4/3/11 It was yours but they broke it, can't fix it, and say Too bad take it or leave it, AND Our money or your (wild) life: Wind lobbyists say protecting wildlife is too expensive and will delay wind projects AND What looks like a tornado to the National Weather Service, looks like a plane to the military, and looks like big money to wind developers and guess whose interests matter most?
WIND FIRM MAKES FINAL OFFER
March 31, 2011
By David Giulliani
A wind company has made its "last and final offer" to residents complaining about problems with their TV reception, which they blame on nearby turbines.
Big Sky Wind, a subsidiary of Edison Mission Group, has a wind farm with turbines in Lee and Bureau counties.
Bureau County residents near the turbines have been particularly vocal about TV reception and noise problems. They also have complained about shadow flicker, which are the shadows of rotating blades that pass over windows that experts say cause seizures in some people.
Last week, Big Sky sent letters via Federal Express to residents who have complained about the problems.
In the letter, the company stated it had offered a settlement of $2,500 for each resident to resolve their TV reception complaints.
"We believe this to be a fair market offer that has already been accepted by several of your neighbors," the letter says. "With this in mind, we consider the $2,500 to be our best, last and final offer to resolve your TV reception complaint."
In the letter, Big Sky said it understands that residents also have complaints about noise and flicker. The company said it's prepared to offer a fair monetary settlement to resolve those issues, as well.
To start those settlement discussions, Big Sky requires that residents sign confidentiality agreements already sent out. The company asks that those agreements be faxed to its attorney in California.
Big Sky spokesman Charley Parnell said the letter and confidentiality agreement are intended to jump-start settlement discussions. He said most of the complaints his firm has received have come from Bureau County, but a few have come from Lee County.
Parnell said his company has received many more complaints about this wind farm than it has about others around the country.
"The vast majority of our complaints have to do with TV reception. This is our first experience on that front," he said.
Mark Wagner, a supporter of greater wind farm regulations in Lee County, said the letter is the "same old story." Companies put up their turbines with the approval of county governments, making many promises that they won't bother neighbors, he said.
"They say the problems won't happen, and then they do," he said. "They don't remediate the problems because you have to physically move the turbines; they won't do that. They'll pay you off and keep you quiet. That's the pattern we're seeing."
Parnell said his company is following Bureau County's ordinance on wind farms.
"We have to mitigate the issues. We're working through a process to mitigate the complaints and concerns," he said.
The Big Sky wind farm has 58 turbines in Lee County and 56 in Bureau County. It covers 13,000 acres.
Another company, Chicago-based Midwest Wind Energy, is planning the Walnut Ridge wind farm, which would be next to Big Sky's in Bureau County.
Some Walnut-area residents are trying to delay the proposed project until further study can be done. The group's members say Big Sky's issues trouble them.
The Bureau County Zoning Board of Appeals expects to decide today whether to recommend conditional-use permits for the Walnut Ridge project.
Bird Deaths Prompt Wind Rules
SOURCE: Ogdensburg Journal
Sunday April 3, 2011
By Nancy Madsen
After some wind power projects have had dramatically higher bird deaths than predicted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a set of voluntary guidelines to reduce bird deaths.
Those guidelines, if adopted by the government and developers, could force significant changes to projects, including those along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
Bird conservation groups want the guidelines to be mandatory rules. Wind power proponents say the guidelines are too strict as they stand.
William R. Evans, director of the nonprofit Old Bird Inc., Ithaca, said the placement of wind projects is a complicated balance between the need and political momentum for renewable wind energy and the desire to protect wildlife.
“With a few projects, there’s probably not too much damage, but a major build-out would cause damage. Where do you draw the line?” he said. “We have to face the consequences.”
The guidelines call for:
* Three years of pre-construction bird population studies.
* At least two and up to five years of post-construction bird fatality studies.
* Site development decisions made as a coordinated effort among the developer, the Wildlife Service and state and tribal agencies.
* If the parties can’t agree on the adverse effects on wildlife, the service may document concerns, but the decision to proceed lies with the developer.
* Use of operational modifications – raising the speed at which turbines start turning or not operating during key migratory times or using radar to turn off turbines when flocks pass – was suggested.
* Further testing on other measures, such as multicolored turbines, and effects, such as turbine noise on birds, were suggested.
The public can comment on the guidelines until May 19.
The American Wind Energy Association, Washington, D.C., takes issue with the guidelines, saying they were changed after a committee reached a consensus on reasonable measures. The extensive studies and management based on deaths will add expense and delay construction of projects, the association said in a news release. It also adds to the number of projects that would have federal oversight, raising cost without giving additional staff to review more applications, the association said.
“While the wind industry has the responsibility to minimize the impacts of development and operations to the greatest extent practicable, and are constantly striving to achieve that goal, the reality is that every form of development, energy or otherwise, has an impact on the natural environment and the choice we are left with as a society is to pursue those avenues that have the lowest amount of impact,” AWEA siting policy director John Anderson said via email.
But the American Bird Conservancy, Washington, D.C., says the guidelines aren’t strong enough because they are optional.
“The conservancy believes we must have mandatory standards to reduce impacts from wind energy,” said Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator. “The industry is not going to support standards even though they’re optional.”
A key piece of the guidelines, which was also part of the previous version, called for three years of bird population studies.
“The most important thing is that wind farms be built in areas that are not so high-risk for birds that they can’t be mitigated,” Ms. Fuller said. “The only way to find that out is by having good data to find out where those areas are.”
Mitigation measures, such as curtailing turbine use during certain seasons or times of day, also depend on the species of birds involved.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that 440,000 birds are killed each year by turbines. Because the push is to increase from 25 gigawatts now to 300 gigawatts in 2030, that number will grow, said Robert Johns, the conservancy’s public relations director.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean 12 times, but there will be a lot more birds killed,” he said. “We don’t have data on whether bigger turbines kill birds at the same rate that more smaller ones do.”
Such measures as radar to detect bird flocks and burying power lines could go a long way toward protecting bird populations, the conservancy said.
“Wind power needs to be ‘bird smart,’” Mr. Johns said. “Don’t site where lots of birds should be, employ mitigation when constructing infrastructure and compensate for lost habitat.”
The American Wind Energy Association argues that wind turbines are a very minor human cause for bird deaths. It disputes the service’s number, saying the annual number of bird deaths from turbines is about 108,000.
The association’s figure is “based on national averages as derived from over a decade of on-the-ground scientifically designed and statistically robust post-construction monitoring conducted at wind farms across the U.S. by biological consultants,” Mr. Anderson said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service extrapolated the 440,000 figure from partial data and assumptions, the association said.
Buildings kill 550 million birds per year, while power lines kill 130 million, cars kill 80 million and domestic cats kill 10 million, it said. And wind power is far less risky for bird populations than other sources of energy, it said.
Just across the Canadian border from proposed projects in Jefferson County, the Wolfe Island Wind Farm has a very high bird death rate per turbine, at 13.4 birds per turbine and a Canadian high of 0.27 birds of prey per turbine. The deaths have alarmed Canadian and U.S. conservation groups.
Mr. Evans suggested that bird deaths at St. Lawrence Wind Farm and Cape Vincent Wind Farm would be comparable to those on Wolfe Island.
“But they were proposed before the data from Wolfe Island came out,” he said. “It’s not easy to draw the line on which developments. The ones that already started could be allowed, but then others that want to come in and aren’t could say the process isn’t fair.”
Mr. Evans conducted the bird population studies for Galloo Island Wind Farm, which were “the most robust and thorough bird studies of any project in the U.S.”
The studies showed that many bird populations didn’t visit the island during migration because it is six miles offshore from the mainland.
“A substantial number of bird populations don’t want to fly over the lake,” Mr. Evans said.
Very few bird of prey species visit the island, too. A certain number of cormorants, gulls and Caspian terns fly over the island daily in search of food. But terns, the only species of concern, likely would experience 30 to 40 turbine-related deaths per year, which will hardly put a dent in a colony of 1,700 from Little Galloo Island, he said.
“It will kill terns and a substantially smaller number of raptors,” Mr. Evans said. “All these things have to be weighed against Galloo Island having one of the best wind resources on land in the Eastern U.S.”
NO EASY ANSWERS BLOWING IN THE WIND: WIND FARMS TRICK RADAR, RAISING PUBLIC POLICY QUESTIONS
April 2 2011
By Mark Collette,
CORPUS CHRISTI — Three or four times a day, an alarm goes off at the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi, warning of a tornado in San Patricio County.
In a dark air traffic control room at Naval Air Station Kingsville, a shadow looms on the radar screen over Kenedy County.
There is, of course, no tornado and no phantom lurking on the horizon.
But the wind farms that trigger these radar images are real, and they’re causing a collision between clean energy, military and public safety priorities.
The wind industry worries that proposed laws intended to keep turbines from interfering with military installations would thwart business in Texas, the nation’s leading wind energy state.
Weather forecasters and military officials fear turbines, which look like planes and storms on radar images, could lead to failed public warning systems and cripple the Kingsville base’s mission to train jet pilots.
For the Coastal Bend, the economic fallout of any check on the exponential growth of the industry reaches beyond the developers and the landowners who can earn around $5,000 a year on a lease for one turbine.
Shipments of wind turbine equipment through the Port of Corpus Christi in 2008 and 2009 generated $39 million in direct revenues and 256 jobs for regional businesses, according to a study by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi economics professor Jim Lee.
As more developers pursue Coastal Bend wind projects, the potential for radar clutter rises. More than 400 turbines already have risen in San Patricio and Kenedy counties. They can produce about 1,065 megawatts, enough to power roughly 300,000 homes.
According to information compiled from government and industry sources, developers are proposing new projects in the Coastal Bend that total at least 2,445 megawatts, which could mean 800 to 1,600 more turbines.
Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that collects information on new wind projects, said many of the proposed farms never will be built for lack of financing, technical obstacles or other reasons.
But developers also may be considering projects the council doesn’t yet know about. That’s because state rules don’t require wind project developers to give any form of public notice until they request a connection to the state’s power grid. Even then, the information at ERCOT is geared toward people with a deep knowledge of electricity markets. Names of companies and locations of projects — except for the name of the county — aren’t revealed until late in the process unless a developer gives permission.
Wind developers say this arrangement promotes clean energy development and helps companies compete for leases on coveted land in a business where location means everything. Developers like the Coastal Bend because it has access to long-distance transmission lines and steady winds that are strong on hot afternoons when statewide electricity demand peaks.
Radar clutter has bred tense, delicate relationships between stakeholders who don’t want to be seen at odds with their counterparts — viewed as anti-clean energy or anti-military, for example — but who nonetheless have huge economic, environmental and safety interests to protect.
Within the National Weather Service, a careful balancing act is under way.
“There are people within the weather service who don’t want these wind farms anywhere near the radars,” said Ed Ciardi, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Radar Operations Center in Norman, Okla., and one of the service’s leading wind farm clutter analysts.
Ciardi said despite the internal disagreements in the weather service, it has striven to work with wind developers, encouraging them to work out siting issues as early as possible.
“They don’t have to work with us,” he said. “In order not to cause them issues, we protect any data that could compromise them in a competitive way.”
That can mean not publicly disclosing potential wind farm sites unless forced by a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act, Ciardi said. Even then, the information usually is exempt from disclosure, he said.
In turn, the wind industry provides valuable information to the weather service. John Metz, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service in Corpus Christi, said E. ON Climate and Renewables, owner of the Papalote Creek wind farm in San Patricio County, provided wind speed data after a rare January tornado cut a 20-mile swath across the Coastal Bend, ravaging trailers in the North Bay area and wrecking homes and a school in Robstown.
Some wind developers are agreeing to shut down turbines when severe weather approaches, Ciardi said.
When a weather radar
scans a wind farm, it interprets the movement of the blades as precipitation. The instruments are sensitive enough to detect bird flocks, so a wind farm — with 100 or 200 sets of blades that each stretch the length of a 747 jetliner and spin more than 100 mph at the tips in a 20 mph wind — can look like a tornado-breeding monster.
At Papalote Creek, the radar thinks it’s raining all the time. Under the right conditions, the blade movement triggers a tornado alarm, Metz said.
The radars can’t be programmed to ignore the wind farms because that could cause forecasters to miss a true storm. So far, there have been no weather warning delays or missed warnings in Corpus Christi, Metz said. The wind farms here are beyond a critical 10-mile range, allowing the radar to see easily beyond the turbines. But at least one proposed farm, near Petronila, is at the edge of the 10-mile radius.
Nationwide, wind farms haven’t caused forecasters to miss warning the public, but there have been instances of false warnings, Ciardi said.
“We’re still on the early stages of wind farm build-out,” he said. “Right now we’re only 10 percent of where the United States wants to be 10 or 20 years from now. Ten years from now, there’s likely to be more wind farms surrounding our radars, and I think that’s where we’re worried.”
It’s also a worry for Naval Air Station Kingsville, the commanding officer, Capt. Mark McLaughlin, said.
Proposed wind farms have the potential to create false radar returns throughout the airspace pilots use on their approach to the Navy base, McLaughlin said. Already, radars can lose track of planes when they fly into certain areas covered with false radar plots caused by turbines. Controllers then have to increase the distance between jets for safety.
“Increased separation means fewer training flights and decreased ability to perform our mission,” McLaughlin said.
Naval Air Station Corpus Christi officials did not respond by Friday evening.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, trying to protect the base — Kingsville’s largest employer — filed a bill that would require wind developers to notify the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and military installations of plans to build turbines within 25 miles of an installation. State Rep. J.M. Lozano, D-Kingsville, filed an identical bill in the House.
Patrick Woodson, chief development officer for E. ON, said the law would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. Developers already are required to notify the Federal Aviation Administration of a wind farm project 45 days before construction, and it takes weeks to get FAA approval, he said.
Developers spend years erecting towers to test the wind and signing leases with landowners.
“There’s no secret plot here to construct wind turbines without telling anybody,” Woodson said.
Mark Hannifan, vice president of development for Tradewind Energy, said the bills provide no specific timetable for notifying the commission. Notifying too early could hurt competition, and the 25-mile requirement would take away too many potential wind farm sites, he said.
“This bill will send (wind developers) packing out of the state of Texas and send everybody packing out of the Coastal Bend.”Greg Wortham, director of the Texas Wind Energy Clearinghouse trade association, said new state regulations aren’t warranted because the FAA already has oversight and concerns over wind farm clutter are overplayed.
“The radar issue has been abused by people who just want to create an issue,” he said, “because their real story is they just don’t like wind turbines.”
Some technical solutions are on the horizon. Defense contractor Raytheon has plans to roll out new software algorithms as early as 2012 that would help military radars distinguish aircraft from wind turbines.
Patrick Paddock, an operations specialist and radar expert at Naval Air Station Kingsville, said those solutions would require years of testing and procurement processes before the military could begin to implement them. Even then, “because of the physics of this specific radar, software mitigation alone is probably not going to solve all of the problems,” he said.