Thursday, February 28, 2013

No cause, no answers 7 months after Kahuku wind farm fire

It was a first of it's kind technology - that went up in smoke.

Seven months after they started spinning, the Kahuku wind mills stopped because of a fire.

The fact that they're sitting idle is having an ripple effect that reaches your electric bill.

For seven months they were spinning in the wind.

"First seven months of operation it put about 52k megawatts of energy into the system," said Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Darren Pai.

A productive project - capable of powering 7,800 homes.

But these last seven months have been a different story.

Since August, the 12 turbines at Kahuku are at a standstill after a fire inside the facility's battery storage system shut the wind farm down.

Turns out it was the third blaze to break-out inside the building.

"And those we did an extensive investigation and determined the cause of those that was related to the capacitors in the converters," said Wren Wescoatt of First Wind. "We took several steps to remedy that and the new investigation looked into that as one of the possibilities but hasn't yet determined what the cause of the final fire was."

Sen. Gabbard who chairs the Committee on Energy says - no cause is no good.

"I'm a little surprised they haven't found out the cause of the fire, we're still waiting to get results of the investigation, because I think that's a key part of it," said Senator Mike Gabbard (D).

The battery-storage technology was the first of its kind to regulate the flow of power when trade winds aren't blowing.

A system First Wind may decide to ditch.

"We've been working with HECO to remove the battery building, to re-build the control equipment and to get back online and producing as soon as possible," said Wescoatt.

In operation the wind farm was a win-win. HECO saw oil savings to the tune of $11 million and First Wind was working its way to meeting annual mega-watt goals.

Now HECO is back to buying up barrels of oil, and passing that cost onto customers, while First Wind is facing financial setbacks.

"They only get paid for the energy that's actually produced and fed into the grid, so when the wind farm is not in operation first wind does not get paid," said Pai.

And there's a potential for much worse under a 20-year contract First Wind could face sanctions if the project doesn't get going again.

"There is a possibility that the contract could be terminated somewhere down the road , but our focus in on first wind to get it back in operation," shared Pai.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Judge Deals Blow To Galloo Island Wind Farm Project

It's another setback for a proposed wind farm on Galloo Island.

Administrative Law Judge Kevin Casutto says there's no public need for a transmission line between the wind farm project and the mainland.

The judge recommends the State Public Service Commission dismiss the application by Upstate NY Power, citing long delays in the project and the effect on potentially affected landowners.

As originally envisioned in 2009, the electricity from Galloo Island would be sold to the state Power Authority, which abandoned the idea in late 2011.

Since then, Upstate talked about selling electricity to Fort Drum, but that idea was apparently pre-empted by a plant on post that will burn wood waste to generate power.

See the ruling


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cape Cod community considers taking down wind turbines after illness, noise

Two wind turbines towering above the Cape Cod community of Falmouth, Mass., were intended to produce green energy and savings -- but they've created angst and division, and may now be removed at a high cost as neighbors complain of noise and illness.
"It gets to be jet-engine loud," said Falmouth resident Neil Andersen. He and his wife Betsy live just a quarter mile from one of the turbines. They say the impact on their health has been devastating. They're suffering headaches, dizziness and sleep deprivation and often seek to escape the property where they've lived for more than 20 years.
"Every time the blade has a downward motion it gives off a tremendous energy, gives off a pulse," said Andersen. "And that pulse, it gets into your tubular organs, chest cavity, mimics a heartbeat, gives you headaches. It's extremely disturbing and it gets to the point where you have to leave."
The first turbine went up in 2010 and by the time both were in place on the industrial site of the town's water treatment facility, the price was $10 million. Town officials say taking them down will cost an estimated $5 million to $15 million, but that is just what Falmouth's five selectmen have decided to move toward doing.
"The selectmen unanimously voted to remove them. We think it's the right thing to do, absolutely," Selectman David Braga said. "You can't put a monetary value on people's health and that's what's happened here. A lot of people are sick because of these."
Now the matter will go to a town meeting vote in April and could ultimately end up on the ballot during the municipal elections in May.
"It's highly likely that what the voters will be determining is are they willing to tax themselves at an appropriate amount to cover the cost and dismantle and shut down the turbines?" Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso said.
In the meantime, the turbines are being run on a limited schedule as the selectmen respond to the concerns of nearby neighbors. The turbines only run during the day -- from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- which means they're operating at a loss.
The dispute has been a bitter three-year battle in the seaside town where officials argue the project was thoroughly vetted, researched and put to public vote multiple times.
"To say 'let's let the voters decide' -- it sort of flies in the face of what we went through all these years," said Megan Amsler of the Falmouth Energy Committee.
"We never tell somebody 'hey, you're going to have to take that coal plant down or you're going to have to stop mining the mountain tops.' These are very visible and a lot of other ways that we get our energy are invisible to the average American," Amsler argued. "People don't even know how much energy they consume on a yearly basis so I think it's good for people to be able to see where their energy comes from and know that it's coming from a clean source."
"I think if we end up taking these turbines down it will be a shame. It will be an embarrassment for the Town of Falmouth," said Amsler.
Town leaders say the state bears some monetary responsibility for the situation because Falmouth was granted renewable energy credits and received advice from state level energy officials through an ongoing partnership.
"They certainly have been involved and have a tremendous stake in this process," said Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper. Harper said the Mass Clean Energy Center "provided the technical assistance to conduct all of the feasibility studies."
"I feel the state is responsible because they were really pushing for more wind power which, believe me, the whole board of selectmen are supportive of renewable energy. I am. Maybe wind, but not in this location," said Braga.
Ultimately, town leaders are hoping the controversy will be resolved and the community will find a way to move forward together.
"It's imperative to the community that we do have a coming together and a healing and find a resolution one way or the other," said Suso. His advice to communities considering a similar project to the one causing strife in Falmouth is "move cautiously, communicate well, have extreme public dialogue and listen well."


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Yet Another Storm Brewing Over Wind Production Tax Credit

Wow, talk about taking the wind out of a guy’s sails. Just minutes after President Obama urged the nation to support more wind power in his State of the Union address, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) sure put a damper on things. He announced that his House subcommittee intends to challenge the new one-year extension for the production tax credit for wind power. That comes on the heels of a similar announcement last month by Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), who complained that the new wind tax credit extension is a “dramatic” change from previous versions.

The investigation threatens to throw yet another monkey wrench in the path of the wind industry, which is just coming off a banner year for wind production in 2012.

Trouble Ahead for the Wind Production Tax Credit

As Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements Subcommittee, Lankford isn’t just blowing smoke. According to our friends over at The Hill, Lankford said that the wind production tax credit will be “the subject of increased oversight.”

That sounds pretty tame until you consider the way Issa, who chairs the Since Issa chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, framed his views on the new extension:

“In 24 hours the heavily subsidized wind industry has gone from the verge of collapse to a modern-day Gold Rush. H.R. 8 seems to create a perverse incentive to rush production of additional facilities…”

Why is This Even an Issue?

At issue, for those of you new to the subject, is a 1990′s-era temporary tax credit for wind power, which normally gets a routine extension every few years. It is intended to level the playing field between wind power and conventional energy, which has long benefited from enormous taxpayer subsidies.

Nothing being normal under Republican leadership in the House, this year the Obama Administration had to fight tooth and nail to win a one-year extension.

That would appear to be a hollow victory. Modern wind farms take at least 18 months to finish construction, and previous versions of the tax credit only applied to projects that were completed within the designated time frame.

So, why was the wind industry so happy with the new extension?

As it turns out, the new extension contains new language, making the tax credit apply to any project begun within the designated time frame, whether it’s completed or not.

That’s the sore point for Issa and Lankford, and now the game is to see how many projects they can exclude from the tax credit, by restricting the way the federal government considers that a project has actually begun.

Return of the Department of Energy

The Obama Administration hasn’t exactly been sitting on its hands while all this has been going on.

On Monday, the day before the State of the Union Address, the Energy Department released a glowing report on a wind project in Wisconsin, consisting of a single wind turbine at the Port of Milwaukee.

To highlight the interest of U.S. businesses in wind power, the Energy Department points out that ten different companies contributed to the project, which generates enough electricity to power the Port’s administrative headquarters with plenty left over to sell to the local utility.

That sounds like small potatoes, and it is. In the second phase of the one-two punch, on Tuesday morning the Energy Department released a report on Oregon’s Caithness Shepherds Flat wind farm. The massive, 845 megawatt wind farm (the equivalent of power for 260,000 homes) started up last fall and is credited with creating 400 construction jobs and 45 direct, permanent operating jobs without disrupting the ranch economy in its rural host community.

The choice of Shepherds flat was no accident, since it highlights the interest of major U.S. companies in alternative energy. In addition to federal support it was partly funded by a couple of U.S. wind power enthusiasts, namely Google and GE.


Italy makes 'Mafia' arrests over Sicily wind farms

Police have arrested five people in eastern Sicily suspected of involvement in Mafia corruption over contracts to build wind farms, Italian media report.

The mayor and a councillor in the small town of Fondachelli Fantina, in Messina province, were among those detained.

The five face charges including extortion, fraud and Mafia association.

The investigation, which began in 2009, is linked to sub-contracts awarded to build energy farms near Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani.

A total of 11 people were under investigation, including two managers from a firm that won the main contract to build one of the wind farms, installing 63 turbines.

The contract was worth some 120bn euros (£103bn).

In December, police arrested six people and seized 10bn euros (£8.6bn) in assets in an investigation into suspected Mafia infiltration of other renewable energy facilities in western Sicily, Ansa reports.

The proceeds from contracts are believed to have been channelled to the fugitive head of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, Matteo Messina Denaro.

The Cosa Nostra has been trying to get into the renewable energy sector for many years, Italian investigators say.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Wind Power Tax

Should businesses and families have to pay higher electricity rates to underwrite the cost of wind energy they don't even use?

That is the issue as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission takes up a complaint by Interstate Power and Light Co. (IPL) that 500,000 rate payers in Iowa and Minnesota will have to pay $170.5 million from 2008-2016 for transmission lines and upgrades to connect wind farms to the electric grid.

The utility provides compelling evidence that "the burden of these huge costs is unrelated to any benefits that may accrue to IPL and its customers." And they are paying even though they "have not experienced any material improvements to reliability or lower energy prices."

The case has ramifications nationwide because the price tag for upgrading and expanding power lines to reach offshore and remote wind turbines could reach $150 billion. The green energy lobby and Obama Administration want to socialize these costs on the backs of all rate payers.

We criticized this stealth consumer tax two years ago ("The Great Transmission Heist," Review and Outlook, November 8, 2010). Michigan rate payers were asked to subsidize about 20% of the $16 billion cost to build wind-based power lines outside the state even though those customers received little benefit. These cost-shifting schemes would seem to violate the Federal Power Act, which says FERC should establish "just and reasonable" rates to cover transmission costs.

Yet in 2011 FERC issued new guidelines called "Order 1000" stating that pricing to cover transmission costs need only be "roughly commensurate" with benefits received—whatever that means. When we challenged FERC for straying from the user-pays principle, FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff responded that his agency's pricing proposal "makes clear that only those who benefit from transmission facilities will be allocated the costs of such transmission investments."

Well, now we'll see. The dispute is over what constitutes a "commensurate" benefit. Interstate Power and Light says it doesn't use the wind power, so it shouldn't pay for it. The green lobby and FERC counter that rate payers benefit from the overall "reliability" of the electric grid.

But this is like arguing that Oklahomans should pay to fix potholes in Manhattan because this enhances the national transportation system. In any case, wind power is one of the least reliable sources of electricity due to its intermittency. In states like Colorado, wind has to be backed up by coal or natural gas plants, not the opposite.

It's no secret why FERC is likely to rule against the homeowners in Iowa and Minnesota. The Obama Administration's green vision is to make wind and solar an ever-larger share of U.S. electricity production, regardless of costs. Think high-speed rail for the electric power network. The only way to make that happen without a political backlash is to spread the costs far and wide.

Wind and solar power are too expensive to compete with natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydropower without government help. The wind lobby already won an extension of its $12 billion production tax credit as part of the recent tax increase. More than half the states also have renewable energy standards forcing residents to purchase wind power. And now the greens want another subsidy for transmission lines.

In the Interstate Power and Light case, FERC has an opportunity to reinstate the user-pays principle. If FERC won't do that, Congress should step in for consumers and define "just" and "reasonable" pricing for the windy Mr. Wellinghoff.


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Citing Wisconsin turbine noise study, Cape councilman calls for statewide wind moratorium

CAPE VINCENT — Town officials are urging the Association of Towns of the State of New York to support a resolution calling for a ban on industrial wind development, pointing to a similar movement in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Towns Association last month adopted a resolution advising the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to enact a moratorium on wind farms after several noise consultants recommended to the PSC that more in-depth impact studies be conducted.

One of the four consultants who produced the report on low-frequency noise and infrasound for the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County, Wis., was Hessler Associates Inc. — a Haymarket, Va., firm also hired by wind developers in Cape Vincent for a noise assessment.

In the report submitted to the Wisconsin PSC on Dec. 28, Hessler Associates suggests a limit of 39.5 dBA — A-weighted, audible spectrum noise — at neighboring homes on properties not leased for wind development rights.

John L. Byrne, a Cape Vincent councilman who is advocating a wind moratorium in New York state, said Cape Vincent Wind Farm’s former project manager, James H. Madden, a few years ago provided the town with several development scenarios, all of which exceed Hessler’s recommended noise limit.

“BP’s business developer Jim Madden told the Cape Planning Board that creating a project with a noise limit of 42 dBA — which would exceed Hessler’s suggested maximum threshold — would not be economically feasible,” Mr. Byrne said.

BP’s current director of business development for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm, Richard Chandler, did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

In 2010, two years before Cape Vincent Wind Farm’s merger with Acciona Wind Energy USA’s St. Lawrence Wind Farm, BP submitted to the local Planning Board an analysis showing the correlation among noise levels, project size and financial benefits.

The largest array scenario BP had considered at that time was projected to produce 124 megawatts of electricity and meet a noise limit of 50 dBA at non-participating property lines. The smallest configuration, which would meet a noise limit of 42 dBA, would have produced only 36 megawatts.

BP is seeking a state Article X siting process for a 124-turbine project of up to 285 megawatts in Cape Vincent.

Following in the footsteps of the Wisconsin Towns Association, Mr. Byrne said, he hopes the Association of Towns of the State of New York would call on the state PSC to halt the Article X certification process for industrial wind developments through a formal resolution so that long-term studies on potentially adverse health and environmental effects due to wind farms can be properly conducted.

“In the case of wind power development, I think it’s important that our people have a good understanding of what adverse health effects, if any, are caused by turbine noise, the spinning of the blades or the transmission of power,” Mr. Byrne said. “We should learn how our soil, water and land may be impacted by the installation of turbines and if any steps need to be taken to mitigate or eliminate negative impacts.”   Source