Entries in wind farm construction (6)
9/17/11 Nightmare in the cornfield. Got complaints? Too late. You already signed the wind developers contract AND Don't Ask, Can't Tell, wind companies put gag orders on families whose homes they've purchased
WIND FARM CONSTRUCTION SIDE EFFECTS DISTURB LANDOWNERS
By Tamara Abbey
September 17, 2011
Roads that were not meant to be used have been prepared for turbine-construction traffic in areas where there are no turbines planned. Other subcontractors have made paths through fields that aren’t even part of the project
They started the bulldozing after the corn started maturing and now the ears of corn mixed with topsoil will continue germinating for the next few years, Englehart said. The large piles of dirt ringing the remaining corn will make it difficult for combines to even get in the fields this year
Rutted paths snake through cornfields eventually ending in giant circles around pink-tipped poles standing in wetlands, ravines and in the middle of trampled cornstalks. This time it wasn’t a cyclone that hit Cyclone Road in Brooklyn Township: it’s the heavy equipment of Goldwind USA as they resume development of Shady Oaks Wind Farm.
Paths chopped through fields sometimes don’t go anywhere at all. Other paths leave only a few rows of corn standing on either side. Farmers such as Wesley Englehart and Charlene Zimmerman are left wondering how they’re going to get the crops out of the field next month around the mounds of dirt and with only slim stands of corn left in some fields.
Englehart, Zimmerman and her brother, Alan, are among landowners that signed on to the project back in 2005 when GSG Wind Energy of Sublette started the development. The project was then sold to Mainstream Renewables which in turn partnered with Goldwind USA late last year. The project was then fully acquired by Goldwind, a company that got its start by constructing wind turbines in China. The 120-megawatt Lee County wind farm is the first large-scale project undertaken by the company following a 4.5-megawatt pilot project in Minnesota.
Englehart and the Zimmermans are now learning the hard way that the 2005 contract included a lot of implied agreements between the landowners and the developers. They both reluctantly noted the original contract left a lot of control in the hands of the developer and they didn’t anticipate the project would change hands so many times.
Charlene Zimmerman said they were led to believe the turbines would generate 2-2.5 megawatts each; instead the company only makes 1.5-megawatt turbines which means they plan to erect 70-72 turbines on farms in Brooklyn Township instead of the originally-anticipated 50-60 turbines.
The increased number of turbines results in more heavy equipment and machinery trekking through corn fields and down township roads. Englehart said they sent the first wave of subcontractors out in the spring when the ground was still wet.
“They started boring right after a heavy rain,” Englehart said. “They created these two-foot-deep ruts.”
A different subcontractor arrived to work on another portion of the project but headed off in their own direction through cornfields, cutting paths and making more ruts, Zimmerman added.
The final map of turbine locations also causes some concern for Englehart and Zimmerman.
“This down the road here, it’s registered as a wetlands,” Englehart said. “If they put it in there, it would be underwater if we have a heavy rain.”
Zimmerman said turbines on her family’s property will soon be constructed in areas that turn into ponds every spring and down in ravines.
To get to these locations, the company will bring in huge equipment for construction and installation. As a township supervisor, Englehart also criticized Goldwind for a lack of communication with subcontractors. Roads that were not meant to be used have been prepared for turbine-construction traffic in areas where there are no turbines planned. Other subcontractors have made paths through fields that aren’t even part of the project, Englehart added.
Construction timing also makes no sense to Englehart. He said they came in and started bulldozing row after row of corn while leaving the primarily Round-Up ready corn mixed with the top soil. They started the bulldozing after the corn started maturing and now the ears of corn mixed with topsoil will continue germinating for the next few years, Englehart said. The large piles of dirt ringing the remaining corn will make it difficult for combines to even get in the fields this year, Zimmerman added.
He estimates losses at $30,000-$50,000 on his land alone. According to the contract, Goldwind USA is obligated to compensate him for the loss.
“Had they did it in the spring, there would have been very little damage,” he said.
Access isn’t a problem for the wind farm subcontractors though, Englehart said. Since township bridges are up to 50 years old, they cannot support oversize traffic. Instead, they created their own road right through Englehart’s cornfield and bordering wildlife conservation habitat. Bridge replacement would have cost approximately $200,000, a cost the company chose not to pay in order to reach sites where another 11 turbines will be constructed.
“I had no problem with Mendota Hills or the one on the other side of the county line,” Zimmerman said. “But this contract is you’re basically signing your life away. The contract says they can basically do anything on your land.”
Goldwind USA is contractually obligated to repair any damage to township roads and the landowners will continue to receive income from the land used for turbines, but even those guarantees are now in question based on the company’s current construction practice.
“The contract says we’re supposed to get our money the moment they started grading,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not sure that everybody has their money yet.”
Compensation for the loss of this year’s crops could delay planting next year since they have to wait for a formal statement of acres lost to the construction. Then Englehart and Zimmerman worry about the compaction to the soil and any crushed tiles that drain water from the fields. Englehart said problems with tile could take several years to detect.
Then farmers will have to watch for the buried electric cables transmitting power from the turbines to a substation. Unlike other wind farm projects, the cables will run directly from turbine to turbine rather than along township and turbine access roads. That leaves Englehart and Zimmerman with more concerns about soil compaction and later field work.
“You’ve got the driveways, you’ve got the crane paths, you’ve got the circles (around the future turbines),” Englehart said. “It’s a nightmare.”
Englehart and Zimmerman also gave Lee County Board member Lisa Zeimetz of Paw Paw a tour of some of the areas bulldozed for construction. Ziemetz said there is little the county can do since the project is under township jurisdiction. She did ask them to be available to help counsel landowners that may be involved in future projects.
“I understand they have the right to do this, but it doesn’t seem kosher,” she said.
A message left at Goldwind USA’s Chicago office was not returned. Previously published reports state Goldwind anticipates completing the project by the end of the year.
TURBINE TROUBLES PLACED ON RECORD
BY DAVID GIULIANI
September 17, 2011
Ray Zakrzewski, Aug. 18: Shadow flicker is unnerving. Poor TV reception. Two potential buyers of house have refused to make offers because of these issues.
DIXON – Over the past few months, officials in Lee and Whiteside counties have heard plenty of promises from wind energy companies.
Corporate officials often pledge to take care of complaints about their turbines.
Only time will tell. But experience may be an indicator in Lee County. Whiteside County, on the other hand, has no wind farms.
In its files, Lee County has 11 complaints that say turbines have affected TV and radio reception – all received this year about one company. They also blame turbines for other problems, including shadow flicker and difficulty selling homes.
Rosemead, Calif.-based Edison Mission Group has 114 turbines in Bureau and Lee counties. Residents in both counties have complained that the towers hurt broadcast reception.
In some cases, Lee County has documentation on how the company answered the complaints about the wind farm, which started a year ago.
In March, Big Sky sent letters via Federal Express to residents who have complained about the problems. The company offered a settlement of $2,500 for each resident to resolve their grievances; it was called the “best, last and final” offer.
“We believe this to be a fair market offer that has already been accepted by several of your neighbors,” the company said in the letter.
The company has 58 turbines in Lee County and 56 in Bureau County, covering 13,000 acres.
Resident Gary Todd filed his complaint in January, saying his rental property on Sheehan Road had suffered poor TV reception since the turbines went into operation.
In response, he said, Edison Mission put in a satellite receiver for his TV and offered to pay $2,500 for satellite service. He took the deal. The money could pay for satellite service for a few years.
“It was kind of a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal,” he said.
Others refused the offer.
“They did have an offer of $2,500 if we never complained again,” said William Ogan of Baseline Road. “It didn’t seem right at the time.”
Ogan, who filed his complaint in January, said the company told him that his antenna wasn’t high enough. But he disagreed. With that same antenna, he said, his TV got better reception before the wind farm started.
His wife, Claudia Ogan, said her TV had often been down to one channel since the wind farm started operating. The turbine blades appear to affect the signal, she said.
“They said it was our fault, that we had to cut down trees next to the house,” she said. “We truly believe that some of the problem is caused by windmills. It’s not as if we can’t afford cable, but some people can’t.”
Still, she said, there’s a plus side to the turbines. Her family gets payments for two of them because they stand on the Ogans’ farm.
“We have a brother-in-law in a nursing home, and this is paying the way,” she said.
Mark Henkel of Maytown Road near Sublette complained in April that because of the wind farm, TV signals are intermittent, with the entire picture lost at times.
His wife, Tammy Henkel, said Edison Mission hadn’t responded.
“The ones who complained earlier got some extra service,” she said. “We’ve gotten nothing. It’s very frustrating to watch a program and you’re not even seeing half of it.
“It’s nice to sit down and watch the news or ‘CSI.’ But we’re hardly getting them. They’re not coming in.”
Aiming to be ‘good corporate citizen’
Susan Olavarria, an Edison Mission spokeswoman, said she didn’t want to discuss the details of any particular complaint.
“We’ve been diligently working to investigate and resolve legitimate issues raised by any complaining landowners, providing periodic updates to Lee and Bureau County administrators,” she said. “We want to be a good corporate citizen.”
In certain cases, Lee County has Edison Mission documents on the examination of particular properties. The company often advises residents to install taller antennas or better equipment.
It hired a consulting firm, Antenna Solutions, which stated in a report, “The TV reception issues appear to be caused by faulty or obsolete reception equipment.”
The firm added that the area in question is on the very edge of transmitters’ ranges. It advised that residents get state-of-the-art antennas.
In its main report, Antenna Solutions concluded by saying that more complicated issues needed further study.
Asked whether turbines had any effect on TV reception in general, Olavarria declined to comment.
Complaints about wind farm
The following are complaints filed, includes names of residents and dates of submission, to the Lee County zoning office on issues with the Big Sky wind farm, which straddles the Lee-Bureau county line:
William Ogan, Jan. 11: Getting fewer TV channels. Picture affected by movement of blades.
Gary Todd, Jan. 19: Poor TV reception. Poor cellphone reception.
Steve Full, Jan. 19: Shadow flicker.
Robert Nally, Jan. 19: Poor TV reception.
Doug McLaughlin, Jan. 13: TV reception disrupted.
Brian Jones, Feb. 9: Can’t use cordless phone outside and in parts of house. Radio station interference. Shadow flicker. Too many towers close to residences.
Joan Burke, March 17: Loss of Quad Cities TV stations.
Mark Henkel, April 7: Quad Cities stations are intermittent in quality of signal, losing picture on TV at times. New antenna put up a year ago.
Daniel Stephenitch, April 18: Poor TV reception.
Tom and Judy Sharkey, July 25: Not able to get some channels. Purchased a new TV and antenna for $1,190.
Ray Zakrzewski, Aug. 18: Shadow flicker is unnerving. Poor TV reception. Two potential buyers of house have refused to make offers because of these issues.
FAMILY FIGHTS WIND POWER GAG ORDER
By Terry Davidson
SOURCE Toronto Sun, www.torontosun.com
September 13, 2011
Nausea, vertigo, ringing in the ears and sleepless nights.
These are things Shawn and Trisha Drennan worry they’ll experience should 150 wind turbines be erected near their southwestern Ontario farm.
The closest one is planned for a mere 650 metres from their front door.
When the couple learned of the planned turbines — a project proposed by Capital Power Corp, which already has a handful of turbines in the Drennan’s home base of Ashfield Township and the surrounding area — the longtime crofters wondered about the health effects of living close to such technology.
The Drennans tried to talk to former homeowners who had lived close to turbines and who had been paid to move away by other energy companies to make room for more, only to be told by the one-time residents they were under a gag order as part of their respective buyouts.
They were forbidden from saying anything about wind turbines, health effects or otherwise.
Now the Drennans are going to court to try and have the gag clause invalidated, citing the lack of research around those possible health effects.
“We decided to talk to people and government and ask (health-based) questions, and the people most affected can’t talk about it,” Sean Drennan said Tuesday from the offices of lawyer Julian Falconer, adding he and wife, however, were able talk to homeowners living around turbines in nearby Shelburne township and the community of Clear Creek in Norfolk County.
He said some reported suffering from sick stomachs, vertigo and tinnitus — an ever-present ringing in the ears — from the “low-frequency” noise the turbines make.
Falconer, who has been hired by both the Drennans and the community group Safe Wind Energy for All Residents (SWEAR) to fight the gag order, says provincial approval for Capital Power to build the new turbines was a rush job, and the Drennans are being used as guinea pigs.
“We land the turbines first, and then worry about how (people are) affected?” asked Falconer, who questioned how a company could contractually gag people when so much uncertainty exists around the effects of wind turbines.
Farmers in the area are also concerned how the turbines will effect livestock and plants, as well as how the giant propeller-based towers will destroy the rural pulchritude the area is known for, said SWEAR’s Patrick Murphy.
“We know there are problems in neighbouring municipalities,” he said, adding concerns around a lack of research are what made the provincial government shelve its plans for offshore turbines earlier this year.
The Grits in February put on hold a multitude of offshore turbine projects, claiming a lack of research around environmental effects.
One particularly controversial project was Toronto Hydro’s plan to build around 70 turbines in Lake Ontario that would stretch from Toronto to Ajax. It was strongly opposed by those living close to the lake’s shoreline.
11/29/10 Wind Farm Strong Arm: Wind developers hire cops to police 'open house' AND Why all the secrecy about what went wrong with the turbine foundations? AND Green stimulus grant includes get out of jail free card for known Wisconsin Polluter
WINDMILL SECURITY OVERKILL: Residents-- Northumerland
Source: NORTHUMBERLAND TODAY, www.northumberlandtoday.com
November 29, 2010
By VALERIE MACDONALD,
ROSENEATH -- The security was high at an open house at the Alnwick Civic Centre held for a proposed local wind farm Friday night.
Not only was there a police cruiser sitting outside -but there were at least three OPP officers on duty but out of uniform, about a half dozen uniformed security guards and another security man in plain clothes, as well as video surveillance. A sign warned about the latter and suggested people leave if they didn't want to be videotaped.
This is overkill, said several meeting attendees from the local, anti-wind turbine group, Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills.
"It's threatening," agreed Debbie Lynch, a woman who is also protesting another proposed industrial wind turbine development in Central Ontario where she lives near Norwood.
There were other concerned citizens from the Clarington, Pontypool and Millbrook areas, where wind farms are also being pursued under the rules set by the Ontario's Green Energy Act . The resulting green power will be subsidized in the form of a high per kilowatt hour "feed in" rate into the Hydro One electrical grid over the term of a 20-year contract for proponents who meet all the government-imposed criteria.
The government policy is to increase green energy and bring manufacturing jobs to Ontario as it imposes increasing Ontario content rules on the infrastructure installed for wind, solar and other energy-producing alternatives.
OPP Sgt. Jeff Lavalley, who identified himself as head of the OPP Aboriginal Policing Bureau, said officers were there to "be informed about what's going on" in relationship to the series of meetings in the area about different proposed wind farms. While not in uniform, he stressed they were not "plain-clothed" police officers.
"There have been incidents at other venues," he said. These "incidents" included intimidation and threats, particularly at the Millbrook wind turbine meeting, the Sgt. added.
Among those groups being consulted as part of the approvals process to install turbines under the Ontario Green Energy Act are First Nation peoples, said wind turbine company spokesperson Larissa Murray in an interview. There was one man escorting her everywhere she went in the Alnwick Civic Centre during the meeting.
Murray identified herself as vice president of Tantenco LLC of Delaware whose parent company is in Germany where she has lived for a number of years before beginning her career in the wind power business. Tantenco and Sunbeam LLC of the U.S. each have 50% ownership of Clean Breeze Wind Park LP (Limited Partnership), identified as the proponent for the development that was subject of Friday night's meeting. The two U.S. firms are the financial backers, she also said.
If local ownership can be increased to a minimum of 50% in the windpark, the payback on power produced through the Ontario government backed plan will rise to 14.5 cents per killowatt hour from 13.5, she said. Local investors will be sought in the future, Murray said. Studies are being conducted ranging from noise and wind assessments to the proximity to wetlands, woodlands and residences, she said. This information will be made public at least 60 days before the second public meeting, Murray added.
If there is no lease with a landholder, however "I can't put up a turbine," she said.
The local project area is bordered by County Road 22 on the north, County Road 23 on the west, just east of County Road 45 on the east, and south along Norble Road and Scots Line. A FITT contract for up to 10 megawatts of power production would be met by up to five turbines and cost about $20 million to put in the ground and wire into the grid, Murray said.
Energy Farming Ontario is a consulting firm on the local project and "some of its staff own equity" in Clean Breeze Wind Park, Murray explained. M.K. Ince & Associates Ltd. is the consulting firm overseeing the studies that are underway, holding the required public meetings and undertaking the renewable energy approvals process, she said.
A common factor in all of the 10 proposed wind turbine farms in Ontario is that M.K. Ince & Associates is undertaking the approvals process confirmed local project manager for the firm, Andrea McDowell. Half of those are in Central Ontario.
The field work for Clean Breeze Wind Park has been completed, said M.K. Ince & Associates spokesperson Jane Zednik but not all the studies. She said that they would be completed and made public in time for the second required public meeting which she expected to be held April, 2011. They will be available on the web site energyfarmingontario. com and at public libraries, Zednik said.
At this stage in the process the design has not be completed, where the lines will be buried or on poles, the location of the turbines, access roads, etc., Zednik said. One company representative said there would be a total of five turbines and another said that wasn't decided yet.
Morely Nelson has already told Northumberland Today that he has an agreement with Clean Wind Park to allow the company to put up wind turbines on his property, and that of his brother Ken. He said he lives on the property and has done his own research at other wind farms and is satisfied with what he found.
The Alliance for the Protection of the Northumberland Hills, however, is not of the same mindset.
They have warned potential landowners contemplating entering into long-term leases for wind turbines that there are downsides. They have issued newsletters and visited their neighbours. At the meeting they distributed a bulletin entitled: "What you should know about wind turbines."
The document stated that property values could be devalued by "at least 25%" and that those selling properties could wait twice as long to find a buyer if their land is in the vicinity of wind turbines.
"Concerns over noise, health affects, value loss and destruction of rural views stigmatize areas, chasing away buyers," the Alliance's statement warns.
Property reassessments are supporting this claim and it cites an appeal board decision in Amaranth Township where the assessment was cut in half by an appeal board.
Alliance member Tyne Bonebakker lives within the study area of the proposed local windfarm and he says the provincially mandated 550 meter setback from wind turbines is inadequate.
Another person who would be directly affected if the project went ahead is Denise Little who told Murray she is concerned that her retirement home will be ruined because of the project. In an interview Little said she is the type of person who gets migraines and will likely be susceptible to the ill affects that other people say they have suffered by living close to wind turbines.
These include a low-frequency noise and shadow flicker, to a strobe effect, according to the Alliance's bulletin. It claims nausea and dizziness as side effects.
"Our group is one of more than 40 citizens' groups throughout Ontario. More than 60 municipalities in Ontario have challenged the Green Energy Act and are asking for a halt to industrial wind turbine developments," the bulletin also states. The group believes more health studies need to be undertaken and that what has been done so far is inadequate.
Opposition is world wide, the anti-wind turbine group's literature also stresses.
But Murray says she has grown up with wind turbines and isn't negatively impacted by them. Europe has had them for over 30 years, she said.
Alnwick/Halidmand Mayor Elect Dalton McDonald says he lives next door to the proposed site and neither he nor his wife have concerns, even though he believes they'll be able to see them when they take walks on their property.
He noted, however, that the Green Energy Act passed by the provincial government takes away any regulating power from municipal governments.
"I can have no more impact (on any decisions) than anyone else," McDonald said.
PUBLIC SOULD GET ANSWERS ON WIND FARM
Secrecy swirling around the sudden disruption in construction of Herkimer County’s first wind farm should outrage residents in Fairfield and Norway, and they should be demanding clear answers from town leaders.
Iberdrola Renewables halted turbine construction earlier Nov. 12 to perform more tests after it discovered concrete used in the some of the foundations was weak and did not meet company standards. Work resumed Nov. 19 after some tests were completed and, Iberdrola says, foundations now meet or exceed its standards. Further results are pending.
But little is known about what happened, how it was corrected and whether it could happen again.
• Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman would only respond to O-D inquiries by e-mail. He declined to release the names of the project’s contractors or discuss whether all current contractors would remain on the project.
• The project is small by standards set that require state oversight. The state Public Service Commission regulates wind energy projects of 80 megawatts. The Hardscrabble project falls just six megawatts shy of that. That puts regulation in the hands of local officials, PSC spokesman Jim Denn says.
• Town supervisors won’t talk. Neither Fairfield town Supervisor Richard Souza nor Norway town Supervisor Judy Gokey returned phone calls. Meanwhile, Stephanie Vetter, an environmental engineer assigned to the project, would not comment on the recent problems. She directed questions to town officials.
This is unacceptable. The Hardscrabble Wind Farm is slated to place 37 turbines in Fairfield and Norway. If the project fell within the parameters of state law, the state would have the authority to step in and conduct an investigation. But since oversight of smaller projects rests with the locality, the onus is on local officials to provide answers.
If Norway and Fairfield leaders know details of the incident and how it has been corrected to assure the public safety, they need to be upfront with that information. If they aren’t aware of what happened, they need to demand a full accounting from Iberdrola and then share that information with town residents.
We often complain about lack of autonomy and overregulation by big government, but when localities are given that responsibility and officials fail to carry out their duties or stay mum, the public is shortchanged. Don’t let that happen here. Ask questions and demand answers.
By Kate Golden | November 28, 2010
Last December, when Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced $14.5 million in federal stimulus funds for energy-efficiency projects involving nine companies, he called it “a tremendous opportunity to be one of the greenest manufacturing states in the country.”
What Doyle did not mention was that ethanol producer Didion Milling Inc., which got $5.6 million and the largest share, is one of Wisconsin’s most chronic air and water polluters— a firm designated by the federal government as a “high priority violator.”
Less than a month before Doyle’s announcement, a federal judge ruled that Didion — headquartered in Johnson Creek, Wis. — had violated the federal Clean Water Act numerous times in 2008 and 2009. Among the violations: use of excessive amounts of chlorine and other chemicals, and the discharge of a murky yellow liquid with solids down a company wastewater pipe into a tributary of a fishing lake. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by residents who lived near the company’s Cambria, Wis., plant, about 45 miles northeast of Madison, the state capital in central Wisconsin.
The company also settled a state lawsuit in April by agreeing to pay $1.05 million for 23 air and water claims that stretched from 1999 to 2010 — a move that effectively ended three federal lawsuits filed by residents living near the plant.
Documents obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism under open records laws show that officials evaluating Didion’s application for a U.S. Energy Department stimulus grant did not ask about — and Didion didn’t disclose — details of its environmental compliance record.
And once it won the grant, Didion’s project was exempted from having to conduct an analysis of its environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act — just like 99 percent of the $33 billion in stimulus projects funded by the Energy Department, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization in Washington and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit based in Madison.
Doyle’s office did not respond to e-mail and phone messages seeking response.
Didion’s vice president of operations, Dale Drachenberg, declined to address questions about the company’s environmental record or the process that led to the grant. Instead, he issued a statement touting the job-creation and clean energy benefits of the stimulus-funded project.
“Since the day we started construction on our ethanol production facility, we’ve made innovation and conservation top priorities,” Drachenberg said.
On its website and in statements, Didion has cast itself as an eco-friendly company. It was one of 50 companies that in August won a grant from the state Department of Commerce’s Wisconsin Profitable Sustainability Initiative to examine and reduce its waste streams. And in September, the company hosted a Green Energy Expo at the Cambria plant, where people could learn about recycling, energy conservation and the future of alternative fuels.
To Karen Dettman, who lives across the street from Didion and has lived with its spills, smells, noise, traffic, and murky discharges, the company’s federal grant is “green energy at any cost.”
Environmental advocates in Wisconsin also believe federal and state regulators should have taken companies’ environmental into account before awarding stimulus grants or NEPA exemptions.
“You’d think it would be a normal part of the check, whether they’re in compliance with environmental laws. That’s a phone call or two at the most,” said George Meyer, a former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secretary who is now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization.
Consultants working for the state’s Focus on Energy program acknowledged they recommended Didion’s plant-expansion proposal for a grant without considering the company’s past environmental problems.
Focus on Energy, established by the Wisconsin Legislature to encourage renewable energy and energy efficiency, worked through a private contractor, CleanTech Partners of Middleton, Wis. Focus on Energy solicited applications from Wisconsin industries for federal energy efficiency stimulus grants. CleanTech picked nine, bundled them up and sent them off to the Energy Department.
CleanTech got about 25 applications — from paper companies, a lawnmower engine manufacturer and others — and winnowed the field using American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and Energy Department criteria: whether the project would preserve or create domestic jobs, how the project would be managed, how much it would cost and the potential energy savings.
Didion proposed to install a host of new technologies at its Cambria plant that would produce more ethanol from corn with less energy usage, thus allowing the company to expand production. The new technology would also extract a new product in the process, corn oil, to get more value out of the corn.
The Energy Department grant money, matched by Didion’s utility, Alliant Energy, would help the project pay for itself in 3.9 years, according to Didion’s application. It would save 11 million kilowatt-hours of energy — enough to power 828 homes for a year.
Past pollution never came up, said Thomas Reitter, a consultant for CleanTech, who worked on the applications for Focus on Energy. The only environmental issue he addressed was to make sure companies fully filled out DOE’s boilerplate environmental questionnaire. “It’s DOE’s evaluation,” he said.
The questionnaire is designed to help the Energy Department decide whether a project should trigger a detailed environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Such reviews can take months or even years to complete.
The form asked questions including what permits would be required, how solid waste would be hauled and what emissions would result. But nothing in the 12-page form asks firms about their compliance history.
And Didion did not offer much information in response to several of the queries.
“Describe any issues that would generate public controversy regarding the project,” the form says.
Didion checked “None.”
“Summarize the significant impacts that would result from the proposed project,” the last question on the form states, asking for details.
Didion left that one blank.
If federal officials who approved the stimulus grant had examined Didion’s record, they would have found a lengthy list of violations.
Aside from the 2009 Clean Water Act lawsuit, a second group of residents sued Didion last year under the federal Clean Air Act for years of air violations that the state had documented — but for which it had never punished the company.
Those and many other violations dated back to 1999. Among them: Didion built 15 grain silos, three mills, and a grain dryer without applying for the required air pollution permit. The company exceeded emission limits and ran a grain dryer outside permitted times. And it falsely claimed on a permit application that it was complying with the law, according to court records.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database shows Didion has received 11 notices of violation in the past five years — one of the most among all Wisconsin companies. The notices signify that state regulators believe they have solid evidence the company has broken the law, and they are the first step toward punishing the company with a formal enforcement action.
“It’s highly unusual for us to have a source that we’ve sent this many notices of violation to,” said Tom Roushar, DNR air management program supervisor for the region. “Usually if we send one, the source corrects it, and we don’t have to repeat it.”
In late 2009, while the governor was trumpeting the grant for Didion, the state Department of Justice was taking the company to task. Assistant Attorney General Steven Tinker alleged in a letter before it sued Didion that the company had racked up thousands of air permit violation-days, a measure of the number of days that each violation continued, though the total number was never counted in the Columbia County Circuit Court case that followed.
In March, the state sued Didion, and the two parties reached a settlement in April: The company would pay $1.05 million for 23 air and water claims from 1999 to 2010 and folded in the violations from three citizen lawsuits. The settlement in state court effectively rendered the federal lawsuits moot.
Residents in Cambria, a village of 746 people in south central Wisconsin, are divided over whether the plant is good for the community. At a county planning and zoning meeting earlier this year, Didion’s expansion plans were approved unanimously.
Joelle DeBoer, a Didion employee, said her company has been a good neighbor by supporting local charities and providing local jobs. She wrote a letter supporting the expansion plans.
“I believe it’s really going to help Cambria’s community, just because we’ll be bringing more jobs to the community,” DeBoer said.
Other residents said they were infuriated by the state and federal governments’ lack of attention to companies’ environmental record.
“It’s crazy not to consider their background and their history,” said John Mueller, a Cambria resident who lives a half-mile from Didion’s mills, and is co-founder of Cambrians for Thoughtful Development. The group sued the company twice for violations that were later included in the state’s settlement.
“We know they’re not trustworthy,” he said.
Editor’s note: Christa Westerberg, a Madison attorney who provides pro bono legal services to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, has represented Cambrians for Thoughtful Development, a citizens group, in two federal environmental lawsuits against Didion Milling Inc. Westerberg provided the Center with information about the suits that has been independently verified. She did not provide the Center with legal services or participate in the writing or editing of this report.
Note from the BPWI Research Nerd: The story below outlines a problem that comes with wind development everywhere, including Wisconsin, where wind projects have been approved and permitted by members of local government who stood to gain financially from the project or had family members who would.
Although some members of the Wind Siting Council saw the conflict of interest issue as a problem that should be directly addressed in the wind siting rules, the majority of the council-- most of whom happen to have a direct or indirect financial interest in the outcome of the rules-- decided against including it.
Records show area officials profit
from leases with turbine firms
SOURCE: Observer-Dispatch, www.uticaod.com
By JENNIFER BOGDAN,
Twelve public officials who sat on county and town boards in Lewis County stand to make a combined $7.5 million from the region’s largest wind-turbine project, government disclosure forms show.
And numerous other officials in Herkimer County stand to profit as well from new projects there, although not to the same extent, records show.
The lease arrangements have raised questions among local residents and good-government experts about potential conflicts of interest as wind-turbine farms are approved.
One person who feels that way is Gordon Yancey of the town of Lowville, who used to have a clear view of the Adirondacks stretching as far as the eye could see from his property on the edge of the Tug Hill plateau.
But in 2006, the sprawling Lewis County landscape became home to the Maple Ridge wind farm – a group of 195 wind turbines towering 400 feet high over the once undeveloped landscape in Lowville, Martinsburg and Harrisburg. Those communities are located along state Route 12 about one hour north of Utica.
Now, Yancey said all he sees are the massive white towers obstructing his view. He blames lease agreements between wind developers and public officials, one of whom is his brother, Edward Yancey, who sat on the Harrisburg Zoning Board of Appeals.
Edward Yancey stands to benefit to the tune of up to $1 million over the lifetime of the agreement, according to disclosure forms filed with the state by Iberdrola Renewables and Horizon Wind Energy, which co-own the project.
“They made their sweetheart, backdoor deals long before anything was made public,” Gordon Yancey said. “Of course, the boards pushed everything through.”
Edward Yancey could not be reached.
Disclose or face fine
A 2008 mandate from the state Attorney General’s Office requires wind companies to disclose the nature and scope of any municipal officer’s financial interest in a wind project or risk facing fines of as much as $100,000.
No companies have been penalized to date, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
“In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, we publically disclose any relationship with a municipal officer or their relative,” Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said.
Lise Bang-Jensen, senior policy analyst for the Empire Center for New York State Policy, said any move towards increased government transparency is admirable, but making sense of conflicts is more complex than writing them down.
“If you have a role on both sides of a project, that’s a clear conflict of interest,” Bang-Jensen said. “Putting it on a piece of paper and disclosing it, doesn’t make it legal.”
Many of the officials listed on the disclosure forms – including Harrisburg Town Supervisor Stephen Bernet, who stands to make $1 million – did not return calls last week.
One of those listed on the disclosure forms is Roger Grace, a Planning Board member in Pinckney. Maple Ridge wind farm spreads across Lowville, Harrisburg and Martinsburg, but Grace, who stands to make as much as $20,000 from the project, still is required to disclose his role in a neighboring town.
He said his role isn’t a concern, and he believes those involved have acted appropriately.
“I think everyone’s done a phenomenal job,” Grace said. “It’s always a battle, though. People that got money love them, and people that didn’t get money hate them. That’s all.”
‘Not acting objectively’
The issue of lease agreements between public officials and wind developers is burgeoning in Herkimer County, where the Hardscrabble wind farm is slowly rising.
The Herkimer County towns of Fairfield and Norway will soon be home to 37 turbines – seven of which are already standing.
In that project, five officials stand to make as much as $85,000 from the turbines that are expected to be up and running by the end of the year.
“For any municipal officers or their relatives with whom we have a relationship, we specifically request that the officers recuse themselves from a decision or vote that would in any way affect the development of a project or affect how the municipality treats wind power,” said Copleman, the Iberdrola spokesman.
Yet six years ago, when the Hardscrabble project was nothing more than a vague concept, questions arose as to why Fairfield Planning Board member Harold Robinson was voting on wind issues while he had an agreement with the wind company aiming to come to town, according to O-D archives.
“The Town Board is not acting objectively,” Fairfield Planning Board Chairman Peter Fishbein complained in 2004. “The board needs to acknowledge there are people who are worried about this and at least hear their concerns.”
Robinson, who stands to make as much as $20,000 from a lease agreement, did not return calls last week.
‘Won’t like the looks of things’
Other wind projects are brewing across the Mohawk Valley, including a plan from NorthWind and Power to build a farm of eight to 12 turbines on Dry Hill in Litchfield.
In that development, some residents have questioned the role played in the process by Litchfield Supervisor Wayne Casler, He is a regional controller at Barrett Paving Materials, which owns more than 100 acres of land on the southern end of Dry Hill.
Wind developers have said the paving company’s land won’t be considered, but the company could be chosen to supply materials for the project if it’s approved.
From time to time in Lowville, Gordon Yancey hears rumblings of other wind farm in the works – like the one in Litchfield.
Each time, he said, he thinks back to the days before his business was surrounded by turbines. Oftentimes, the curious come knocking on his door to ask what his experience was like years before.
“What I tell people is ‘Educate yourselves because you can’t trust where anywhere else is coming from,’” Yancey said. “Ask every question you can. And when you do, you won’t like the looks of things either.”
What should you know before you lease your land to a wind developer?
You should know you must consult an independent lawyer BEFORE YOU SIGN. You will need someone who can tell you how the contract says the lease holder can use your land before, during and after construction.
This picture shows the construction of a wind turbine project in Kansas.
Let's look closer.....
You should know how much of your land will be used during the construction phase and for how long, if you have any say at all in where the turbines will be sited, where the cables will be laid, and where the access roads will go. Only an independent lawyer can tell you what the contract says about this.
You should know that contracts may give the lease holder the right to go over, under, upon, along, and across your land, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the next 20 to 30 years. You should know what your rights are if changes, disputes or problems arise, and by what means problems may be resolved. An independent lawyer can tell you this.
You should know that most lease agreements will be legally binding not just to you, but to your kids, any heirs, any future buyers, successors, executors, or assignees of any kind. You should know that most lease agreements require that ANYONE who owns the land after you or wishes to buy the land from you, will be also legally bound by the terms of this contract. Only an independent lawyer can tell you exactly what this means to the future of your property.
8/22/10 What to expect when you're expecting wind farm construction AND what do wind tubines sound like?
WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?
Click on the image below to hear the noise from a wind turbine 1100 feet from a home in the Invenergy Forward wind project in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. Because of the noise, this home is now for sale.