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12/19/11 We've got what it takes to take what you have: we're a WIND company AND P.S.Those safety rules don't apply to us. 

The video above about health problems experienced by wind project residents is from Australia by   and made available to the public on Dec 8, 2011

From Minnesota


by Kevin Diaz

Source: Star Tribune

December 18, 2011

"This is a wind energy project Goodhue County citizens don't want, funded by taxpayer money the federal government doesn't have,"

-U.S. Rep. John Kline

WASHINGTON - When they bought a dairy farm near Red Wing 20 years ago, Ann and David Buck never thought the quiet life in rural Goodhue County could lead to a clash of wills with a faraway oil tycoon like T. Boone Pickens.

The Texas billionaire-turned-alternative-energy crusader sees wind in those hills. But the Bucks and many of their neighbors want no part of the Pickens-backed AWA Goodhue Wind project, which would put about 50 giant wind turbines near the scenic Mississippi River bluffs, an hour's drive from the Twin Cities.

Fused together by political necessity, the Bucks have been joined by an improbable mélange of worried farmers, subsidy-averse Tea Party activists and environmentalists worried about the potential effect on bald and golden eagles that nest along the river gorge.

A looming court battle to block the $180 million project in southern Minnesota also is helping fuel a fight in Congress to pull the plug on the entire federal wind subsidy program created by President Obama's 2009 stimulus package.

In less than three years, the program has helped re-energize the boom-and-bust wind industry with $7.6 billion in grants. That includes nearly $200 million in Minnesota, which now ranks fourth in installed wind power capacity.

An alliance of alternative energy industries, including wind, solar and biofuel interests, is fighting back, urging lawmakers in Washington to extend the program beyond its Dec. 31 end date, along with another set of renewable energy tax credits set to expire next year.

The uncertainty the industry faces in a budget-conscious Congress already has slowed a number of wind projects around the country and could threaten the Goodhue project, which has yet to break ground.

"We're already seeing layoffs, and we're already seeing effects in the supply chain," said Ellen Carey, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, the industry's main advocacy group.

But in a local battle the Bucks describe as "David vs. Goliath," the wind naysayers in Goodhue County have been boxed around a bit, losing several rounds before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which has given the go-ahead for the project.

It's one of a growing number of disputes over wind installations, the most famous being Cape Wind, a proposed offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound that has been fought by the Kennedy family.

"We're hoping we'll find that one stone that will knock it down," Ann Buck said of the Goodhue project.

That stone has been provided by U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Minnesota Republican siding with the wind farm opponents in his district.

Kline, a veteran lawmaker with close ties to House Speaker John Boehner, is in the thick of the tax credit fight, pressing to end the so-called 1603 grant program that, if preserved, could provide the project more than $50 million in taxpayer subsidies.

"This is a wind energy project Goodhue County citizens don't want, funded by taxpayer money the federal government doesn't have," Kline said.

'Boatload' of money

Although Pickens has morphed into a national spokesman for wind energy, officials from National Wind, the Minnesota-based company that manages the project, ignored repeated requests for comment.

A spokesman for Pickens, who is backing the project through his Texas-based Mesa Power, also declined to comment. "Talked to our team," said the spokesman, Jay Rosser. "We're going to pass."

The project's opponents are talking, however, and they're not happy.

"If there wasn't a boatload of federal money and a state mandate, they wouldn't be here," said Zumbrota-area horse farmer Kristi Rosenquist, citing a Minnesota renewable energy standard that requires utility companies to obtain 25 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable sources by 2025.

Besides eagle kills, opponents worry about falling property values from noise, the possible effects of stray voltage on livestock and "shadow flicker," the result of giant blades passing between nearby homes and the sun, which can resemble the effect of lights turning on and off.

"That's probably one of the most annoying parts of this," said Twin Cities attorney Daniel Schleck, who represents the Coalition for Sensible Siting, one of two citizens' groups fighting the project.

National Wind's proposed 78-megawatt wind farm has been in the planning stages for several years. But it got a big boost last year when Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital, joined the project with deep-pocket financing and a stash of surplus General Electric wind turbines from a downsized Texas wind farm.

'It isn't farming'

Like other utility-scale wind projects Pickens has financed, the AWA Goodhue Wind project could provide a huge tax shelter for its investors. Since 1992, the industry has relied on production tax credits that provide benefits from the generation of wind energy.

In some cases, the tax benefits can exceed investors' entire tax liability, according to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, with investment dollars drying up, Congress decided to juice the industry by offering up-front cash grants as an alternative to production tax credits.

That's the "1603" program -- named for a section of the 2009 stimulus package -- that Kline has targeted. Although the Goodhue Wind investors could still revert to underlying production tax credits, those will disappear by the end of 2012 if Congress doesn't renew them.

That short shelf life has deeply unsettled an industry heavily reliant on state and federal subsidies to fuel its growth. Historical data provided by the American Wind Energy Association show that when federal tax subsidies lapse, wind energy installations drop by as much as 93 percent.

That would be a welcome prospect for Ann Buck, who rejects the designation of the Goodhue project as a wind farm.

"I don't call it a wind farm," she said. "It isn't farming."

Next Story


By Myron Levin

SOURCE: Fairwarning

The manufacturers have been reluctant to talk about the problem. Officials with Vestas Americas, part of Vestas Wind Systems A/S of Denmark, the world’s biggest turbine supplier, declined to be interviewed and would not respond to written questions. GE Energy, the top U.S. wind turbine maker, took the same stance. Both companies referred inquiries to the American Wind Energy Assn., a trade group.

Wind power is riding a strong breeze. In the last five years, generating capacity in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled. Clusters of tubular wind towers, rising up to 300 feet above ridgelines and gusty plains, are an increasingly familiar sight.

But in the scramble to expand clean energy and green jobs, the wind industry has fallen short on worker safety.

Thousands of the giant wind machines violate a federal requirement to give technicians who work inside the towers enough maneuvering space to get up and down their ladders safely. The standard says the space near the ladder should be free of permanent obstructions that could cause serious head or back injuries if a climber slips or is moving fast.

There are about 36,000 of the wind towers in the U.S., and more are being added all the time. Most are produced overseas to meet international codes. For reasons they won’t explain, the manufacturers either ignored the U.S. standard, or thought it wouldn’t apply to them.

The companies “evidently didn’t look into U.S. codes and standards, especially safety standards, in doing their designs,” said Patrick Bell, a senior safety engineer with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA, and a member of a federal OSHA wind energy task force.

OSHA officials say they’re not aware of any serious injuries so far. Still, the violations are so widespread that they have flummoxed safety regulators, who are trying to figure out the extent of the hazard and what to do about it.

“We could conceivably issue citations,” said Bell of Cal-OSHA, “but we might end up taking all of our compliance officers off other industries to run from one wind farm to the next.”

“We are trying to work with the industry,” he said, “because it’s a huge industry with all the wind towers going up.”

The manufacturers have been reluctant to talk about the problem. Officials with Vestas Americas, part of Vestas Wind Systems A/S of Denmark, the world’s biggest turbine supplier, declined to be interviewed and would not respond to written questions. GE Energy, the top U.S. wind turbine maker, took the same stance. Both companies referred inquiries to the American Wind Energy Assn., a trade group.

Michele M. Mihelic, the association’s manager of labor, health and safety policy, said in an email to FairWarning that the group “cannot make a blanket statement that all wind turbines comply or not.”

“Each wind turbine make and model is different,” she said.

The OSHA standard dates to the 1970s, and applies to the use of fixed ladders at work sites generally, not to wind towers specifically. It requires a clearance of 30 inches from the ladder so workers can safely move up and down. If there are permanent obstructions within the climbing space, they must be shielded so workers can squeeze past without getting hurt.

The main issue with tower designs is the use of heavy steel bolts and rims known as flanges to join their long, tubular sections. In the two or three spots where the sections are fastened, the bolts and flanges intrude at least several inches into the safety space.

Two field technicians have sought to draw attention to the issue, saying they were stunned by the prevalence of the problem.

“Between my friends and I … we’ve been in thousands of wind turbines and haven’t found one that’s compliant with this issue,” said Ed Oliver, 47, of Dana Point, Calif.

“We can’t believe this exists everywhere we go,” said Nick Nichols, 45, of Zephyr Cove, Nev. “The regulations are there for a reason.”

The men said they have seen nothing worse than bruised tailbones and minor scrapes from encounters with the flanges. But they said it’s only a matter of time before there are serious injuries. They pointed to the growing use of “climb assists” that use motors and pulleys to support part of the weight of technicians, allowing them to climb faster and basically rappel downward in the descent.

Oliver and Nichols have complained to OSHA. They also took the unusual step of offering the industry their own version of a safety device, called a deflector. The website for their company, Pinnacle Wind USA, shows what looks like a short section of a playground slide covering a flange. “Developed BY tower climbers, FOR tower climbers,” it says.

Their efforts haven’t brought any love from the wind industry. In August, they were stunned by an email to Nichols from Mihelic of the wind association.

“You should…be aware that there are people posing as OSHA compliance officers and/or OSHA consultants and are threatening people in the industry with citations if they don’t buy your product,” the email said.

Mihelic added that OSHA had been told about the scheme and “has requested that if any of our members are approached in this manner to please report it to them so they can investigate.”

The two men immediately suspected it was a bogus claim designed to discredit them. Soon after, Nichols enlisted the help of U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to see what OSHA knew about it.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health, responded Oct. 11 with a letter to Heller that seemed to contradict Mihelic. OSHA officials were unaware of “any reported cases of OSHA impersonators threatening companies to purchase Pinnacle Wind USA products,” the letter said.

Mihelic told FairWarning she stood by her email to Nichols.

Meanwhile, the ladder issue remains up in the air.

Brian Sturtecky, OSHA’s area director in Jacksonville, Fla., and chairman of its wind energy task force, said enforcement activity is on hold while OSHA prepares a “Letter of Interpretation” to clarify how the standard will be applied.

The result could be a mandate for the industry to retrofit thousands of towers. Or, the industry could get a pass if the agency decides the hazard can be controlled by other measures, such as training.

The task force is examining other safety issues in the industry in the wake of some serious accidents.

In August, 2007, a worker was killed and another injured in the collapse of a tower at a wind farm near Wasco, Ore. Also, OSHA fined Outland Energy Services $378,000 for safety violations after an employee suffered serious electrical burns at an Illinois wind farm in October, 2010.

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