11/29/10 Wind Farm Strong Arm: Wind developers hire cops to police 'open house' AND Why all the secrecy about what went wrong with the turbine foundations? AND Green stimulus grant includes get out of jail free card for known Wisconsin Polluter
WINDMILL SECURITY OVERKILL: Residents-- Northumerland
Source: NORTHUMBERLAND TODAY, www.northumberlandtoday.com
November 29, 2010
By VALERIE MACDONALD,
ROSENEATH -- The security was high at an open house at the Alnwick Civic Centre held for a proposed local wind farm Friday night.
Not only was there a police cruiser sitting outside -but there were at least three OPP officers on duty but out of uniform, about a half dozen uniformed security guards and another security man in plain clothes, as well as video surveillance. A sign warned about the latter and suggested people leave if they didn't want to be videotaped.
This is overkill, said several meeting attendees from the local, anti-wind turbine group, Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills.
"It's threatening," agreed Debbie Lynch, a woman who is also protesting another proposed industrial wind turbine development in Central Ontario where she lives near Norwood.
There were other concerned citizens from the Clarington, Pontypool and Millbrook areas, where wind farms are also being pursued under the rules set by the Ontario's Green Energy Act . The resulting green power will be subsidized in the form of a high per kilowatt hour "feed in" rate into the Hydro One electrical grid over the term of a 20-year contract for proponents who meet all the government-imposed criteria.
The government policy is to increase green energy and bring manufacturing jobs to Ontario as it imposes increasing Ontario content rules on the infrastructure installed for wind, solar and other energy-producing alternatives.
OPP Sgt. Jeff Lavalley, who identified himself as head of the OPP Aboriginal Policing Bureau, said officers were there to "be informed about what's going on" in relationship to the series of meetings in the area about different proposed wind farms. While not in uniform, he stressed they were not "plain-clothed" police officers.
"There have been incidents at other venues," he said. These "incidents" included intimidation and threats, particularly at the Millbrook wind turbine meeting, the Sgt. added.
Among those groups being consulted as part of the approvals process to install turbines under the Ontario Green Energy Act are First Nation peoples, said wind turbine company spokesperson Larissa Murray in an interview. There was one man escorting her everywhere she went in the Alnwick Civic Centre during the meeting.
Murray identified herself as vice president of Tantenco LLC of Delaware whose parent company is in Germany where she has lived for a number of years before beginning her career in the wind power business. Tantenco and Sunbeam LLC of the U.S. each have 50% ownership of Clean Breeze Wind Park LP (Limited Partnership), identified as the proponent for the development that was subject of Friday night's meeting. The two U.S. firms are the financial backers, she also said.
If local ownership can be increased to a minimum of 50% in the windpark, the payback on power produced through the Ontario government backed plan will rise to 14.5 cents per killowatt hour from 13.5, she said. Local investors will be sought in the future, Murray said. Studies are being conducted ranging from noise and wind assessments to the proximity to wetlands, woodlands and residences, she said. This information will be made public at least 60 days before the second public meeting, Murray added.
If there is no lease with a landholder, however "I can't put up a turbine," she said.
The local project area is bordered by County Road 22 on the north, County Road 23 on the west, just east of County Road 45 on the east, and south along Norble Road and Scots Line. A FITT contract for up to 10 megawatts of power production would be met by up to five turbines and cost about $20 million to put in the ground and wire into the grid, Murray said.
Energy Farming Ontario is a consulting firm on the local project and "some of its staff own equity" in Clean Breeze Wind Park, Murray explained. M.K. Ince & Associates Ltd. is the consulting firm overseeing the studies that are underway, holding the required public meetings and undertaking the renewable energy approvals process, she said.
A common factor in all of the 10 proposed wind turbine farms in Ontario is that M.K. Ince & Associates is undertaking the approvals process confirmed local project manager for the firm, Andrea McDowell. Half of those are in Central Ontario.
The field work for Clean Breeze Wind Park has been completed, said M.K. Ince & Associates spokesperson Jane Zednik but not all the studies. She said that they would be completed and made public in time for the second required public meeting which she expected to be held April, 2011. They will be available on the web site energyfarmingontario. com and at public libraries, Zednik said.
At this stage in the process the design has not be completed, where the lines will be buried or on poles, the location of the turbines, access roads, etc., Zednik said. One company representative said there would be a total of five turbines and another said that wasn't decided yet.
Morely Nelson has already told Northumberland Today that he has an agreement with Clean Wind Park to allow the company to put up wind turbines on his property, and that of his brother Ken. He said he lives on the property and has done his own research at other wind farms and is satisfied with what he found.
The Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills, however, is not of the same mindset.
They have warned potential landowners contemplating entering into long-term leases for wind turbines that there are downsides. They have issued newsletters and visited their neighbours. At the meeting they distributed a bulletin entitled: "What you should know about wind turbines."
The document stated that property values could be devalued by "at least 25%" and that those selling properties could wait twice as long to find a buyer if their land is in the vicinity of wind turbines.
"Concerns over noise, health affects, value loss and destruction of rural views stigmatize areas, chasing away buyers," the Alliance's statement warns.
Property reassessments are supporting this claim and it cites an appeal board decision in Amaranth Township where the assessment was cut in half by an appeal board.
Alliance member Tyne Bonebakker lives within the study area of the proposed local windfarm and he says the provincially mandated 550 meter setback from wind turbines is inadequate.
Another person who would be directly affected if the project went ahead is Denise Little who told Murray she is concerned that her retirement home will be ruined because of the project. In an interview Little said she is the type of person who gets migraines and will likely be susceptible to the ill affects that other people say they have suffered by living close to wind turbines.
These include a low-frequency noise and shadow flicker, to a strobe effect, according to the Alliance's bulletin. It claims nausea and dizziness as side effects.
"Our group is one of more than 40 citizens' groups throughout Ontario. More than 60 municipalities in Ontario have challenged the Green Energy Act and are asking for a halt to industrial wind turbine developments," the bulletin also states. The group believes more health studies need to be undertaken and that what has been done so far is inadequate.
Opposition is world wide, the anti-wind turbine group's literature also stresses.
But Murray says she has grown up with wind turbines and isn't negatively impacted by them. Europe has had them for over 30 years, she said.
Alnwick/Halidmand Mayor Elect Dalton McDonald says he lives next door to the proposed site and neither he nor his wife have concerns, even though he believes they'll be able to see them when they take walks on their property.
He noted, however, that the Green Energy Act passed by the provincial government takes away any regulating power from municipal governments.
"I can have no more impact (on any decisions) than anyone else," McDonald said.
PUBLIC SOULD GET ANSWERS ON WIND FARM
Secrecy swirling around the sudden disruption in construction of Herkimer County’s first wind farm should outrage residents in Fairfield and Norway, and they should be demanding clear answers from town leaders.
Iberdrola Renewables halted turbine construction earlier Nov. 12 to perform more tests after it discovered concrete used in the some of the foundations was weak and did not meet company standards. Work resumed Nov. 19 after some tests were completed and, Iberdrola says, foundations now meet or exceed its standards. Further results are pending.
But little is known about what happened, how it was corrected and whether it could happen again.
• Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman would only respond to O-D inquiries by e-mail. He declined to release the names of the project’s contractors or discuss whether all current contractors would remain on the project.
• The project is small by standards set that require state oversight. The state Public Service Commission regulates wind energy projects of 80 megawatts. The Hardscrabble project falls just six megawatts shy of that. That puts regulation in the hands of local officials, PSC spokesman Jim Denn says.
• Town supervisors won’t talk. Neither Fairfield town Supervisor Richard Souza nor Norway town Supervisor Judy Gokey returned phone calls. Meanwhile, Stephanie Vetter, an environmental engineer assigned to the project, would not comment on the recent problems. She directed questions to town officials.
This is unacceptable. The Hardscrabble Wind Farm is slated to place 37 turbines in Fairfield and Norway. If the project fell within the parameters of state law, the state would have the authority to step in and conduct an investigation. But since oversight of smaller projects rests with the locality, the onus is on local officials to provide answers.
If Norway and Fairfield leaders know details of the incident and how it has been corrected to assure the public safety, they need to be upfront with that information. If they aren’t aware of what happened, they need to demand a full accounting from Iberdrola and then share that information with town residents.
We often complain about lack of autonomy and overregulation by big government, but when localities are given that responsibility and officials fail to carry out their duties or stay mum, the public is shortchanged. Don’t let that happen here. Ask questions and demand answers.
By Kate Golden | November 28, 2010
Last December, when Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced $14.5 million in federal stimulus funds for energy-efficiency projects involving nine companies, he called it “a tremendous opportunity to be one of the greenest manufacturing states in the country.”
What Doyle did not mention was that ethanol producer Didion Milling Inc., which got $5.6 million and the largest share, is one of Wisconsin’s most chronic air and water polluters— a firm designated by the federal government as a “high priority violator.”
Less than a month before Doyle’s announcement, a federal judge ruled that Didion — headquartered in Johnson Creek, Wis. — had violated the federal Clean Water Act numerous times in 2008 and 2009. Among the violations: use of excessive amounts of chlorine and other chemicals, and the discharge of a murky yellow liquid with solids down a company wastewater pipe into a tributary of a fishing lake. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by residents who lived near the company’s Cambria, Wis., plant, about 45 miles northeast of Madison, the state capital in central Wisconsin.
The company also settled a state lawsuit in April by agreeing to pay $1.05 million for 23 air and water claims that stretched from 1999 to 2010 — a move that effectively ended three federal lawsuits filed by residents living near the plant.
Documents obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism under open records laws show that officials evaluating Didion’s application for a U.S. Energy Department stimulus grant did not ask about — and Didion didn’t disclose — details of its environmental compliance record.
And once it won the grant, Didion’s project was exempted from having to conduct an analysis of its environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act — just like 99 percent of the $33 billion in stimulus projects funded by the Energy Department, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization in Washington and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit based in Madison.
Doyle’s office did not respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking response.
Didion’s vice president of operations, Dale Drachenberg, declined to address questions about the company’s environmental record or the process that led to the grant. Instead, he issued a statement touting the job-creation and clean energy benefits of the stimulus-funded project.
“Since the day we started construction on our ethanol production facility, we’ve made innovation and conservation top priorities,” Drachenberg said.
On its website and in statements, Didion has cast itself as an eco-friendly company. It was one of 50 companies that in August won a grant from the state Department of Commerce’s Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative to examine and reduce its waste streams. And in September, the company hosted a Green Energy Expo at the Cambria plant, where people could learn about recycling, energy conservation and the future of alternative fuels.
To Karen Dettman, who lives across the street from Didion and has lived with its spills, smells, noise, traffic, and murky discharges, the company’s federal grant is “green energy at any cost.”
Environmental advocates in Wisconsin also believe federal and state regulators should have taken companies’ environmental into account before awarding stimulus grants or NEPA exemptions.
“You’d think it would be a normal part of the check, whether they’re in compliance with environmental laws. That’s a phone call or two at the most,” said George Meyer, a former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary who is now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.
Consultants working for the state’s Focus on Energy program acknowledged they recommended Didion’s plant-expansion proposal for a grant without considering the company’s past environmental problems.
Focus on Energy, established by the Wisconsin Legislature to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency, worked through a private contractor, CleanTech Partners of Middleton, Wis. Focus on Energy solicited applications from Wisconsin industries for federal energy efficiency stimulus grants. CleanTech picked nine, bundled them up and sent them off to the Energy Department.
CleanTech got about 25 applications — from paper companies, a lawnmower engine manufacturer and others — and winnowed the field using American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and Energy Department criteria: whether the project would preserve or create domestic jobs, how the project would be managed, how much it would cost and the potential energy savings.
Didion proposed to install a host of new technologies at its Cambria plant that would produce more ethanol from corn with less energy usage, thus allowing the company to expand production. The new technology would also extract a new product in the process, corn oil, to get more value out of the corn.
The Energy Department grant money, matched by Didion’s utility, Alliant Energy, would help the project pay for itself in 3.9 years, according to Didion’s application. It would save 11 million kilowatt-hours of energy — enough to power 828 homes for a year.
Past pollution never came up, said Thomas Reitter, a consultant for CleanTech, who worked on the applications for Focus on Energy. The only environmental issue he addressed was to make sure companies fully filled out DOE’s boilerplate environmental questionnaire. “It’s DOE’s evaluation,” he said.
The questionnaire is designed to help the Energy Department decide whether a project should trigger a detailed environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Such reviews can take months or even years to complete.
The form asked questions including what permits would be required, how solid waste would be hauled and what emissions would result. But nothing in the 12-page form asks firms about their compliance history.
And Didion did not offer much information in response to several of the queries.
“Describe any issues that would generate public controversy regarding the project,” the form says.
Didion checked “None.”
“Summarize the significant impacts that would result from the proposed project,” the last question on the form states, asking for details.
Didion left that one blank.
If federal officials who approved the stimulus grant had examined Didion’s record, they would have found a lengthy list of violations.
Aside from the 2009 Clean Water Act lawsuit, a second group of residents sued Didion last year under the federal Clean Air Act for years of air violations that the state had documented — but for which it had never punished the company.
Those and many other violations dated back to 1999. Among them: Didion built 15 grain silos, three mills, and a grain dryer without applying for the required air pollution permit. The company exceeded emission limits and ran a grain dryer outside permitted times. And it falsely claimed on a permit application that it was complying with the law, according to court records.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database shows Didion has received 11 notices of violation in the past five years — one of the most among all Wisconsin companies. The notices signify that state regulators believe they have solid evidence the company has broken the law, and they are the first step toward punishing the company with a formal enforcement action.
“It’s highly unusual for us to have a source that we’ve sent this many notices of violation to,” said Tom Roushar, DNR air management program supervisor for the region. “Usually if we send one, the source corrects it, and we don’t have to repeat it.”
In late 2009, while the governor was trumpeting the grant for Didion, the state Department of Justice was taking the company to task. Assistant Attorney General Steven Tinker alleged in a letter before it sued Didion that the company had racked up thousands of air permit violation-days, a measure of the number of days that each violation continued, though the total number was never counted in the Columbia County Circuit Court case that followed.
In March, the state sued Didion, and the two parties reached a settlement in April: The company would pay $1.05 million for 23 air and water claims from 1999 to 2010 and folded in the violations from three citizen lawsuits. The settlement in state court effectively rendered the federal lawsuits moot.
Residents in Cambria, a village of 746 people in south central Wisconsin, are divided over whether the plant is good for the community. At a county planning and zoning meeting earlier this year, Didion’s expansion plans were approved unanimously.
Joelle DeBoer, a Didion employee, said her company has been a good neighbor by supporting local charities and providing local jobs. She wrote a letter supporting the expansion plans.
“I believe it’s really going to help Cambria’s community, just because we’ll be bringing more jobs to the community,” DeBoer said.
Other residents said they were infuriated by the state and federal governments’ lack of attention to companies’ environmental record.
“It’s crazy not to consider their background and their history,” said John Mueller, a Cambria resident who lives a half-mile from Didion’s mills, and is co-founder of Cambrians for Thoughtful Development. The group sued the company twice for violations that were later included in the state’s settlement.
“We know they’re not trustworthy,” he said.
Editor’s note: Christa Westerberg, a Madison attorney who provides pro bono legal services to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, has represented Cambrians for Thoughtful Development, a citizens group, in two federal environmental lawsuits against Didion Milling Inc. Westerberg provided the Center with information about the suits that has been independently verified. She did not provide the Center with legal services or participate in the writing or editing of this report.