2/4/11 Updated 5:00PM- HEARING SCHEDULED FOR WEDNESDAY: Walker bill is dead but DING DONG this issue is alive! AND Why did PSC Commissioner Azar want a 2,200 foot setback AND In the face of mounting evidence Big Wind continues to deny turbine impact on property values or health AND Is Uncle Sam Big Wind's Sugar Daddy? I ain't sayin' she's a gold digger. Wait, maybe I am.
A Public Hearing regarding the PSC's wind siting rules has been scheduled for Wednesday, February 9, 10:00 AM, Room 412 East, Capitol building, Madison
A MESSAGE FROM REPRESENTATIVE AL OTT:
I am contacting you today to inform you of a Public Hearing that was just scheduled by the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR).
The Committee is holding a Public Hearing on PSC 128 (CR 10-057) on Wednesday, February 9th at 10:00 a.m. in Room 412 East of the State Capitol.
This Public Hearing is the first step toward suspending the effective date of the wind turbine siting standards, which are set to go into effect on March 1, 2011.
Last month, I made a formal request to the JCRAR Co-Chairs to use their Committee's authority to bring a halt to PSC 128. I asked the Co-Chairs to conduct a thorough review of the impact of PSC 128 and to take the additional step of suspending the rules in order to provide the opportunity to go back to the drawing board with this flawed product. [Click here to read the request]
As you know, Governor Walker introduced Special Session bills AB 9 and SB 9, which would have set - by statute - more stringent standards for the siting of wind turbines, both in terms of set-back distances and other provisions related to notification requirements, etc.
While it would have been my intention to support AB 9 and SB 9, for the time being, it appears that those bills will not be moved forward.
Given the March 1st effective date of PSC 128, addressing the issues created by that rule is more effectively done through action from JCRAR, rather than via legislation.
By taking action to suspend the rules, the Legislature is provided with more time, and greater flexibility, to take a more thoughtful look at these standards and to find reasonable solutions.
If your schedule allows, you are welcome and encouraged to attend Wednesday's Public Hearing.
If you are unable to attend, please feel free to submit written comments to the Committee.
Representative Jim Ott (Co-Chair) Representative Dan Meyer Representative Daniel LeMahieu Representative Gary Hebl Representative Frederick Kessler
Senator Leah Vukmir (Co-Chair) Senator Joseph Leibham Senator Glenn Grothman Senator Lena Taylor Senator Fred Risser
You can find contact information for the Co-Chairs and members by clicking on the links above or you can go to the following web links: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/W3ASP/CommPages/IndividualCommittee.aspx?committee=Administrative%20Rules&house=Joint <http://legis.wisconsin.gov/W3ASP/CommPages/IndividualCommittee.aspx?committee=Administrative%20Rules&house=Joint>
If you have any questions regarding Wednesday's hearing or the status of AB 9 and SB 9, please feel free to contact my office and ask to speak with Erin.
3rd Assembly District
CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE TO HEAR WHY PSC COMMISSIONER LAUREN AZAR RECOMMENDED A 2,200 FOOT SETBACK.
IN THE NEWS:
LEGISLATURE WON'T TAKE UP WALKER'S WIND SITING BILL
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
February 4, 2011
By Thomas Content
A bill to restrict development of wind power projects won’t be taken up in the Legislature’s special session, but a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker expressed confidence that the governor’s concerns about the wind issue will be addressed in a different way.
The bill is the only Walker proposal in the jobs-focused special session that didn’t clear the state Assembly.
The Legislature's focus on the wind siting issue is to not take up the Walker bill but instead use its legislative review powers to consider whether to block a wind siting standard passed last year by the state Public Service Commission from taking effect.
A hearing has now been scheduled for next Wednesday on the PSC's wind siting rule. The hearing will take place before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which has the power to suspend the rule the PSC adopted.
During a bill signing in Madison Friday afternoon, Walker said he would continue to work on the issue, either by changing administrative rules or with a bill in the regular legislative session that is now under way.
“I want to see the wind industry like every other industry to be effective here in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said. “I just want to find a way to balance that with … property rights.”
Just because Walker’s proposal won’t be voted on doesn’t mean the issue is dead, said Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
“There are still members of our caucus who have an interest in making a change. The final discussions on what that change is and what route that change is going to take through the Legislature is not determined. It’s still a work in progress,” he said.
Discussions are ongoing as to what happens next, Welhouse said.
“The fact that there is a public hearing on Wednesday should show you that there are still conversations behind had between the people involved throughout Wisconsin and the Legislature who are here to represent them,” Welhouse said.
The PSC rule called for wind turbines to be set back at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes, and also included specific limits on decibel levels for wind turbines as well as shadow flicker.
Walker rejected that approach as hurting the property rights of nearby landowners, instead proposing a bill that would bar construction of wind turbines if they are within 1,800 feet of a property line.
Supporters of renewable energy said that the bill essentially would slam the door on wind power development in the state. The bill wouldn't have affected construction of the state's largest wind farm, a 90-turbine project northeast of Madison being built by We Energies. But if it were applied to this project, the utility would have needed to get waivers to build 86 of the 90 turbines, according to an analysis by the PSC.
Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesman, said the governor has had success with the vast majority of his legislative proposals and didn’t view the failure of the Legislature to move the wind siting bill as a setback.
“Not at all. I don’t think the policy is dead,” he said. “The Legislature is committed to advance debate on this issue, and the governor will be continuing to work with them as they do that.”
Werwie expressed confidence that property rights concerns would be taken into account as the Legislature decides how to proceed.
Backers of the PSC standard thought the issue was resolved when the commission wrapped up work on the wind siting issue at the end of 2010.
Possible outcomes now could include having no statewide standards at all, one year after the Legislature passed a law calling for uniformity in wind standards, said Mike Brown, spokesman for state Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona).
“This appears to be a way to accomplish the same objective without subjecting themselves to a public vote on the floor of the Senate," Brown said.
The decision not to take up the bill during the special session was first reported by The Associated Press.
WALKER ISN'T GIVING UP ON TOUGHER WIND TURBINE RULE
February 4, 2011
By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON — Wisconsin's Legislature will not take up Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to toughen wind turbine regulations during a special session the governor called to pass that bill and others, spokesman for legislative leaders told The Associated Press on Thursday.
However, the demise of the bill seeking a law change doesn't mean Walker is giving up on the issue. The governor's spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said Thursday that he instead will work with lawmakers to achieve the goals of the measure through a change to Public Service Commission rules instead of a new law.
A meeting of a legislative committee that could make the rule change was announced late Thursday afternoon for Wednesday morning.
"Clearly the Republicans' assault on wind energy is not dead," said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, in a statement. He accused Republicans of protecting themselves from voting on the bill by "manipulating the administrative rules process."
Currently, turbines must be built at least 1,250 feet from nearby homes. Walker wants to push that back to at least 1,800 feet away.
The bill was introduced at Walker's request as part of a special session call he made to pass 10 bills that he said will help spur job creation. The other nine have passed one or both houses of the Legislature and four have been signed into law. But the wind bill never was even scheduled for a public hearing.
Walker, a Republican, has worked incredibly closely and well with the Republican-controlled Legislature. But that strong relationship wasn't enough to rescue the wind bill, which drew vociferous opposition from those in the industry who said it would constitute the greatest regulatory barrier in the country.
The wind bill is dead for now, but might be revived later in the session, said Chris Reader, chief of staff for Sen. Rich Zipperer, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that had the bill.
"It's just an issue the Legislature wants to take a longer, more thoughtful look at," said Andrew Welhouse, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. "We don't have any immediate plans to move the special session bill, but the issue certainly isn't going anywhere."
Welhouse said changing PSC rules to make the change was being considered, but there was no solid plan in place. The meeting next week was a public hearing on the issue, but no vote on any proposed rule change was planned.
Renew Wisconsin, which has tracked the growth of the state's renewable sector, had said as much as $1.8 billion in investment may be at stake if every state wind farm now in the planning stage is halted.
Chicago-based Invenergy wants to build a 100-turbine wind farm in the southern Brown County towns of Morrison, Glenmore, Wrightstown and Holland.
Invenergy's proposal called for the turbines to be set back 1,000 feet from homes or other structures such as schools and churches. A group of residents opposed to that project want the turbines set back 2,450 feet.
Denise Bode of the American Wind Energy Association said the requirement would have put a "closed for business" sign on Wisconsin for wind development.
Walker had argued his proposal would have benefited property owners. The idea had garnered support from the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which said it was needed to protect homeowners near wind turbines.
Illinois property value expert says:
No permits should be issued on any wind generation project without a property value guarantee for residents in the turbine area of influence. The impact zone of a wind farm is two to five miles 20 to 40 percent value loss of homes, and the complete losses for people who are forced to walk away from their homes because of wind turbine impacts
TURBINE IMPACTS REVEALED AT COMMUNITY MEETING
SOURCE: The Alpine Sun, www.thealpinesun.com
January 27 2011
By Billie Jo Jannen,
BOULEVARD — A standing-room-only crowd got an earful on the property and health impacts of industrial wind turbines last Wednesday, when experts flew in from Illinois and Canada to speak at an informational meeting held at the Boulevard Fire Station.
Speakers included appraisal consultant Mike McCann, of Chicago, Ill., Carmen Krogh, of Ontario, Canada, Bill Powers, of Powers Engineering, Dave Elliott, of Boulevard, and Donna Tisdale, also of Boulevard.
McCann – whose resume includes real estate zoning evaluations, property value impact studies, analysis of wind turbine generating facilities and evaluation of eminent domain real estate acquisitions – advised residents bluntly that no permits should be issued on any wind generation project without a property value guarantee for residents in the turbine area of influence.
The impact zone of a wind farm is two to five miles, he said. In addition to 20 to 40 percent value loss of homes in that area, there are increased costs of health care, costs to try to retrofit homes to block noise or the strobe light affect of the turbine shadows, and the complete losses of people who are forced to walk away from their homes.
Krogh, a retired pharmacist who networks with health professionals worldwide to track and document wind turbine health affects, said the impacts of both audible and inaudible sound cannot be mitigated: “The only mitigation is to remove the people from the environment they are in,” she said.
Mental and physical afflictions include sleep deprivation, headaches, heart palpitations, vertigo, tinnitus, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and cognitive impairments, she said.
Matching results are documented in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada and the United States – every country that has industrial turbines have health complaints.
Both McCann and Krogh said that a number of turbine neighbors had walked away from their homes, because they could not live with the impacts and no one would buy their homes. Others must find someplace away from the turbines to sleep and many have had to send their children to live with relatives to clear up various illnesses.
Adequate research on the long-term affects of turbine noise on growing children has not been done, Krogh said. However, according to Arline Bronzaft, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., who spoke at the Oct. 30 International Symposium on Adverse Health Effects from Wind Turbines, many other studies have demonstrated that intrusive noises, such as passing traffic or overhead aircraft, adversely affect children’s cardiovascular systems, memory, language development and ability to learn.
The title of Bronzaft’s presentation was “Children: The Canaries in the Coal Mine.”
In the Boulevard planning are alone, 392 turbines are wending their way through the permitting process, according to Tisdale. Hundreds more are planned in Ocotillo and Jacume, Mexico, immediately south of Jacumba. The current San Diego County wind ordinance makes no provision for property value guarantees.
“I’m calling for a moratorium pending studies of health impacts,” said Tisdale, who recently attended an international symposium of doctors, researchers and other health professionals who have documented wind turbine health effects worldwide.
She said she will be asking that the county permitting process make provision for property value guarantees, relocation of impacted residents, evidence-supported setbacks and protections in the noise ordinance to include low-frequency and infrasound effects. Neither is currently addressed in the county’s noise ordinance.
Krogh brought filmed interviews with wind turbine neighbors from Norway, Canada and Japan. The sound levels from their homes, in some cases, drowned out their voices and the nature of the sound was so distressing that audience members asked that it be turned down.
Krogh is a member of Society for Wind Vigilance, an international federation of physicians, acousticians and other professionals who seek to quantify heath risks and ensure that permitting authorities and wind turbine operators acknowledge and remedy those risks.
So far, she said, there has been great resistance from governments, who seek to provide “green” alternatives and who receive tax money from wind farm profits.
Asked what local clinics might do to mitigate health problems that could develop from proposed area wind farms, Krogh said there literally are none, though local health professionals help by gathering information: “A clinic can assist by documenting impacts to its patients.”
Industrial wind farm operators in the United States and Canada, most of whom receive taxpayer supported benefits and highly favorable permit conditions, resist revelations of adverse effects by requiring property owners from whom they lease lands to sign non-disclosure agreements, McCann said.
The few off-site residents that have received buy-out offers from wind companies are required to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of the buy-out.
McCann added that property value losses are not offset by local jobs or by lease payments to property owners. The leases are often predicated on the power the turbine produces and few of them actually work at maximum capacity. Hence, “They (landowners) aren’t getting what they were promised,” he said.
“Always have a lawyer look at the lease document before you sign it,” he advised.
Among the small print items to be aware of is what it going to happen to the turbine when it is taken out of service. The I-10 in Nevada is littered with the carcasses of turbines that are no longer useful, but they have never been removed, he said.
Large companies further “defuse their liability” by creating smaller limited liability companies to actually own and operate the wind farms, McCann said.
Elliott, a member of the Manzanita Band of Mission Indians, monitors, and tries to mitigate, the cultural impacts of the Sunrise Powerlink and the wind projects. He said that Indian burial sites and other cultural sites in both private and public lands are being destroyed by these projects, with very little effort to protect them.
“This project is all about big business … it’s about trillions of dollars,” Elliott said. “As Native Americans, we’re last on the totem pole.” Elliott said he has encountered hostility from homeowners, who may be mistaking his efforts to identify cultural sites as further intrusion by SDG&E.
“I support the landowners’ efforts to protect their lands,” he said. “I hope the landowners will support our efforts too.”
Several meeting attendees, one who lives as far as two miles from the existing wind farm on Campo Reservation, commented that they can hear the turbines clearly, even inside their homes. McCann said that wind turbine noise can travel up to nine miles in mountain terrain.
Property value impacts start to show up as soon as even the possibility of a project becomes known, according to McCann. The phenomenon even has a name among appraisal professionals: wind farm anticipation stigma.
In a comment paper on the Brucci MET tower on La Posta Road, he asserted that the construction of a meteorological testing tower “serves as constructive notice to existing neighboring property owners and any potential buyers” that wind turbines may come in later – and that is enough to drive homebuyers elsewhere.
According to nolo.com, a law information website, California sellers must disclose any and every natural and manmade hazard that might affect the value of the property. This includes everything from neighborhood nuisances, such as a dog that barks every night, to major hazards like floods, earthquakes, fires, environmental hazards, and other problems. Failure to make the required disclosures not only costs the seller in a lawsuit, but can also carry criminal penalties.
So what is a homeowner to do if his home is untenable and no one else wants it either? “It’s really sad to talk to these people who put their life savings into their homes and then have to walk away from them,” McCann said.
The mass erection of wind turbines near people’s homes is a form of taking from the property owner and giving to the wind developers, he added: “It’s not OK to rob from Peter to pay Paul.”
The county’s wind ordinance calls for permitting requirements to state noise limitations at the property line, but makes no provisions for property value protections or mitigation of health impacts, according to Planning Manager Joe Farace of San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use.
That’s a different realm from what we do,” Farace said. State and federal environmental and planning laws don’t require that these impacts be quantified or mitigated, though the county could, if it wished, explore going beyond those minimums.
“This is so new,” he said. “We’d have to work with county counsel to see what we could do.”
Farace said there are no plans, currently, to pursue such a discussion.
WIND PROJECTS BACKED BY TAX CREDITS AND SUBSIDIES
SOURCE: VPR News, /www.vpr.net
February 3, 2011
by John Dillon
(Last of Three Parts) Most people think of big wind projects as a way to harvest the breezes that blow freely across the earth.
But sophisticated investors look at big wind quite differently. That’s because besides generating electricity, the large-scale projects also involve sophisticated financial instruments that harvest a variety of tax benefits.
In the last of our series on big wind, VPR’s John Dillon has this look at how the projects are financed.
(Dillon) This is a story about finance, tax credits and energy subsidies. So point number one. Almost all energy production is subsidized.
Nuclear power, for example, is backed up by the federal government. If a reactor melts down, the feds are ready to underwrite the monumental insurance costs.
Some oil company subsidies date to the 1920s.
Tax incentives and subsidies for renewable resources are much more recent. Now, says energy developer John Warshow, the government assistance is seen as an essential part of the complex financing for these projects.
(Warshow) “Developing a project is like juggling with being blindfolded and having five balls you got to keep track of. You’ve got your debt financing, your equity financing, your power sales.”
(Dillon) In his younger, scruffier days, Warshow fought nuclear power. He later turned his activism into action. His office wall in Montpelier features pictures of some of the renewable enterprises he’s helped launch, including hydro projects in Vermont and wind in New York state.
Although wind is free, the projects are expensive to start with because of the cost of the turbines, the land and the permitting requirements.
Which leads us to point number two. Because of that expense, private financiers are needed along with the government support. Investors use the tax credits to offset their income.
(Warshow) “Generally there are investors, either individual or corporate investors, who put cash into the project.”
(Dillon) To raise all the money they need, the developers’ financing resembles a multi-layered birthday cake. The tax financing piece is one layer; power sale contracts are another. Loans are yet another piece of the overall package. Warshow outlines the three main incentives used by wind investors. There are direct payments allowed under the recent stimulus bill, tax credits for energy production, and tax credits for investment.
(Warshow) “You can’t do all three, you have to pick which one is most appropriate for you.”
(Dillon) The production tax credit basically cuts the cost of electricity that’s sold. That helps the power producer. The investment tax credit – as the name suggests – is more geared for the investor. Warshow does the math on a hypothetical project that costs $40 million dollars.
(Warshow) “Maybe half of that might be debt so that would be $20 million. And the equity investors would be entitled to 30 percent of that $40 million if they took the tax credit, so that would be $12 million they would get back pretty much instantly on their investment.”
(Downes) “These are tax shelters for the investors. Pure and simple. They are nothing more than that.”
(Dillon) William Downes is a financial analyst in Maine who has looked closely at wind financing. He says the tax credits have a market of their own. They can be bundled and re-sold to companies, hedge funds or individuals.
(Downes) “Whatever investor they bring in is obviously a big institution with a lot of taxable income they want to shelter.”
(Dillon) Downes says companies and investors also take advantage of accounting rules that allow for accelerated depreciation of turbines and other equipment. He says the investments can be lucrative.
(Downes) “So, in effect, the investor will get an after-tax return of 7-8 percent, maybe higher.’
(Dillon) Just as nuclear power wouldn’t be viable without the federal insurance guarantee, many wind projects wouldn’t be built without the various tax breaks.
Green Mountain Power has made this point before the state Public Service Board. The company says it has to have the Lowell Mountain project up and running before the end of December 2012, when the production tax credits expire.
(Dostis) “Without those we would probably shelve the project for a while until either the tax credits were available or economics changed.”
(Dillon) Robert Dostis is a GMP vice president. He says that because GMP’s rates and profits are set by regulators, customers reap the benefits of the tax credits.
(Dostis) “The production tax credit that expires in 2012 is important because it keeps the cost of the project down. And that savings go directly to what the customer pays.”
(Dillon) But there’s still a third point to be made. Even with the tax advantages, wind projects are not guaranteed money-makers.
First Wind in Boston is an example. It’s developing a project in Sheffield in the Northeast Kingdom.
Late last year, the company was poised to sell stock to the public, so its financing is detailed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The documents show the company has high debt and negative cash flow. Spokesman John Lamontagne says tax credits help the company compete with other energy sources.
(Lamontagne) “The tax credits allow renewable energy projects to be operating on a level playing field with fossil fuels. Fossil fuels also receive significant levels of government assistance.”
(Dillon) But even with the help of the tax credits, First Wind also has about $528 million in long-term debt. The company told the SEC that if it can’t meet the loan terms it could be forced to declare bankruptcy.
It turned out investors weren’t willing to pay what First Wind wanted of them. So it canceled its stock offering. And added to its existing debt. To build the Sheffield project, it borrowed another $76 million.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.