8/15/10 TRIPLE FEATURE: Too Close? Too Loud? Too bad: when it comes to writing siting rules in Wisconsin, wind industry concerns trumped protecting residents AND Freedom of Information isn't Free: A look at $36,000 worth of shade thrown on a reporters wind rules open records request
UNION MAN DETAILS HOW COUNCIL WROTE THE RULES:
SOURCE: The Janesville Gazette, gazettextra.com
August 15, 2010
By Gina Duwe,
UNION TOWNSHIP — A local man who worked on the state council to write wind siting rules says the slanted make-up of the committee toward the wind industry created a disservice to the process.
The resulting rules likely will increase local dissent and resistance to proposed projects, which he predicts will end up in court, said Doug Zweizig, who co-chaired the wind siting council.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think it’s going to be pretty,” said Zweizig, who also is vice-chair of the Town of Union Plan Commission and worked on a special committee to write the town’s wind ordinance.
The wind siting council this week released its report that serves as recommendations to the state Public Service Commission.
Zweizig was one of four council members that disagreed with portions of the report and wrote a minority opinion that was attached to the end of it. The minority report states concerns over the failure “to address the realities of the effects of large wind turbines on nearby populations, to bring quality information into critical areas and to explore the economic implications of locating an industrial facility next to a residential area.”
Legislators approved a bill last fall to allow the PSC to create rules to regulate wind projects statewide instead of the patchwork of local ordinances.
The council drafted its report over the last four months, and the three PSC commissioners will consider the report, the full record and all public and stakeholder comments before issuing the final rules, said Lori Sakk, legislative liaison for the PSC.
Then the presiding officer of the state Assembly and Senate will have 10 days to refer the rules to a committee, which would have 30 days to schedule a hearing or request to meet with the agency. If neither action is taken, the rules are promulgated and become law.
The law said the council members needed to be representatives of specific categories, including the energy industry, uncompensated landowners, wind developers, real estate agents, medical and research experts, environmentalists and local government.
But, “that’s not the way the appointments were made,” Zweizig said.
Whenever the PSC had any leeway, someone with ties or a supporting opinion to the wind industry was appointed, he said.
Sakk responded by saying the council members were appointed according to the statutory eligibility requirements established by the state Legislature.
Zweizig said his impression is that wind industry advocates were frustrated with towns such as Union, which has an ordinance for a half-mile turbine setback, so they went to the state to override the local ordinances. They got the legislation, he said, and since the PSC already was supportive, a council was put together to rubber stamp the desired outcome.
“What that did in terms of group process, meant that the majority never really had to explain itself very much … or talk through issues,” Zweizig said. “They didn’t have to do that because they knew they had the votes.”
Council Chairman Dan Ebert said in a letter accompanying the report that the council had “significant discussions” on many recommendations “in the spirit of working toward consensus.” He said the recommendations reflect input from all council members, but acknowledged there were areas that the council did not reach a consensus.
The council’s report states a turbine should be sited so:
– It is set back from homes 1.1 times the maximum blade tip height, which would be 440 feet for the 400 foot turbines, Zweizig said.
– It creates no more than 40 hours of shadow flicker on a home. If it’s more than 20, the operator is required to provide mitigation, which can include putting blinds up in a house, Zweizig said.
– The noise it creates is no more than 45 decibels at night and no more than 50 decibels during the day.
Zweizig said some council members lacked concern for health problems associated with living too close to turbines. He and others tried to point out that people are abandoning their homes because of health problems stemming from the noise and shadow flicker.
That’s why council member Larry Wunsch, who lives within 1,100 feet of a turbine in Fond du Lac County, is trying to sell his property, Zweizig said. Wunsch also was among the four minority opinions on the council.
“He did whatever he could to let those on the council know those are the circumstances,” Zweizig said. “They never asked him a question. They never said, ‘What is this like?’ They just waited him out, knowing that in the end they would just outvote him.”
Local wind projects
The status of proposed projects in Union and Magnolia townships is unclear.
EcoEnergy was developing both projects, including signing on landowners, before it sold the rights for both to Acciona in 2007, said Jason Yates, contract manager with EcoEnergy in Elgin, Ill. The proposed projects back then included three turbines in Union and up to 67 in Magnolia.
Wind measurement towers were put up in both townships: Magnolia’s went up in April 2007 at County B and Highway 213 and Union’s went up in late 2008 at County C and Highway 104.
The Magnolia tower came down this spring at the end of the 36-month contract, landowner Tom Drew said. Since then, Drew said the only thing he heard from the company was that it was waiting to see the results of the state’s new wind siting law.
In Union, the town permit for the tower expired last fall, and Acciona has decided to remove the tower, supervisor George Franklin said. It will be removed this fall after the corn that surrounds it is harvested, he said.
The Acciona North American website does not list any Wisconsin projects under its “In the works” projects. Acciona could not be reached for comment.
Evansville turbine begins operation
The new wind turbine in Evansville should be operational early this week, if not already, after possibly being struck by lightning.
The Northwind 100 arrived at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Water Street in June. After running for only a couple days, the turbine stopped working late on the night of July 21 or early on July 22, said Eve Frankel, marketing and communications manager at Northern Power Systems.
“We believe that it was potentially due to a lightning strike, but it’s still under an investigation,” she said.
The manufacturer is fixing parts on the turbine and ruling out causes, she said.
The repair shouldn’t cost the city, City Administrator Dan Wietecha said, because it would be covered under the warranty or insurance.
Frankel said lightning striking a turbine is an “unusual occurrence,” though Wisconsin seems to have more lightning strikes than other regions.
The tower height on the 100 kilowatt turbine is 120 feet and each blade is 37 feet. The turbine is part of the $7.2 million effort to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility.
NEIGHBORS: WIND ENERGY HAS ITS PRICE
August 14 2010
by Clay Barbour
ST. CLOUD, Wis. — Elizabeth Ebertz loves her garden, but the 67-year-old grandmother doesn’t work in it much anymore.
The small vegetable patch, which has produced onions, carrots and tomatoes for many family dinners, sits behind her home, in a little valley, about a half-mile from a dozen 400-foot-tall wind turbines.
The structures are part of the Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center in northeastern Fond du Lac County, one of the state’s largest wind farms, capable of producing energy for about 36,000 homes.
Unfortunately, said Ebertz, the turbines also produce enough noise to chase her from the garden — and most nights, disturb her sleep.
“Sometimes it sounds like a racetrack, or a plane landing,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how loud it gets.”
The state Public Service Commission is considering a new set of wind farm regulations that could free up the industry and promote growth in Wisconsin, a state that has lagged behind the rest of the Midwest in using wind as an alternative energy source.
The PSC, which regulates state utilities, is expected to send the proposal to the Legislature by the end of the month.
If passed, the measure could go a long way in helping Wisconsin reach its goal of generating 10 percent of its energy with renewable sources by 2015. Renewable sources account for 5 percent of the state’s energy now.
The measure could also end what has been years of localized fights — often spurred by well-funded anti-wind organizations — that have effectively killed at least 10 proposed wind farms in the past eight years, and scared off several others.
But for people like Ebertz, the new rules mean more people will have to deal with wind turbines and the problems that come with them.
“I wish those things were never built here,” Ebertz said. “They’re just too close to people. I wish they were gone.”
State far behind neighbors
Wisconsin spends about $1.5 billion on imported energy every year and ranks 16th in the country in available wind.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Wisconsin has the capacity to produce up to 449 megawatts of energy from its current wind farms — enough to power about 110,000 homes.
Yet the state trails other Midwestern states in wind energy production. Minnesota wind farms produce 1,797 megawatts, Illinois produces 1,848 and Iowa generates 3,670. “It’s not even close,” said Barnaby Dinges, an AWEA member and lobbyist from Illinois. “Wisconsin is danger of falling out of the wind game altogether. It’s getting a reputation as inhospitable to the wind industry.”
Dinges has lobbied for six wind farms in the past five years, three of them in Wisconsin. He said the state has a number of well-organized anti-wind groups that have endangered its 10 percent goal.
“This isn’t like any grass-roots opposition we have seen elsewhere,” he said. “These aren’t just concerned citizens going to meetings. These are mass mailings, billboards, full-page ads. It’s more professional and it costs a lot of money.”
Jenny Heinzen — a professor of wind energy technology at Lakeshore Technical College, which has campuses in Manitowoc, Cleveland and Sheboygan, and a member of the state’s Wind Siting Council — said she has been amazed with the opposition.
“I have my suspicions that they are getting help from some groups from outside the state, but that has never been confirmed,” she said, referencing persistent rumors of coal and natural gas companies helping to kill wind projects here.
There are a lot of people who live near wind farms and never report problems. Still, the state is home to several anti-wind groups, including the Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, the WINDCOWS, the Calumet County Citizens for Responsible Energy, Healthy Wind Wisconsin and the Coalition for Environmental Stewardship.
These groups have some powerful supporters, including several prominent lawyers, lobbyist and former state Sen. Bob Welch and Carl Kuehne, former CEO of American Foods Group.
But officials with the anti-wind groups say most of their members are simply residents who do not like the thought of living near a wind farm.
“We heard that criticism before — that we are a front group for oil and gas companies — but it’s just not true,” said Lynn Korinek, a member of WINDCOWS. “We are a group of about 200 members who hold rummage sales to fund our fight. There are no special interests behind us, believe me.”
Neighbors claim health problems
Most of the state’s anti-wind groups say they have nothing against wind energy, they simply disagree with how it is implemented in the state.
Still, their websites show members either fear the possible side effects of wind energy, or want others to fear them. The concerns include diminished property values, occasional noise pollution, moving shadows cast by the giant windmills along with loss of sleep from vibrations, increased menstrual cycles, high blood pressure, headaches and irritability.
Recently, the state Division of Public Health looked into the issue, studying more than 150 medical reports, interviewing dozens of residents and municipalities and consulting the universities of Wisconsin, Maine and Minnesota, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Their conclusion was that scientific evidence does not support the claim of wind turbine syndrome, an umbrella term for the health problems some have attributed to wind farms. The letter also points out that many of the symptoms associated with the condition — headaches, irritability, loss of sleep — are fairly common and can be attributed to other factors.
“They can explain it anyway they want, but something is different around here and it has been ever since they put those turbines up,” said Allen Hass, a 56-year-old farmer who owns about 600 acres in Malone, northeast of Fond du Lac.
Hass has three Blue Sky Green Field turbines on his property. He said We Energies, which owns the wind farm, pays him about $12,000 a year for the space.
Hass said the money does not make up for his health problems, including headaches and loss of memory.
“I wish I never made that deal,” he said.
Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesman, said the company is aware of Hass’s complaints, but that the scientific evidence does not support them. He said the company works hard to make its neighbors happy.
“You never get 100 percent support for anything, but you will find that a lot of people are happy with the farm,” he said.
New rules trump local ones
The new rules, written by the Wind Siting Council, streamline the state approval process so potential developers know exactly what they face when considering a project in Wisconsin.
Probably the most important aspect of the new regulations deals with state permitting. In the past, the state only had direct authority over wind farms generating more than 100 megawatts.
Under the new rules, the state would deal with all wind farms. Local municipalities would still be involved but would not be allowed to establish regulations stricter than the state’s.
Supporters figure this will open the door for the rapid growth of wind energy in the state by bypassing many of the local fights that have created such a logjam. Wisconsin is home to nine wind farms, with another two under construction, and three in the planning stages.
STATE OF MAINE WANTS $36,000 for public records on wind energy
Sun Journal, www.sunjournal.com
August 16, 2010 By Naomi Shalit,
As part of its reporting on the Wind Energy Act of 2008, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting filed a state public records request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, called a FOAA request.
However, the Center never received much of the material it requested from the state because the cost was prohibitive: $36,239.52.
That’s what the state Public Utilities Commission wanted from the Center to search for e-mails from 2005-2007 between then-PUC Chairman Kurt Adams and any representatives of wind company First Wind (where Adams took a job after leaving the PUC); between Adams and Gov. John Baldacci, for whom Adams had previously worked as legal counsel; and between Adams and several prominent wind power attorneys employed by the law firm of Verrill Dana.
In her response to the Center’s request, Joanne Steneck, general counsel for the PUC, explained that “in order to review any e-mails from 2005 to 2007, it will be necessary to restore Mr. Adams’s mailbox from the mail server back up. According to the Office of Information Technology … it takes approximately 2 1/2 hours to restore a snapshot of each day’s e-mails.”
The Center sought access to the e-mails because Adams’ input had been crucial to the deliberations of the governor’s wind power task force.
Initially, Steneck told the Center that a search of backup discs containing e-mail records for the period prior to January 2008 could be done for a cost upward of $10,000.
The Center then asked for a waiver of the $10,000 cost, under provisions in the state’s FOAA that allow waivers to be granted for noncommercial use of public information.
The PUC refused to grant the waiver and revised its estimate of the cost for the Center to get the information to $36,239.52.
According to Steneck, the increased estimate represents the actual cost for OIT to retrieve and restore 824 backup tapes, at a charge of $21.99 per hour, plus the time it would take for PUC personnel to review the restored e-mail messages and redact confidential information. The process is laborious, she explained, because “the state of Maine’s e-mail system was designed in such a way that the backup and restore process allows for disaster recovery purposes only and does not include duplication or search criteria of an archive retrieval system.”