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3/1/11 UPDATE 3:23PM: PSC WIND RULES SUSPENDED AND Packers Fan or Bears Fan, when it comes to living with turbines they are telling the same story AND 2 out of 3 PSC commissioners side with We Energies Fat Cats AND What do you mean three hours of sleep a night isn't enough? AND How green is a bird killing machine? Chapter 234


From the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules:

(Emphasis ours)

Motion on

Ch. PSC 128

That the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules suspend Ch. PSC 128, pursuant to s. 227.26 (2) (d), Stats., effective March 1, 2011, on the basis of testimony received at its February 9, 2011 meeting, and on the grounds that the contents of Ch. PSC 128 create an emergency relating to public health, safety, or welfare; are arbitrary and capricious; and impose an undue hardship on landowners and residents adjacent to wind turbine sites as stated in s. 227.19 (4) (d) 2 and 6.  

COMMITTEE VOTES TO SUSPEND WIND-SITING RULES
SOURCE: WisBusiness.com

March 1, 2011

By Andy Szal

The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules this morning voted to suspend wind turbine siting regs that were set to take effect today.


The committee voted 5-2 along party lines to suspend PSC rule 128 and now has 30 days to submit a bill repealing the measure to the full Legislature.


Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, accused the majority of going around the normal legislative process and flip-flopping, since a number of Republicans supported the wind siting bill last session.


"This wasn't a flash in the pan, fly by night rule," Hebl said.


Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa and the committee co-chair, said the committee had a duty to reconsider the PSC rule after lawmakers voiced concerns about the issue early in the new session. Rep. Dan LeMahieu, R-Cascade, added, "We didn't vote for the rule. We voted to give them the authority to promulgate a rule."


Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, said the bill would have a particularly detrimental effect on the wind turbine industry in Manitowoc.


"These jobs probably will go to other states," Kessler said.

 

´╗┐SECOND FEATURE: Different state, same story: The trouble with wind turbines sited too close to homes. Above, shadow flicker in the home of an Illinois family, below stories from more families having trouble.

WIND FARM COMPLAINTS

Source: KWQC-TV6

March 1, 2011

"As the sun comes across the sky, it hits the turbine blades and causes this flicker," she said.

Nearby homeowners say it can go on for hours. "When it first happened, we felt there was something wrong with the electricity because it felt like every light was blinking,"said Barb Draper.

People crowded a meeting in Princeton, Illinois Monday night to express their concerns about wind farms. Residents packed into a meeting with the Bureau County Board of Appeals. Some want to put a stop to the proposed Walnut Ridge wind project. It would build 150 turbines over more than 15,000 acres and affect more than 75 landowners.

Others at the meeting are already surrounded by wind turbines from the Big Sky wind farm. They want the county and the companies to focus on issues caused by the current turbines. They complain that the turbines are noisy, cast flickering shadows that can cause seizures and even block television reception.

The Anderson family in rural Ohio, Illinois says it has turned their quality of life and turned it into living in an industrial park. THe nearest wind turbine is 1,750 feet from their home. Deb Anderson says ever since the turbines started running, their life hasn't been the same.

"As the sun comes across the sky, it hits the turbine blades and causes this flicker," she said.

Nearby homeowners say it can go on for hours. "When it first happened, we felt there was something wrong with the electricity because it felt like every light was blinking,"said Barb Draper.

"On, off, on, off as the blade caught the sun it made a very disturbing motion. It almost made you sick to your stomach." added Bob Draper.

Another problem that came up after the turbines were turned on is with their TV reception. The family says it varies, depending on the direction of the blades. Some days, the family gets 15-20 channels. During our visit, they could only get in two.

On top of that there's the noise that won't go away. These property owners say they understand the benefits of the wind farms. But they'd like the problems fixed before more wind turbines come into the area.

The wind power company has put up two antennas on their house, but the family says they didn't help. They company also offered them money to buy a better delivery system, like satellite TV.

Ryan Light in the Director of Renewable Energy for the Eastern Iowa Community College District. He says those are some of the drawbacks for people living near large wind farms.

"One effect we need to look at a little harder into is the flicker effect, which is the spinning of blades and shadow cast. For people with certain medical concerns it can cause seizures," Light said.

He says there are companies working to alleviate the radio interference with a new kind of blade and there is more research being conducted on noise reduction systems.

SPLIT DECISION FINDS WE ENERGIES DIDN'T EARN TOO MUCH

SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

March 1, 2011

By Thomas Content

In a 2-to-1 vote, state regulators ruled Thursday that We Energies won’t have to issue credits to its 1.1 million electricity customers for profit it earned in 2008 and 2009.

Commissioner Lauren Azar sided with customer groups that had called for the commission to vote to return money to customers, saying the commission should decided that the utility earned more than its maximum profit allowed the regulated utility – 10.75% in 2008 and 2009.

But commissioners Eric Callisto and Mark Meyer voted not to require any profits to be returned to customers. Meyer said it was inconsistent for the commission to be seeking to return profits to customers when a utility earns above its maximum profit level since the commission does not allow utilities to raise rates when utilities fail to earn as much in a given year as the profit level, or return on equity, set by the commission.

Over the past 10 years, utilities have more often earned less than their return on equity, Meyer said.

The debate at Thursday's meeting ended up boiling down to how Callisto and Azar interpreted whether management bonuses paid to utility executives should be included in the calculation of a utility’s profit.

Callisto said the commission specifically excludes management bonuses and incentive pay from being collected in utility rates and that the commission staff will be conducting an investigation of utility bonuses in upcoming rate cases.

He said his position in this case was consistent with how the commission interpreted the issue in setting new rules for how utilities can raise rates when fuel prices climb.

Azar, who wanted the issue of bonuses addressed in the new fuel rules last year, said she has not changed her view. She said she considered utility bonuses too high for a regulated utility, given the state of the economy, high poverty rates in the We Energies service territory. The utility's "shareholders are doing quite well," she said.

In filings with the commission, We Energies had argued that the commission was shifting from utility regulator to utility micro-manager if it adopted the proposal of Azar and customer groups. The utility also argued that the commission has not had a consistent definition for utilities to determine what would and would not be included in a PSC calculation of whether a utility earned too much profit.

Callisto agreed. The issue came up in one prior case – in which the commission also ruled in We Energies’ favor – but the commission’s guidance to utilities on this issue has been “ephemeral.”

An analysis by We Energies prepared last week indicated that the utility could have been required to return $53 million to customers. Based on the majority decision Thursday, the commission determined that the utility earned profit of 10.36% in 2008 and 10.52% in 2009, below the 10.75% profit allowed by the PSC.

That means the utility $25.7 million less than the maximum, according to the filing.

Third Feature

FALMOUTH OFFERS PARTIAL TURBINE SHUTDOWN

SOURCE: Cape Cod Times, www.capecodonline.com

March 1, 2011

By Aaron Gouveia,

FALMOUTH — Falmouth officials have offered to turn off the town’s wind turbine for three hours a day, following noise complaints from neighbors.

Acting Town Manager Heather Harper proposed the partial overnight shutdown, calling the offer a “good faith effort toward a mutual resolution of the matter.”

After tracking complaints regarding the 1.65-megawatt turbine off Blacksmith Shop Road, known as Wind I, town officials found residents are most affected during periods of high winds in the late evening and early morning hours, Harper wrote in a Feb. 23 letter.

“We intend to modify the operation of the machine between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., the times at which the background noise may be lower than the sound emanating from our wind energy equipment,” Harper wrote.

Details of the town’s offer are still unclear, however. Harper’s letter did not specify whether the turbine would be turned off for three hours every night or only during periods of high winds.

When approached by a Times reporter prior to Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, Harper said she did not know the answer and was unable to provide one before the start of the meeting. The meeting was still in progress as of the Times’ deadline.

But Gerald Potamis, the town’s wastewater superintendent who oversees operation of Wind I, said the change will go into effect as soon as the turbine manufacturer, Vestas, sends a technician to reprogram the turbine.

The shutdown is an “interim solution” until town officials and neighbors can work out a permanent solution, Potamis said.

But Christopher Senie, an attorney representing 18 residents who claim they are adversely affected by turbine noise, vibrations and shadow flicker, has said the town’s offer is not good enough.

Senie, who was not available for comment Monday, penned a Feb. 25 letter that stated this is the second time in four months Harper has made the offer to his clients.

Senie called the three-hour reprieve “wholly inadequate” in his letter, and wrote the suffering of neighbors “will not be lessened in any meaningful way.”

The only acceptable interim solution, he wrote, is to shut off Wind I whenever wind speeds reach 23 mph. It is a proposal Harper has repeatedly rejected, according to Senie’s letter.

“This is the only meaningful way to provide my clients some relief while the ultimate solution is developed and implemented,” Senie wrote.

Todd Drummey, who lives approximately 3,000 feet from Wind I, said the town’s offer “completely misses the point” because it assumes residents will be satisfied with three hours of sleep every night.

“It’s the same offer from back in October,” Drummey said. “It was ridiculous then and it’s ridiculous now.”

The ultimate goal, according to Senie and his clients, is to convince the town it was wrong not to require a special permit before the turbine became operational.

Building Commissioner Eladio Gore deemed the turbine a municipal use, and cited zoning bylaws that exempt “all municipal uses” from the special permit process. Senie, on the other hand, cited another local bylaw specifically pertaining to windmills, that requires a special permit in all instances.

Last month, three members of the zoning board of appeals said Gore made a mistake in interpreting the bylaws. But the appeal failed because two ZBA members recused themselves, meaning a 4-0 vote was necessary to uphold the appeal.

But the neighbors are still hopeful because selectmen — acting as the owners of the turbine — can request a special permit at any time.

To that end, several neighbors showed up at Monday’s meeting hoping to persuade selectmen to start the special permit process, which will give neighbors a chance to negotiate some potential compromises. But they were not on the agenda, and as of 9:30 p.m. it was unclear whether they would be allowed to speak.

NEXT FEATURE:

WOLFE ISLAND WIND PLANT STILL HARMING BIRDS IN IMPORTANT BIRD AREA

SOURCE: Nature Canada, www.naturecanada.ca

Last May, Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey blogged about a report that described how birds and bats have been affected by the TransAlta wind plant on Wolfe Island, a globally significant Important Bird Area in southern Ontario known for its waterfowl, raptors and swallows. He called the numbers of birds and bats being killed by TransAlta’s turbines “shockingly high,” indeed the highest recorded in Canada and one of the highest in North America.

However, since the report only studied a six month period, TransAlta’s spokespeople argued that it was premature to reach conclusions so soon, especially when comparing the Wolfe Island deaths to yearly casualty rates for other wind plants. Besides, TransAlta reasoned, the results appeared to be within the thresholds of acceptable limits set by provincial and federal government regulators.

Then last month, Stantec Consulting, the firm that produced the original report, released its report on the second half of the year: January 1, 2010 to July 1, 2010.

And the results for birds are troubling.

Wolfe Island: Most Deadly Wind Plant in Canada

Though casualty numbers for birds did not skyrocket in the second sixth month period, a time that included the spring migration, they still were high enough to make the Wolfe Island wind plant the most deadly for birds in Canada.

The 13.4 birds per turbine casualty rate is about 7 times the industry average in Canada according to Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA) but below the so-called “adaptive management” threshold for TransAlta facility, as set by various government agencies. That level is 11.7 birds per MW which translates to 21 birds per turbine, which just happens to be the highest level ever recorded at any wind facility in North America (Buffalo Mountain, Tennessee). Using the highest level recorded as the threshold before which any mitigation is even considered seems a bit dubious to say the least.

Estimated and actual numbers of birds killed, proportioned by the species actually found, over the entire 12 month period, paints a disturbing picture:

  • Tree Swallow 218 (calculation based on 31 corpses)
  • Purple Martin 49 (calculation based on 7 corpses)
  • Bobolink 73 (calculation based on 9 corpses)
  • Wilson’s Snipe 50 (calculation based on 7 corpses)
  • Red-tailed Hawk 10 (actual count)

It is important to note that the calculated numbers are arrived at using Stantec’s formula to calculate total casualty rates. A sample of turbines are visited either weekly or twice a week and a search for bird corpses on the ground beneath the blades is conducted. As the method is not intended as a comprehensive search, determining the casualty rate requires taking in factors like the ability of the search team to find carcasses, the percentage of the area searched and the rate of predation between searches. The 31 Tree Swallow corpses, in other words, represent about 15% of the calculated number of tree swallows killed, based on Stantec’s calculations and field testing.

Birds Most Effected are Already in Serious Decline

While the report and the research behind it appear to be quite solid, the authors contend that the casualty rates are quite sustainable and will not have any effect on the species populations. They do this by contrasting the kill numbers from the turbines with the estimated Ontario population of the most affected species – Tree Swallow, numbering about 400,000 and Bobolink, about 800,000. (They do not do this for Red-tailed Hawk, which in fact may not meet their sustainability criteria). They also contrasted the numbers with estimates of birds killed by other human activities or artifices such as tall buildings, vehicles, cell towers, and pets.

While this argument has gained considerable traction among some in the wind industry and even the scientific community, it fails to consider that the turbines at Wolfe Island are killing different species than the tall buildings, cats and cars. Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture and Bobolink rarely if ever show up on lists of casualties from tall buildings, and are unlikely victims of cats, with the possible exception of the Bobolink. And vehicle collisions, well – while this is a legitimate concern, Turkey Vultures have arguably had a net benefit from the carnage caused by vehicles.

But it is some of these very species – the ones most likely to be harmed by Wolfe Island’s turbines – that are already experiencing declines.

Take swallows, for example. Most species of swallow have declined significantly in Canada over the past 20 years. Adding additional threats to already stressed populations is not prudent. According to trend data on this species from Breeding Bird Survey routes in Ontario, the Tree Swallow has declined by about 6% annually over the past 20 years, a cumulative decline of almost 80%! In other words, the current estimated population of 400,000, was 2 million only 20 years ago. Bobolink, recently added to COSEWIC’s list of threatened species, declined 4.1% over the same period. We should not trivialize the impact of removing dozens, or hundreds of individuals from a population of species that are clearly in trouble.

In the meantime, good documentation of the impacts is essential. While TransAlta had to deliver these studies – they were a condition of the wind project’s approval – the company and Stantec should be recognized for doing good work. Once one takes the spin out of the document, the data and the methodologies are solid. The quality of the monitoring appears to be high, and some weaknesses, such as a potential bias to undercount the number of raptor fatalities, are recognized in the report.

With regard to birds of prey, even if they were not undercounted, the number of casualties is excessively high at .27 per turbine. This was the highest recorded rate for raptor kills outside of California. The victims included:

  • 10 Red-tailed Hawks,
  • 1 Northern Harrier,
  • 1 Osprey,
  • 2 American Kestrel,
  • 1 Merlin
  • 8 Turkey Vulture

This number crossed the “notification threshold” for the project, meaning that the CWS and MNR were notified about the high rates. The report states that TransAlta and MNR have initiated discussions regarding “adaptive management” in response to the raptor deaths. We look forward to hearing what the response might be.

Next Steps to Reduce Bird Deaths

With the plant already in operation, the only option now is to mitigate the risk to wildlife perhaps by slowing down the blades of the turbines at hazardous moments of the year, or turning them off. However, unless the numbers of casualties increase even further in the next two years, it is unclear how far the threshold must be exceeded and how often, before mitigation is implemented. It is reported in the document that four notifications were made by the company to the government for raptors alone, yet none appears to have led to mitigation.

Today, several wind farms are being proposed around the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the most worrying being Gilead’s Ostrander Point wind farm. Ostrander Point is an area that is arguably even more significant for birds than Wolfe Island, because of its specific geography. Ironically, the land on which the Gilead project is being proposed is owned by the Province of Ontario – a Crown forest block.

Opposition to turbines in agricultural areas appears to have persuaded government officials to meet their renewable energy agenda by prioritizing “crown lands” as locations for wind energy plants. While this might be appropriate and acceptable for some properties, when a wind plant is located in an area of great significance to wildlife, as is the case with Ostrander Point, so-called green energy ceases to be green at all. The Ontario government needs to think more carefully about where they allow wind turbines. It is not too late for the Province to design a policy that promotes green energy and also protects key biodiversity sites including Important Bird Areas.

Otherwise, as more of these facilities are built in bad places, wind energy will become a significant contributor to the declines of several species that are already in trouble, and the Green Energy Act will be recognized and remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

About Wolfe Island

Wolfe Island, located in the eastern end of Lake Ontario, a shore distance from Kingston, is about 32 kilometres long and about 11 wide in the widest area covering about 12,140 hectares.  The west end of the island is exposed to the westerly winds blowing across much of the length of Lake Ontario.   The island is a mixture of agricultural land under various regimes of management from annual crops to pasture, natural habitats from woodlands and patches of second-growth forest, to grasslands, wetlands and the residences and farms of the Wolfe Islanders.   TransAlta’s 86 turbines tower 80 metres above the farmland, pasture, and grasslands, and are constructed largely on the western side of the islands where the winds are probably the strongest.   The wind plant has a nameplate capacity of 198 Megawatts, but the average output in its first year of operation was only 48 Megawatts, a quarter of the capacity, due to the variability of winds.  This output number appears to be about average for Ontario’s wind industry. 

Wolfe Island is a Globally significant Important Bird Area, (IBA) recognized for its significance for waterfowl primarily, but also for its importance to raptors (birds of prey including hawks and owls) and Tree Swallows.  Being at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the island’s habitats are also important stop-over destinations for migrating birds and bats.  Nature Canada believes that industrial wind plants should be excluded from IBAs, and other sites that are known to be highly significant for wildlife, particularly birds.   No wind plant, even the notorious Altamont plant in California, has ever, to our knowledge been decommissioned because of impacts on wildlife.   Once these things are built, then are not turned off until they stop working or break down.   For us at Nature Canada, this a strong incentive to encourage provincial policies to exclude wind plants from IBAs and important migratory corridors and fight the few existing proposals within IBAs.   However, the Wolfe Island plant is built and operating, so its impacts on birds and bats will be instructive for other projects being proposed or considered in areas that are significant for birds. 

"On, off, on, off as the blade caught the sun it made a very disturbing motion. It almost made you sick to your stomach." added Bob Draper.

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