11/29/11 Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide case AND Wind Farm Strong Arm hits Native Americans AND Toothless USFWS vs Jaws Big Wind
MINNESOTA WIND FARM SUIT FORWARDED TO HIGH COURT
By Thomas Content
SOURCE: Journal Sentinel, www.jsonline.com
November 28, 2011
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has been asked to weigh in on the legality of the process used by state regulators to approve a Minnesota wind farm.
In 2009, two customer groups challenged the Public Service Commission’s decision to grant a permit for Wisconsin Power & Light Co. to build the $460 million Bent Tree Wind Farm in Minnesota to meet Wisconsin’s renewable energy standard.
The project was large enough that it should have been subjected to the same review as other large energy projects, the customer groups said.
A circuit court rejected those arguments, siding with the PSC that large wind farms don’t need an exhaustive review if they are being built out of state. Now the state Appeals Court has decided to put the matter directly before the state Supreme Court rather than issuing its own ruling.
The Wisconsin Citizens’ Utility Board and Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group had objected to the permit, saying the PSC was setting a precedent for other major out-of-state energy projects Wisconsin utilities may propose in the future.
The Appeals Court said it’s important for the state Supreme Court to weigh in, given the conflict between two different sections of the Wisconsin state law.
“It appears to us that the Supreme Court should resolve the legal issue to avoid delays and legal battles over the next large out-of-state project,” a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a decision last week.
Wisconsin Power & Light, along with Milwaukee-based We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay, say the more exhaustive review should not be required for out-of-state projects, and that a lesser review would still protect ratepayers from an unnecessary project.
We Energies said the customer groups’ interpretation is unconstitutional because it would restrict interstate commerce – in this case the sale of electricity across state lines.
But a more exhaustive review could have detected earlier problems experienced at the wind farm because of a weak transmission grid in the area, customer groups said. The PSC penalized the Madison utility last year for failing to disclose the grid congestion problems earlier.
The transmission congestion problems were preventing WP&L from generating as much power as it had first envisioned. In updates on the project this year, Alliant Energy Corp., WP&L’s parent company, said transmission upgrades in the area helped boost the output of the wind farm, exceeding the company’s own projections.
The 200-megawatt wind farm was projected to supply enough power over a year’s time to supply about 50,000 typical homes.
U.S. Targets American Indian Lands for Renewable Energy Projects
By Ehren Goossens
SOURCE: Bloomberg, www.bloomberg.com
November 28, 2011
The U.S. Interior Department plans to require the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve leases for renewable-energy projects on land held by American Indians unless the bureau can show why the proposals should be rejected within two months.
Under the proposed rules, the bureau would have to approve leases unless it finds a “compelling reason” not to do so, the department said today in a statement. The bureau would have 60 days to evaluate industrial development and renewable-energy projects, and 30 days to consider residential leases.
The rules would apply to leases for solar projects, wind farms, commercial development and residential use on 56 million acres of American Indian lands, about the size of the state of Utah, the Interior Department said. They don’t cover leases for oil, natural gas, mining or other sub-surface development projects.
“The proposed changes are the most comprehensive reforms of Indian land leasing regulations in more than 50 years,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in the statement.
The changes are intended to “streamline” the lease- approval process, which has no deadlines and can drag on for years, the Interior Department said.
WIND PROJECT FACES SCRUTINY
By Ashley Hoholik - staff writer, Daily Press, www.dailypress.net 28 November 2011 ~~
GARDEN – The future of a Garden Peninsula wind farm is uncertain, as its developers face government scrutiny about the farm’s potential impact on migratory birds. Heritage Sustainable Energy recently received a written reprimand from the U.S. Department of Interior, but the company insists the issue has been, and will continue to be, addressed.
As a downstate sustainable energy firm out of Traverse City, Heritage is planning to place approximately 15 wind turbines throughout the Garden Peninsula. The farm announced last year it will produce energy to be sold to Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.
In August, Heritage held an open house for residents to learn more about the project and its timeline. During that event, some residents and visitors voiced concerns about wind turbines’ potential impact on certain migratory birds and other avian species. However, officials from Heritage assured the public there were ample paid studies conducted by Michigan State University and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory prior to the farm’s development.
On Nov. 4, the U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), sent Heritage a letter, expressing its displeasure about the company’s disregard of their advice, and issuing a warning of possible corrective action from the agency.
“Based on the data currently available, we must once again recommend that you not construct a commercial wind energy development on the Garden Peninsula because of the high potential from avian mortalities and violations of Federal wildlife laws,” wrote Scott Hicks, field supervisor for the USFWS. “Since 2007, our office has expressed significant concerns with this project.”
Some of the concerns listed in the letter include: the proximity of the farm to a Great Lakes shoreline and Big Bay de Noc; the proximity to adjacent wetland habitats; and the high level of avian departures or arrivals on the peninsula.
“These factors are all likely to lead to … high levels of avian mortality by wind turbines at the proposed project site,” wrote Hicks.
According to Rick Wilson, Heritage’s vice president of operations, the company is and has been addressing the USFWS’s concerns.
“We have had comprehensive avian studies ongoing since 2007 and have continuously been in direct contact with the USFWS along with the MIDNR regarding all wildlife and environmental issues of potential concern,” he explained in response to questions regarding the agency’s letter. “We are confident that the wind farm will have no significant impact on wildlife and we will continue to work in a collaborative effort to assure this.”
In his letter to Heritage, Hicks explained that constructing the wind farm would violate certain parts of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Heritage, he added, is aware of this violation.
“Your (Heritage) project specific data documents the high levels of avian use at the proposed project site,” Hicks wrote. “For example, monitoring efforts for the proposed project produced a mean of 732.8 ‘large’ birds detected per survey (122.1 ‘large’ birds/hour) and 73.3 ‘small birds detected per survey (366.5 ‘small’ birds/hour) in the fall of 2010.”
These documents, Hicks noted, support the evidence the Garden Peninsula is a migratory corridor for birds. In addition, the USFWS also pointed out the frequent use of the area by bald eagles could be another problem for the company.
At the end of his letter to Heritage, Hicks warns the company of the consequences of its project:
“Any eagle or migratory bird mortalities caused by your proposed facility would be a violation of the MBTA and/or Eagle Act a potential criminal violation,” he wrote. “These events will be properly referred to our law enforcement office for appropriate follow-up.”
Hicks goes on to explain while there are permits available to take a bald eagle, the company would likely not qualify for one, nor have they applied. He also said there is no permit to take migratory birds.
A final recommendation Heritage move the site of their proposed wind project is made at the conclusion of the letter.
“Once again, the service recommends that you re-evaluate your project and select an alternative location with less potential for impacts to federally-protected wildlife,” wrote Hicks. “This has been our recommendation since our first correspondence in 2007 and remains our recommendation today.”