing that the tax credit should be cut as part comprehensive tax reform talks taken up in the House and Senate.

“As the House Ways and Means Committee takes on the commendable, but difficult, task of enacting revenue-neutral tax reform legislation, the PTC should be excluded from there or in any tax extenders legislation that the committee may consider,” reads a letter from 52 lawmakers to committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, who is heading up tax reform talks with Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.

The wind industry and allied lawmakers have opposed ending the tax credit, arguing that it would be a huge setback for the wind industry and harm economic growth in wind-heavy states like Iowa.

Our nation has some of the best wind resources in the world, but the lack of stable policy hinders the nation’s ability to develop them fully,” reads a letter from 11 state governors to House and Senate leadership. “The nation’s wind industry developers do not need this tax credit forever, but they do need policy certainty in the near term to bring their costs to a fully competitive level.”

The Wind PTC was first enacted in 1992 and gave wind producers 1.5 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated in the first ten years of operation. The subsidy has ballooned to 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour this year and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that extending the tax credit for another year would cost $6 billion.

“I remember when it passed in ‘92 and we were assured it was temporary,” Nickles told TheDCNF. “Since then it’s been extended seven times.”

Nickles and his fellow Republicans argue that wind energy is not reliable enough to provide baseload power, so it requires fossil fuels to back it up — eliminating the touted environmental benefits of the renewable energy source.

“Wind doesn’t blow all the time,” Nickles said. “For reliability, utilities usually have to purchase a gas-fired generator as a back-up. It blows at night when grids need the power least, it’s generating most of its power off-peak and crowding out more economical power in the process.”

Furthermore, wind producer could be facing increased legal trouble as the Obama administration has finally started to prosecute wind farms for the killing of federally protected birds and eagles.

A subsidiary of Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds at two wind farms in Wyoming — marking the first time the Obama administration has prosecuted wind farm operators for killing federally protected birds.

“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s environment division.

“No form of energy generation, or human activity for that matter, is completely free of impacts and wind energy is no exception,” the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

“When coupled with the fact that experts globally see climate change as the single greatest threat to wildlife and their habitats, wind energy – which is produced without creating air or water pollution, greenhouse gases, use water, require mining, or drilling for or transportation of fuel, or generate hazardous waste requiring permanent storage – is a key to both meeting our nation’s energy needs and protecting wildlife in the U.S. and abroad,” the statement continued.

Wind turbines kill 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats each year in the U.S., according to an independent study published earlier this year.

“As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring,” writes K. Shawn Smallwood, the study’s author.


First Wind Company Criminally Convicted for Bird Deaths

 In the first criminal conviction of a wind company for killing birds, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they settled with Duke Energy for $1 million.

Duke Energy Renewables pleaded guilty in the US District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act for  the deaths of endangered birds. This is the first-ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm.

Between 2009-2013, 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds - including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows - were killed at two Wyoming wind farms owned by Duke Energy. The Campbell Hill and Top of the World wind farms have 176 turbines and are sited on private agricultural land.

Eagle Golden

Until now, even though every death of a protected bird violates federal law, no wind company has been held liable. Wind companies can apply for a federal permit (which is opposed by the conservation community) but not a single company has done so. 

Under the settlement, Duke will pay fines and restitution of $1 million and is placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan to prevent bird deaths at its four Wyoming wind plants - expected to cost $600,000 a year. Duke must also apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for how to minimize and mitigate golden eagle deaths at the wind farms, states DOJ.

"This is a welcome action by DOJ and one that we have long anticipated," says Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a long-time advocate for stronger federal management of the wind industry. "We are pro-wind, but development needs to be Bird Smart. The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread."

In early 2012, the Fish & Wildlife Service published voluntary operating and siting guidelines for the wind industry, and this year, they released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. ABC believes these guidelines would be much more effective at preventing bird deaths if they were mandatory, with project permits used to cover costs.

Because guidelines are voluntary, "companies have been able to pay lip service to bird protection laws and then largely do what they want. Poorly sited wind projects exist or are being planned that clearly ignore the advice of federal and state biologists who have few, if any, means of preventing them from going ahead," says Dr. Michael Hutchins, who coordinates the National Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign for ABC. 

"In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts," says Robert Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

"We deeply regret the impacts of golden eagles at two of our wind facilities," says Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables. "Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible."

How the $1 million fine will be disbursed:
  • $400,000 for the federally-administered North American Wetlands Conservation Fund
  • $100,000 for the State of Wyoming
  • $160,000 for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, designated for golden eagle conservation projects and research on how they interact with wind turbines
  • $340,000 to a conservation fund to buy golden eagle habitat in Wyoming  
"All wind projects will kill some birds. It is sadly unavoidable, but some areas are worse than others, and we can predict where many of these will be," says Hutchins of ABC. "Wind farms are being built without adequate plans to mitigate and compensate for bird impacts."

Several tools are available to help wind developers choose the best sites based on wind and environmental concerns, including one developed by National Renewable Energy Lab and another by ABC.

ABC estimates that as the wind industry has grown in the US, bird deaths have risen from 440,000 in 2009 to 600,000 in 2012.

How many birds will die as the wind industry continues to grow? Clearly, strong siting and operational regulations are needed, says Hutchins. "We believe it's necessary to enforce development restrictions on wind, such as avoiding bird migration corridors and places where protected species and sensitive habitats are present."

Enacted way back in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements US commitments with Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan and Russia. The Act protects over 1,000 species of birds.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

First Wind grows by aiming low

AURORA, Maine — The truck wound along the logging road in the deep woods of this northern Maine community, snaking up a bump in the landscape called Bull Hill. Only as the truck neared the base of a 95-meter-tall wind turbine did the silvery-white blades become visible among the trees.

The 19-turbine wind farm at Bull Hill operates hundreds of feet lower than other industrial-scale wind farms, which typically spread along mountain ridges that are visible for miles. It is one of the latest developments of First Wind Holdings Inc. and an example of how the fast-growing Boston firm has become a dominant player in the Northeast.

First Wind, just over a decade old, has prospered by following an unconventional strategy that often avoids towering ridgelines, instead building at lower elevations and taking advantage of technological advances that allow turbines to generate electricity at lower wind speeds. Even so, the company’s projects have still attracted controversy, provoking outrage from some residents of rural and remote areas who say the peace, quiet, and beauty of natural landscapes is marred by the industrial developments.

First Wind today owns and operates 12 wind farms in six states, its portfolio comprising more than 500 turbines with a combined generating capacity of roughly 1,000 megawatts, or enough to power about 285,000 homes. Its revenues have soared to about $250 million a year from just $7.1 million in 2006, according to the company and financial filings, as it has targeted states such as New York, Maine, and Hawaii where high energy costs and friendly renewable energy policies make wind power competitive.

“We’re focused on places where it makes economic sense,” said chief executive Paul J. Gaynor.

Originally known as UPC Wind, the firm was founded in 2002 by Brian Caffyn, a Massachusetts native who spent years working in the wind industry in Italy. Gaynor, a former executive at a division of General Electric, was the company’s fifth employee. He has led the firm since 2004.

Wind power was barely a speck on the energy landscape then, with oil prices as low as $33 a barrel.

Installations were few and far between, with about one-tenth of today’s generating capacity.

“God, it was uncharted waters,” Gaynor recalled recently at his company’s headquarters near South Station in Boston. “When I showed up, we had no money, no megawatts, virtually no people.”

First Wind built its first project in 2006 on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a 30-megawatt wind farm along a ridge on the West Maui Mountains, which tested another key component of its strategy: winning the support of environmentalists. The ridge is home to three endangered bird species and a type of endangered bat.

Before building, First Wind worked with experts on plans to protect those animals and committed a minimum of $1 million to make them happen.

“You have to find a way to coexist. You can’t look at a wind farm and say they have no environmental impacts,” Gaynor said. “That’s the ethic we took from there — I took from there — to every other project.”

First Wind has followed that ethic in New England, said Ted Koffman, executive director of Maine Audubon, a nonprofit wildlife conservation group that has monitored large wind developments for more than a decade. First Wind, he said, has proved its willingness to work with environmental organizations and communities to protect rare and sensitive habitats.

The company sends out analysts to study bird populations, talking to hikers who frequent the location where they plan to build, and sometimes helping to build wildlife sanctuaries.

“First Wind is not always going to agree with us because we want the Cadillac of all best-management practices, and to go above and beyond what the law requires,” Koffman said, but “they’re often very willing.”

While building its Bull Hill wind farm, First Wind worked to accommodate outdoor enthusiasts, improving some access roads, leaving the surrounding area open to snowmobiles and ATVs, and adding picnic tables for visitors to use. First Wind also limits the construction footprint of its projects, said Sean Mahoney, executive vice president for the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation in Maine, which has supported several of First Wind’s projects.

The company often uses existing logging roads, as it did at Bull Hill, to transport equipment and parts, and does something else worth noting, said Mahoney. It clusters projects around existing transmission to avoid the need build new lines, which might have to cross sensitive natural areas.

Percy L. Brown Jr., a commissioner of Hancock County, where the wind farm is located, said he was initially wary of First Wind’s impact. But the project has brought benefits to the community, including an agreement by the company to pay the county $200,000 a year for the next two decades.

“We can utilize these funds for public purposes,” Brown said, “property tax reduction, economic development, [or] tourism and promotion, reduction of energy costs.”

But First Wind has also attracted fierce critics, who argue its industrial installations are out of place in remote, natural areas, destroying landscapes and property values. Some blame the rotating turbine blades for headaches and dizzy spells.

In Maine, community groups such as Friends of Maine’s Mountains have repeatedly opposed more wind development in favor of hydropower, which generates about quarter of Maine’s electricity. Christopher O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said the relatively small amount of power generated by wind energy, an intermittent source, is not worth the environmental damage.

In Hawaii, First Wind has come under scrutiny following several battery fires at a wind farm on Oahu Island, including one that shut the site for a year. On Maui, some critics say First Wind’s turbines have marred the view of the ridge, visible as planes descend onto the island. Still others say the wind projects have failed to lower electricity prices in Hawaii, the highest in the nation.

“If you heard the message as, ‘Your bill is going to drop,’ those people feel a sense of disappointment,” said Doug McLeod, Maui County’s energy commissioner.

First Wind said it has no control over electric rates set by the state, but knows that the energy its produces is cheaper than other sources of power in Hawaii. Gaynor added that he’s not surprised by criticism there and elsewhere.

“You are always going to have someone opposed to anything new,” he said, “whether it’s a shopping mall, or a house, or a telephone pole.”

In First Wind’s Boston headquarters, Gaynor strode past a room where employees watched a bank of screens, monitoring 17,000 data points, from energy production to weather conditions, coming in each second from the company’ turbines.

Gaynor said he sees more expansion ahead. The company, which employs more than 200, including 70 in Massachusetts, recently launched a solar power division. In addition, First Wind’s systems are built to monitor up to 3,000 megawatts of energy projects — triple today’s capacity.

“That’s why we have empty desks,” Gaynor said, pointing to vacant cubicles around the office. “We hope to continue to grow.”


Where First Wind is setting up shop

Friday, November 22, 2013


 WASHINGTON – Duke Energy Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming today to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming.  This case represents the first ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.

          Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.  The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.

          The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013.  The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land. 

          According to the charges and other information presented in court, Duke Energy Renewables Inc. failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  However, the company cooperated with the USFWS investigation and has already implemented measures aimed at minimizing avian deaths at the sites.

          “This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts.”

          “The Service works cooperatively with companies that make all reasonable efforts to avoid killing migratory birds during design, construction and operation of industrial facilities,” said William Woody, Assistant Director for Law Enforcement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “But we will continue to investigate and refer for prosecution cases in which companies - in any sector, including the wind industry - fail to comply with the laws that protect the public’s wildlife resources.”

          More than 1,000 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  The MBTA, enacted in 1918, implements this country’s commitments under avian protection treaties with Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan and Russia.  The MBTA provides a misdemeanor criminal sanction for the unpermitted taking of a listed species by any means and in any manner, regardless of fault.  The maximum penalty for an unpermitted corporate taking under the MBTA is $15,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, and five years’ probation. 

          According to papers filed with the court, commercial wind power projects can cause the deaths of federally protected birds in four primary ways: collision with wind turbines, collision with associated meteorological towers, collision with, or electrocution by, associated electrical power facilities, and nest abandonment or behavior avoidance from habitat modification.  Collision and electrocution risks from power lines (collisions and electrocutions) and guyed structures (collision) have been known to the utility and communication industries for decades, and specific methods of minimizing and avoiding the risks have been developed, in conjunction with the USFWS. The USFWS issued its first interim guidance about how wind project developers could avoid impacts to wildlife from wind turbines in 2003, and replaced these with a “tiered” approach outlined in the Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (2012 LBWEGs), developed with the wind industry starting in 2007 and released in final form by the USFWS on March 23, 2012.  The Service also released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance in April 2013 and strongly recommends that companies planning or operating wind power facilities in areas where eagles occur work with the agency to implement that guidance completely.

          For wind projects, due diligence during the pre-construction stage—as described in the 2003 Interim Guidelines and tiers I through III in the 2012 LBWEGs—by surveying the wildlife present in the proposed project area, consulting with agency professionals, determining whether the risk to wildlife is too high to justify proceeding and, if not, carefully siting turbines so as to avoid and minimize the risk as much as possible, is critically important because, unlike electric distribution equipment and guyed towers, at the present time, no post-construction remedies, except “curtailment” (i.e., shut-down), have been developed that can “render safe” a wind turbine placed in a location of high avian collision risk.  Other experimental measures to reduce prey, detect and deter avian proximity to turbines are being tested.  In the western United States, golden eagles may be particularly susceptible to wind turbine blade collision by wind power facilities constructed in areas of high eagle use.

          The $400,000 fine imposed in the case will be directed to the federally-administered North American Wetlands Conservation Fund.  The company will also pay $100,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, and perform community service by making a $160,000 payment to the congressionally-chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, designated for projects aimed at preserving golden eagles and increasing the understanding of ways to minimize and monitor interactions between eagles and commercial wind power facilities, as well as enhance eagle rehabilitation and conservation efforts in Wyoming.  Duke Energy Renewables is also required to contribute $340,000 to a conservation fund for the purchase of land, or conservation easements on land, in Wyoming containing high-use golden eagle habitat, which will be preserved and managed for the benefit of that species.  The company must implement a migratory bird compliance plan containing specific measures to avoid and minimize golden eagle and other avian wildlife mortalities at company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming. 

          According to papers filed with the court, Duke Energy Renewables will spend approximately $600,000 per year implementing the compliance plan.  Within 24 months, the company must also apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Programmatic Eagle Take Permit at each of the two wind projects cited in the case.  

          The case was investigated by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Senior Counsel Robert S. Anderson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Conder of the District of Wyoming.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Invenergy in New York: blade break


Invenergy's Orangeville Wind Farm (formerly known as the Stony Creek Wind project) experienced a catastrophic blade break. The project, which is still under construction includes 58 GE 1.6-100 wind turbines (94 megawatts). The turbines are scheduled for commission  the second week of December 2013. Witnesses at the site told WindAction that blade debris flew past the 511-foot safety zone set by the town. This setback distance was requested by Eric Miller from Invenergy to get more turbines in a smaller area. General Electric said 1.5 times hub height plus rotor diameter or 885’ would be necessary.


Northeast Wind bags refinancing

A First Wind-Emera joint venture has refinanced its debt with a new corporate credit facility consisting of a $320m term loan B debt facility and a $75m letter of credit facility.

Northeast Wind Partners’ own 419MW of wind power projects in the northeast United States.
Pricing on the new term loan was set at LIBOR plus 400 basis points with a 1% LIBOR floor, with 99% of original issue discount. The proceeds were used to refinance the joint venture’s existing debt.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, KeyBank, Union Bank, CIT Group, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China were joint lead arrangers and joint book-runners for the syndication of the term loan B facility.

Northeast Wind tried to refinance its debt this past summer but postponed efforts because of unfavorable market conditions.

Boston-based First Wind retains 51% and Nova Scotia-headquartered Emera owns 49% of Northeast Wind. First Wind is the managing partner, operating the wind energy projects.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Suit Against First Wind Over Noise Pollution Dismissed

The summary judgment for First Wind upholds a lower court ruling made earlier this year on a lawsuit brought by Michael Gosselin of Mars Hill.

"I'm feeling terribly disappointed in the justice system because I thought truth and justice would prevail," Gosselin says. "And I'm very disappointed and really, really shocked."

Gosselin, a disabled veteran who suffers from PTSD, claimed in the suit that noise created by the turbines, which are situated about 1.7 miles from his home, have made his life so stressful that he's had to build a noise proof bunker in his garage.

"I'm going to have to continue sleeping in the garage until we can move out of the area I guess," he says.

Gosselin was seeking a buyout of his property for fair market value. While First Wind settled similar disputes with 18 neighboring landowners last year, Gosselin was excluded from that case because he was judged to be too far from the turbines.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne says the company is pleased with the ruling, and glad that all parties are spared the ordeal of a trial.

"We work very hard to be good neighbors in the Mars Hill community," Lamontagne says, "and I think we've been very successful when it comes to that."

In the ruling, the justices say the lower court did not err when finding against Gosselin, who claimed the turbines created a nuisance and emotional distress.

Claims of personal and property damage from related activities were also tossed out, and a new claim of breach of contract was not heard. Gosselin says he may petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

First Wind and Emera re-launch Northeast Wind

First Wind and Emera are again trying to close a seven-year term loan B for the Northeast Wind portfolio. The latest attempt comes just two months after the two pulled a $385 million financing package. Northeast Wind’s latest incarnation is a $315 million term loan B, priced at 400-425bp over Libor, with a Libor floor of 1% and an original issue discount of 1%. Standard & Poor’s (S&P) rates the debt B+....


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cape Wind not worth the price

The Cape Wind project, started by Jim Gordon in 2001, has largely turned into a distraction for renewable energy in New England. The projected construction cost rose from $500 million in 2001, for 168 megawatt annual average (not peak) generating capacity, to $2.6 billion recently for 183 MW.
Comparable conventional electricity is just across the Charles River from us in Cambridge: the Kendall Square station. Opened by Cambridge Light and Power in 1949 burning coal, it was converted to efficient combined-cycle natural gas by Mirant in 2000, and is now run by NRG Energy.

Kendall Square has a year-round (not peak) generating capacity of 218 MW. For the three most recent calendar years, it averaged 68 percent of capacity, selling into a New England bulk electricity market with average wholesale prices per kilowatt-hour of $0.051 in 2010, $0.048 in 2011, and $0.037 in 2012 — per ISO New England.

In 2012, Cape Wind had contracts to sell bulk electricity for $0.187 per kWh that it cannot fulfill because its offshore wind farm remains unbuilt. That’s about five times the actual, average wholesale price of electricity in New England for the year.

In September 2013, Massachusetts and Connecticut state agencies approved long-term agreements by Northeast Utilities, National Grid and other utilities to buy bulk electricity from land-based wind farms run by First Wind, Iberdrola Renewables and Exergy Development at an average wholesale price of less than $0.080 per kWh.

The total capacity of land-based wind power coming under contract in 2013 is nearly twice what was promised by Cape Wind. The price per kWh is less than half the price from Cape Wind. If Cape Wind had built its offshore wind farm at the cost projected in 2001, it too could sell renewable energy at a fair price.

Craig Bolon, Fuller Street 


Foes file lawsuit to block Aroostook wind project

Opponents of a soon-to-be-started wind farm in the Aroostook County town of Oakfield took legal action Tuesday in a last-minute attempt to stop the project.

They filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor, aimed at a 50-turbine wind farm to be erected by First Wind of Boston through its subsidiary, Evergreen Wind II LLC. Initial road construction is set to begin before winter on the 150-megawatt project.

A key focus of the complaint, reviewed by the Portland Press Herald, is that the dredging and filling associated with the 59 miles of transmission lines needed to connect the wind farm to the regional power grid would degrade streams that support Atlantic salmon and violate the federal Clean Water Act. The complaint names the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior as defendants.

A spokesman for First Wind, John Lamontagne, said the company hadn’t yet reviewed the complaint. But he noted that the Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service thoroughly reviewed the $400 million project and its impacts, and concluded that it complied with federal laws.

“We believe this project will be able to deliver significant economic benefits to the region and the town of Oakfield while generating clean renewable energy that will power thousands of homes,” Lamontagne said.

The Oakfield lawsuit mirrors a legal tactic used last year by wind power foes who are trying to block an expansion of the Kibby Mountain wind farm in northwestern Maine. That case is still pending.

Nearly seven years since Maine’s first wind farm went up on Mars Hill, controversy continues over the visual, noise and environmental impacts of power production around the state’s rural lakes and mountains. Opponents have been increasingly frustrated by plans for larger wind farms, a result of changing technology and new, long-term contracts for renewable energy with utilities in southern New England. In Oakfield and at TransCanada’s planned expansion on Sisk Mountain in Franklin County, they see a potential legal path to challenge permits in federal courts.

“Part of this shifts (opposition) from the turbines to the water bodies,” said Lynne Williams, a lawyer representing Oakfield opponents.

Read the entire article

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Allegany Wind Farm project dropped

A wind power development company has pulled out of its contract to build wind turbines in the Town of Allegany.

EverPower Holdings, a Pittsburgh-based maker of utility-grade wind turbines, will not file a permit extension to develop the Allegany Wind Farm project, which called for 29 turbines to be built on the hills above Chipmonk Road. The company blamed backing out on delays in the embattled project’s progress and turbine costs that have risen by millions of dollars in the intervening years.

“We’re hoping to make a fresh attempt next year,” Shears said.

The original permit was granted in 2011 by the Allegany Town Planning Board. Cattaraugus County residents raised concerns about quality of life issues associated with noise and visual clutter associated with the turbine project. That and other considerations kept EverPower from beginning construction in 2012.

“We didn’t have certainty of our ability to connect into the grid system at the end of 2012,” said Chris Shears, chief development officer for EverPower.

Earlier this year, EverPower filed a lawsuit against the Town of Allegany and the Allegany Planning Board, claiming the board’s request for a supplemental review of noise impacts, in light of the wind power company’s request to use larger turbine blades, was arbitrary. That suit was dismissed by State Supreme Court Justice Michael Nenno, who said EverPower’s conduct was willfully obstinate.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

APOV: New York wind wars

Congress’s last minute extension of the PTC or Production Tax Credit (aka: “Pork To Cronies”) within the December 31, 2012 fiscal cliff deal was good news for Big Wind corporate welfare profiteers, like Michael Polsky’s Invenergy. It was very bad news for rural/residential towns that are being targeted by industrial wind developers here in New York State, and across the nation.

Even though the Wyoming County, NY Town of Orangeville’s conflicted Town Board approved Invenergy’s “Stony Creek” project in the Fall of 2012, Invenergy admitted it would not go ahead with the project unless the PTC was extended. This again highlights the fact that the only thing Invenergy is interested in “harvesting” via its ‘wind farms’ is taxpayers’ money.  Once Crony-Corruptocrats in DC extended the PTC in that midnight fiscal cliff deal, the once-beautiful rolling hills of the Town of Orangeville were doomed.

 While Michael Polsky enjoys his new mansion, many Orangeville residents are now helplessly looking on in disgust as Invenergy turns their town into a sprawling industrial wind factory – rendering their homes virtually worthless – thanks to the legalized thievery of their own tax dollars for The Wind Farm Scam.

 As Big Wind CEO, Patrick Jenevein candidly pointed out in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Wind power subsidies? No Thanks” and follow-up TV interview, “Wind farms are increasingly being built in less-windy locations,” because the wind industry is focused on reaping the lucrative taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies, rather than providing efficient, affordable, reliable electricity.

Nowhere is this proving to be more true than right here in New York State. Orangeville borders the Town of Attica here in the western part of the state. It’s a town that “First Wind LLC” pulled out of a number of years ago, after admitting that the Attica area “was not a good wind area.” It seems Jenevein knew exactly what he was talking about.

Economics 101

According to NYISO’s Goldbook, New York State’s installed wind factories averaged a pathetic 23.5% actual capacity factor in 2012. New York State wind factories are not generating enough electricity to even to pay for themselves over their short life spans.  It’s basic economics, but it’s being ignored by politicians.

Renowned energy analyst Glenn Schleede examined the data on New York State’s wind factories and found that one 450-MW combined cycle generating unit near New York City (where the power is actually needed) would provide more power than all of New York State’s wind farms combined, at one-fourth the capital costs – and would significantly reduce CO2 emissions, while creating far more jobs than all those wind farm – without the added costs and impacts of all the transmission lines to New York City.

It’s no wonder New York has earned the dubious distinction of having the highest electricity rates in the continental United States: 17.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) – a whopping 53% above the national average!  New York residents using 6,500 kWh of electricity annually will pay about $400 more per year for their electricity than if the state’s electricity prices were at the national average.

Despite making absolutely no economic sense, and despite the utter civil discord embroiling Towns across New York State for more than a decade, New York State continues to aggressively pursue further industrial wind development – with no effort whatsoever to protect the health, well-being or pocketbooks of New York State citizens, especially those living next to or under the wind turbines.

Governor Cuomo and ‘Article X’

During his tenure as Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo did nothing to protect New York State citizens from the predatory practices and collusion evident among Big Wind developers. Once he became Governor of New York, Cuomo actively began aiding and abetting Big Wind’s efforts to trample rural communities’ Constitutional private property rights in his pursuit of all things “green” (aka: Agenda 21), by signing into law the new “Article X (10)” contained within his 2011 “Power NY Act.”

Cuomo's new Article X put in place an ”Energy Siting Board” comprised of five Albany bureaucrats who now have the final say regarding the siting of “power-generating facilities” in NY – redefined to mean anything generating 25 MW or more.  Cuomo’s intention to clear the way for Big Wind developers could not have been any more obvious had he rolled out a red carpet.

Article X proceedings are already being pursued by British Petroleum (BP) in Cape Vincent, NY, and by Iberdrola in Clayton, NY. These foreign-owned corporations intend to turn our beautiful Thousands Islands, St. Lawrence Seaway area into sprawling industrial wind factories.  Devastating some of the most scenic, historic areas in the nation in pursuit of the “green” energy boondoggle of wind  should have all Americans incensed – especially since they are paying for it!

In Lichtfield, NY, another Big Wind LLC tried to override the town’s restrictive zoning laws, by using Cuomo’s “Article X,” so that they could install 490-foot-tall turbines.  Luckily for Litchfield residents, the FAA struck down Big Wind’s plans there.

Robert Bryce, Senior fellow at The Manhattan Institute, reported on the lawsuit going on in Herkimer County, NY due to the intolerable noise problems associated with industrial wind factories. His article title sums it up: “Backlash against Big Wind continues.” Other wind factories are in the works in New York, with unsuspecting towns yet to recognize the fate that awaits them.

Considering the growing list of problems associated with industrial wind factories in New York State (and worldwide), Governor Cuomo’s actions reflect criminal negligence by a duly-elected “public servant,” as he has not demanded health studies to safeguard those he was elected to serve and protect.

Real Estate 101: “Location, location, location!” 

Adding insult to injury, Ben Hoen and his pals at the NRLB just came out with yet another bogus “report,” claiming industrial wind factories do not hurt property values. They can't really be serious, can they?

Any realtor who is not in bed with the wind industry will tell you, location is the most important factor when considering a home’s worth and value.

If you industrialize a neighborhood (and in the case of industrial wind energy, entire towns, and those neighboring them), you are going to devalue it.

Pretty much a no-brainer, right?  Not according to Hoen and his pals in the ideologically-driven media.

Media Controlling the Message 

After nearly a decade of researching and writing about industrial wind power, I’ve lost count of how many times my comments responding to wind-promoting articles have been rejected, and how many news publications refuse to report all relevant information regarding industrial wind power.

A number of local newspapers serving our area here in Western New York State – which has been targeted by industrial wind developers – have literally cut off all letters to the editor from local citizens regarding the industrial wind issue. These same newspapers continue to publish “Press Releases” and “project updates” on behalf of wind developers, and yet refuse to do any responsible, investigative journalism on the efficacy, effects and economics of wind power.

If “news”papers wonder why their circulation continues to drop, as people choose to get honest news elsewhere, they need look no further than their own refusal to adhere to “The Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics,” which says “Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.”

If wind enthusiasts actually believe all they claim to about the supposed “wonders of wind,” then why do they need to control the message the way they do? The answer is evident.

Either they are so ideologically driven that facts are not “relevant” to them — or they are getting so rich via the wind scam that they must squelch factual information as much as possible, so that the “Emperor with No Clothes” doesn’t end up being exposed for what he is — a charlatan who is swindling taxpayers and ratepayers out of billions of dollars in the name of being “green.”

Mary Kay Barton lives in Silver Springs.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Google’s Green Energy Brag: $375 Million from Taxpayers (or more)

On September 13, 2013, Google announced that it had signed a contract to buy the entire output of the 239 MW Happy Herford “wind farm” that is being developed by Chermac Energy near Amarillo, Texas. The project is expected to begin operation in late 2014.
Undoubtedly Chermac Energy is pleased to have a 20-year contract (purchased power agreement) for the sale of the electricity that will be produced. The Google deal will provide the developer a guaranteed cash stream that will enable project financing. [1]

Undoubtedly, Google is pleased with all the favorable publicity the company has received for being so environmentally committed even though the wind-generated electricity will not be used in a Google facility. Instead, according to Google, the electricity will be sold in the wholesale market and Google will purchase the electricity it needs from the utilities serving its facilities or a wholesale supplier. Google will “retire” the renewable energy credits (REC) resulting from the deal.

The big losers in the Google transaction will be taxpayers, a point that none of the media stories have mentioned. Specifically, taxpayers will have to pick up the cost of the tax breaks that the “wind farm” owner (currently Chermac) will enjoy.

As explained below, the tax burden that will be shifted from the “wind farm” owner to remaining taxpayers will be at least $170 million and probably more.

The most lucrative federal tax break for the project owners will probably be the federal wind “production tax credit” (PTC). This tax break will provide the owners with a tax credit, currently set at $0.023, for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that the “wind farm” produces during the first 10 years of operation. The $0.023 rate applicable during 2013 is subject to upward adjustment for inflation and undoubtedly will be increased during the next 10 years.

Also, the “wind farm” owners will likely qualify also for another lucrative federal tax break known as “accelerated depreciation” which allows the owners to depreciate for tax purposes the entire capital cost of the wind energy equipment over a five-year period, thus providing a significant cash flow benefit.

The actual cost of the PTC to taxpayers can only be estimated at this time since the amount paid depends on the amount of electricity produced as well as the rate at the time of production. The benefit to the owners and added tax burden to remaining taxpayers can be estimated with a few assumptions.


1. The stated capacity of the planned Happy Hereford “wind farm” is 239.2 megawatts (MW) or 239,200 kilowatts (kW). 
2. Amount of electricity produced each year will only be known after the fact since this will depend on wind conditions at the site and condition of the turbines. Two large existing “wind farms” in the Amarillo areas had capacity factors of about 45% during 2011among the highest in the U.S.[2] 
3. Assuming that Happy Hereford will achieve a capacity of 45%, the project would produce approximately 942,926,400 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each year (that is, 239,200 kW capacity x 8760 hours per year x .45 capacity factor = 942,926,600 kWh). 
4. Production of 942,926,400 kWh x the 2013 rate of $0.023 would produce an annual PTC break for the “wind farm” owners and annual cost to taxpayers of $21,687,307. At this rate, the tax break would be $216,873,070 over 10 years if production continued at the same level. 
5. If the PTC rate is increased due to inflation adjustments to an average of $0.026 during the 10 year operation, the average annual PTC break would be $24,516,086 per year and $245,160,860 over the 10-year period.
Google had earlier announced the purchased the output of two other wind farms:

1. In July 2010, Google announced the purchase of 114 MW of the capacity of NextEra’s Story County II “wind farm” in Iowa. This project began producing electricity in 2009. Assuming a capacity factor of 35%, this project would produce 349,524,000 kWh of electricity per year and earn production tax credits of $8,039,052 in one year at a rate of $0.023 (the 2013 rate) or $80,390,520 in 10 years if the average rate over the 10 years turns out to be $0.023. 
2. In April 2011, Google announced the purchase of the output of NextEra’s 100.8 Minco II “wind farm” in Oklahoma. This project began producing electricity in 2011. Assuming a capacity factor of 40%, this project would produce 353,203,200 kWh of electricity per year and earn production tax credits of $8,123,674 in one year when receiving a rate of $0.023 (the 2013 rate) or $91,832,830 over 10 years if the average rate over that time turns out to be $0.026.
As indicated earlier, the actual 10-year cost of the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) tax break for the owners of the three projects will depend on their actual production and the PTC rates that are in effect during each of those 10 years.

Based on the assumptions outlined above, the three projects signed up by Google probably will cost taxpayers between $370 million and $417 million for the production tax credits received by the “wind farm” owners over the first 10 years of each of the projects’ operation.


One big winner in the Google purchase of wind-generated electricity from three “wind farms” would be Google because of all the favorable press attention. The other big winners will be the project owners because of the lucrative tax breaks.

The big losers will be taxpayers who must pick up the tax burden escaped by the owners or, perhaps more accurately, their children and grandchildren who will inherit the huge and growing national debt, now about $17 trillion—summing to more than $50,000 per U.S. citizen.