Entries in wind power (141)
1/12/12 What happens when members of town government are in bed with wind developers? AND What happens when the left arm doesn't know where the right arm went?
WISCONSIN TOWN COUNCIL PLACES PRIOR RESTRAINT ON POLITICAL SPEECH
Via The New American
By Joe Wolverton II
January 9, 2012
According to the latest census, there are fewer than 2,000 people living in Morrison, Wisconsin. There are at least 10 times that many cows.
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: What was the real reason Invenergy backed out of the project?There is was no 'regulatory uncertainty' for Invenergy when it came to this project because it was over 100 megawatts.When a project is that big it's the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) not local government that has approval. The PSC has never yet met a wind project it didn't like and has said yes to all who have applied.Word has it that the real reason Invenergy pulled out was because they were unable to to find a utility that would agree to purchase the power or the project.
By Laura Carpenter
Via The Newport Daily Express, newportvermontdailyexpress.com
January 11, 2012
“Mitigation, metaphorically, is a bit like a surgeon cutting off your right arm but assuring you that he or she will see to it your left arm remains protected for the rest of your life. Your right arm, meanwhile, is still gone. Yes, GMP has secured conservation easements from a few area landowners by paying them a ton of money and arranging creative land swaps. The moose, deer, bear, bobcat, grouse, fisher, et al, were apparently not consulted. Such action does not assure existing habitat connectivity or cushion the overall effects of fragmentation of what was an intact montane ecosystem. The right arm is still missing, lost in the clear-cutting and blasting,”
LOWELL, VT – Work on Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) controversial Lowell Mountain wind turbine project will continue through the winter, although some of the activity will subside and pick up again in the spring. The lack of snowfall has allowed for some of the construction work to continue further than expected.
Road building, blasting and excavation continue along the ridgeline, according to Dorothy (Dotty) Schnure with GMP. Concrete foundation work began this week on the collector substation, which is located halfway up the access road on Lowell Mountain. Construction of the collector substation on the mountain will continue. In addition crews are preparing to set poles for the overhead collector line, which will carry power from the underground electric lines on the ridge to the substation.
The project involves the construction of 21 industrial size turbines and upgrades to the Vermont Electric Cooperative transmission system between Jay and Lowell.
GMP has all necessary pre-construction permits and has met all required pre-construction conditions placed on it by state regulators.
One of the requirements set by the Public Service Board (PSB) was to obtain easements of “adequate size and location” to address fragmentation of habitat caused by the project. The wind project impacts 159 acres on the Lowell Mountains. In late December, the PSB approved GMP’s proposal to conserve approximately 1,600 acres of wildlife habitat in Eden.
“The conserved land provides for important habitat to offset the overall project effects and provides connectivity to other conserved lands. This level of mitigation is unprecedented in Vermont,” said Mary Powell, President and CEO of GMP in a written statement.
In addition to the two parcels just approved for conservation in Eden, GMP has also conserved approximately 1,070 acres on Lowell Mountain. Of these acres, 778 acres will be conserved in perpetuity (forever) and another 292 acres will be conserved for the life of project plus 25 years.
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources attorney Jon Groveman, in a letter filed with the PSB, said the conserved land on either side of East Hill Road helps maintain the ecological and landscape connectivity that currently exists between the Lowell Mountain Habitat block and the Green River Reservoir habitat block.
But not everyone agrees that the easements make up for the loss, including Steve Wright of Craftsbury, a former Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.
“Mitigation, metaphorically, is a bit like a surgeon cutting off your right arm but assuring you that he or she will see to it your left arm remains protected for the rest of your life. Your right arm, meanwhile, is still gone. Yes, GMP has secured conservation easements from a few area landowners by paying them a ton of money and arranging creative land swaps. The moose, deer, bear, bobcat, grouse, fisher, et al, were apparently not consulted. Such action does not assure existing habitat connectivity or cushion the overall effects of fragmentation of what was an intact montane ecosystem. The right arm is still missing, lost in the clear-cutting and blasting,” Wright said.
Still under dispute is a section of land where the crane path for the wind project is built. Shirley and Don Nelson, adjacent property owners, say the land is really theirs. But Trip Wileman, the property owner leasing to GMP, says it is his. The issue is in court but has not been decided.
“It is unconscionable that Judge Maley continues to hold that case while GMP destroys what is likely to be ruled the Nelson property. Actually, I guess GMP has already destroyed it, so maybe it’s only an issue of determining a compensatory value,” Wright said.
WIND POWER: IS IT WORTH IT?
By Mark Morgan
Via West Virginia Highlands Voice, wvhighlands.org
January 10 2012
The heavily funded and admittedly effective US industrial wind lobby portrays its product as descending from old-world windmills. Close your eyes and you’ll surely imagine these magnificent machines gently turning in the breeze . each kilowatt arriving at your reading lamp courtesy of a rosy -cheeked Hummel child. Existing solely to save the planet by generating clean, affordable and environmentally friendly electricity, you can be sure that any addition to the plant owner’s bank account is purely accidental.
Hogwash! In reality, the US industrial wind business traces its roots to Ken Lay and Enron with profit as its core goal. As Gabriel Alonso, chief executive of Horizon Wind Energy LLC – one of America’s biggest wind developers, often reminds his employees . their goal isn’t to stage a renewable-energy revolution … “This is about making money!” (1)
I was not always this cynical. I wanted to believe that industrial wind would replace fossil fueled power plants and, until two years ago, defended its arrival here. Like many West Virginians, I wanted the destruction of our mountains by those who profit from the blue diamond stopped . NOW! I believed industrial wind offered the best opportunity to accomplish that goal and, even recognizing industrial wind also consumes our forest lands, it seemed an excellent alternative to the coal industry’s horribly destructive mountaintop removal mining process.
Sadly, once the layers of “woulds, coulds and shoulds” were peeled back, I found industrial wind failed to keep its environmental promises. Save the canned boilerplate responses to criticisms, the wind industry offered nothing conclusive to demonstrate it would significantly reduce emissions or close fossil fueled plants. There is no conclusive evidence that one coal plant has been closed as a direct result of the installation of tens of thousands of wind turbines. Not one! I’ve asked advocates to name one facility. Answer . zippo!
I fully expect advocates to point to many studies which validate their “woulds and shoulds.” But the studies they point to carry their own fair share of “woulds and shoulds” as well. We’re even asked to disregard the increased emissions generated by fossil fueled plants as they inefficiently try to compensate for wind’s constant variability and accept that, on their word alone, when the wind is blowing, a coal plant, somewhere, is not running. That’s equivalent to some self-appointed Giraffe Control Officer bragging that not one has been spotted in Charleston during his watch.
Consider this measure instead. US industrial wind capacity at the end of 2010 exceeded 40,000 MW (2). The US has some 490 coal power plants with an average size of 667 MW (3). A direct one to one trade would have closed some 60 coal plants. Again . name one!
Bringing this closer to home . Edison Mission Energy is heavily invested in Appalachian coal fired power plants even as it grows its Appalachian wind plants. Can we expect Edison to replace its fossil plants as it opens wind plants with equivalent MW capacity? Will any of the major players holding significant interest in both fossil fueled plants and wind plants make this commitment? I suggest they will not, as long as there is profit to be made from each.
The sad truth is that industrial wind does not replace fossil fueled electricity generators. It does not reduce emissions. It does not provide affordable, on demand electricity. The relatively miniscule amount of electricity generated typically arrives when it’s not needed and cannot effectively be stored. Industrial wind, true to Ken Lay’s intent, is a profit center founded on favorable legislation, mandated renewable energy goals and funded by taxpayer subsidies.
I did not come to the “dark side” willingly. At the suggestion of a friend, I attended a presentation on industrial wind at which the speaker systematically destroyed any notion that industrial wind has earned a seat at the US energy table. Expecting yet another NIMBY rant, the presenter instead based his case that industrial wind is a failed technology on science alone. There was little mention of view-shed, bat/bird kills, noise or health issues, all of which I’ve since learned are serious issues in their own right. The presenter focused primarily on the poor performance and high cost of industrial wind and the fact that they could never replace current generators, my main reason for initially supporting industrial wind.
Knowing that the two key representatives of our proposed wind plant were introduced as being in the audience, I could hardly wait for the question and answer session. This was going to be a knock down for the ages! Just wait until they set this clown straight!
Then, the presenter wrapped up and said the magic words I’d been waiting for . Any Questions? My gladiators stood up and walked out! Not a word! No defense! How could they let this brutal attack stand?
That was my turning point. Suspicion drove me to read any article I could find about industrial wind and the more I learned the more I disliked these monstrous contraptions which were scheduled to invade my Appalachian Mountains by the tens of thousands.
Before this event, I was willing, like many of my friends, to sacrifice a mountain view, some bats and birds and even the hard earned tax dollars these wind folks would pick from my pocket if it meant the greater good would be served. What I learned, however, lead me to the conclusion that there is no trade.
- Coal plants will continue to exist at pre-wind levels and the mines will remain open in order to supply them.
- Emissions will not be reduced as a result of industrial wind. When asked if wind power was reducing carbon emissions, Deb Malin, a Bonneville Power Authority Representative, answered, “No. They are, in fact, creating emissions.” (4)
- Not only will the surface destruction brought about by mountain top removal mining not be reduced as a result of wind plants, industrial wind will bring destruction well above the ground in areas not previously impacted by mountain top removal. (5)
- The cumulative impact of long stretches of deadly 450 foot tall whirlybirds along our fragile mountain ridges will set a deadly gauntlet for many migratory species with no real benefit to show for the sacrifice.
- The arguably unnecessary remote wind installations require long runs of forest fragmenting high power lines required to bring the occasional electricity generated to a point of use.
- My picked pocket only serves to benefit the wind developers.
I cannot abide the suggestion that we must sacrifice our environment in order to save it. This is an absurd argument enabling this energy imposter’s invasion of delicate habitat with little return. Sacrifice is, after all, a forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim. Environmentalists must consider the possibility that industrial wind, by its failure to perform to stated goals, does not then qualify for this sacred consideration.
My comments here are my own. I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Allegheny Highlands Alliance (6), but do not speak for the organization in this commentary. I serve as editor of the Allegheny Treasures blog (7), an amateur site intended not to answer questions, but instead to stimulate discussion of industrial wind among readers, as I hope to do in this piece.
I arrived at my opinions after all consideration to the argument presented by the AWEA and other industrial wind support groups. I’ll be the first to admit I could be wrong, as I was when I supported industrial wind just two years ago. If a persuasive argument can be made to sway me back, I assure you I’ll happily move. But I should warn you, the argument must begin with a list of coal plant closings and not easily manipulated speculative “data.” Empty promises will not justify consuming even one more square inch of Appalachian forest.
Oh, before I’m criticized on the property rights issue . I firmly believe that you should be allowed to do anything you wish with your property as long as it brings no harm to others. But whatever you choose, don’t ask me to underwrite your adventure with my tax money in the form of subsidies, grants, or any other considerations from which you profit.
I should note that I am not insulted at the NIMBY (Not in my back yard) moniker the wind advocates apply to me. I would take it one step further and suggest they call me a NOPE (Not on planet Earth)! I believe we are all responsible for our environment and must challenge every intrusion. We cannot accept, without question, the possibility that what has been portrayed a solution may, in fact, create additional ills, no matter how much we want to believe.
We should do all possible to move this country away from fossil fuels. Choosing an alternative with no proven track record in accomplishing this effort, especially one with industrial wind’s potential for serious environmental destruction, is simply not an acceptable choice.
Editor’s note: Mr. Morgan lives in Keyser, WV. In his cover letter offering this commentary he says, “It is my hope the piece will stimulate further discussion on the very important and timely topic of industrial wind in the Appalachians.”
1/9/12 Sticks and Stones: Ask hard questions about wind turbines and CO2, get called an 'anti-wind crank'
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD:
Who are the 'anti-wind cranks'?
The organization mentioned in the following article, Civitas: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society was founded by David G. Green and Robert Whelan early in 2000 as an independent think tank. It is a British registered charity (No. 1085494), financed by private donations. It receives no government funding and has no affiliations with any political party. The think tank describes itself as "classical liberal" and "non-partisan". [From Wikipedia]
WIND POWER IS EXPENSIVE AND INEFFECTIVE AT CUTTING CO2 SAYS CIVITAS
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent,
Via The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk
January 9, 2012
Wind power could actually produce more CO2 than gas and increase domestic fuel bills because of the need for “back up” power stations, a think tank has warned.
A study in the Netherlands found that turning back-up gas power stations on and off to cover spells when there is little wind actually produces more carbon than a steady supply of energy from an efficient modern gas station.
The research is cited in a new report by the Civitas think tank which warns that Britain is in danger of producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) than necessary if the grid relies too much on wind.
Wind turbines only produce energy around 30 per cent of the time. When the wind is not blowing – or even blowing too fast as in the recent storms – other sources of electricity have to be used, mostly gas and coal.
However it takes a surge of electricity to power up the fossil fuel stations every time they are needed, meaning more carbon emissions are released.
“You keep having to switch these gas fired power stations on and off, whereas if you just have highly efficient modern gas turbines and let it run all the time, it will use less gas,” said Ruth Lea, an economic adviser to Arbuthnot Banking Group and the author of the Civitas report.
“If you use less gas in a highly efficient gas turbine you use less carbon dioxide than having wind backed up by gas.”
The Dutch report, published at the end of last year by retired physicist Dr C le Pair, also points to the carbon emissions produced in building wind farms, that last a relatively short period of time compared to conventional power stations.
It concludes: “The wind projects do not fulfill ‘sustainable’ objectives. They cost more fuel than they save and they cause no CO2 saving, in the contrary they increase our environmental ‘foot print’.”
The UK Government want to build up to 32,000 wind turbines over the next 20 years, of which at least 6,000 could be onshore.
The report also found that wind is “horrendously expensive”, especially offshore wind, because of the cost of taking the turbines out to sea and installing the structures.
The fact that the power source always has to be backed up by fossil fuel stations also increases the cost.
Civitas cite official Government figures that warn green policies will add up to £400 to electricity bills over the next two decades.
The report concludes: “The most cost-effective technologies are nuclear and gas-fired. Onshore, and especially offshore, wind technologies are inordinately expensive.”
But Dr Gordon Edge, Director of policy at the lobby group RenewableUK, said much of the information was gathered from “anti-wind farm cranks”.
He explained that modern gas plants are not required to provide back-up for wind. Instead, wind is “integrated” into the existing system to act as a fuel saver, enabling the UK harness a free electricity source from the weather when it’s available. Some additional investment is required, but Dr Edge said “credible analysis” makes clear it will cost less for consumers than relying on fossil fuels, that are rising in price all the time.
“It is surprising that a think tank such as Civitas has published a report based on the work of anti-wind cranks, repeating the same discredited assertions. The UK’s energy policy over the next ten years will play a critical part in our economic success – offshore wind in particular has the potential to revitalise our manufacturing sector, with the promise of over 70,000 jobs,” he said. “This report, based on outdated and inaccurate information, does nothing to advance the debate.”
Video of a home in an Ontario wind project
WIND HISTORIAN AND BOOSTER URGES REMOTE LOCATIONS FOR NEW WIND TURBINES
Book review by Jim Cummings, Acoustic Ecology Institute
January 2, 2011
On the question of noise, Righter is equally sensitive and adamant, stressing the need to set noise standards based on quiet night time conditions, “for a wind turbine should not be allowed to invade a home and rob residents of their peace of mind.”
He says, “When I first started studying the NIMBY response to turbines I was convinced that viewshed issues were at the heart of people’s response. Now I realize that the noise effects are more significant, particularly because residents to not anticipate such strong reactions until the turbines are up and running – by which time, of course, it is almost impossible to perform meaningful mitigation.”
A new book, Windfall: Wind Energy in America Today, by historian Robert Righter, was recently published by University of Oklahoma Press. Righter also wrote an earlier history of wind energy, published by UofO Press in 1996. In the intervening years, of course, the wind industry has blossomed from its initial mini-boom-and-bust in the California hills (Altamont, anyone?), with bigger turbines, larger government incentives, and growing commitment to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) for electric generation all leading Righter to feel that an update was in order.
As a hearty advocate of wind energy and continued rapid growth of the industry, Righter will startle many with his strong call for not building turbines “where they are not wanted.” He spends chunks of three chapters addressing the increasing problems caused by wind farm noise in rural communities, chides developers for not building farther from unwilling neighbors, and says that new development should be focused on the remote high plains, rather than more densely populated rural landscapes in the upper midwest and northeast. While not ruling out wind farms in the latter areas, he calls for far more sensitivity to the quality of life concerns of residents. (Ed. note: Righter’s book shares a title with, but should be clearly distinguished from, a recent documentary investigating local anti-wind backlash in a NY town.)
Righter seems to be especially sensitive to the fact that today’s turbines are huge mechanical intrusions on pastoral landscapes, a far cry from the windmills of earlier generations. At the same time, he suggests that a look back at earlier technological innovations (including transmission lines, oil pump jacks, and agricultural watering systems) suggests that most of us tend to become accustomed to new intrusions after a while, noting that outside of wilderness areas, “it is difficult to view a landscape devoid of a human imprint.”
He acknowledges the fact that impacts on a few can’t always outweigh the benefits for the many in generating electricity without burning carbon or generating nuclear waste, but goes on to ask:
No matter how admirable this is, should a few people pay the price for benefits to the many? Should rural regions lose the amenities and psychological comforts of living there to serve the city? Should metropolitan areas enjoy abundant electricity while rural people forfeit the very qualities that took them to the countryside in the first place? The macro-scale benefits of wind energy seldom impress local opponents, who have micro-scale concerns. The turbines’ benefits are hardly palpable to impacted residents, whereas the visual impact is a constant reminder of the loss of a cherished landscape.
Righter also takes a realistic stance about the fact that our appetite for electricity leads to inevitable conflicts wherever we might want to generate it. He says, “…wind turbines are ugly – but the public produced the problem and must now live with it. Turbine retribution is the price we must pay for a lavish electrical lifestyle.”
But unlike most wind boosters, he doesn’t content himself with this simple formulation. He goes on to stress that even as recently as 2000, most experts felt that technical hurdles would keep turbines from getting much bigger than they were then (500kW-1MW). The leaps that have taken place, with 3MW and larger turbines in new wind farms, startle even him: ”They do not impact a landscape as much as dominate it….Their size makes it practically impossible to suggest that wind turbines can blend technology with nature.” He joins one of his fellow participants in a cross-disciplinary symposium on NIMBY issues, stressing: ”Wind energy developers must realize the ‘important links among landscape, memory, and beauty in achieving a better quality of life.’ This concept is not always appreciated by wind developers, resulting in bitter feeling, often ultimately reaching the courts.”
He was obviously touched by the experience of Dale Rankin and several neighbors in Texas, who were affected by the 421-turbine Horse Hollow Wind Farm. Righter generally agrees with my experience there, that such wide open spaces seem the perfect place for generating lots of energy from the wind. But two of these hundreds of turbines changed Rankin’s life. These two sat between his house and some wooded hills, and Righter says that to him, “the turbines seemed inappropriate for this bucolic scene. For the Rankins the change is a sad story of landscape loss…” He asked whether the developer had talked with them before siting the turbines here, but they hadn’t, since the land belonged to a neighbor and local setback requirements were met, so “the utility company placed the turbines where its grid pattern determined they should be. Perhaps such a policy represents efficiency and good engineering, but (reflects) arrogance and poor public relations….(The developer) crushed Rankin with their lawyers when fairness and reason could have ameliorated the situation…the company could well have compromised on the siting of two turbines. But they did not.”
On the question of noise, Righter is equally sensitive and adamant, stressing the need to set noise standards based on quiet night time conditions, “for a wind turbine should not be allowed to invade a home and rob residents of their peace of mind.” He says, “When I first started studying the NIMBY response to turbines I was convinced that viewshed issues were at the heart of people’s response. Now i realize that the noise effects are more significant, particularly because residents to not anticipate such strong reactions until the turbines are up and running – by which time, of course, it is almost impossible to perform meaningful mitigation.”
While offering many nods to the constructive role of better public engagement early in the planning stages and making the case for societal needs sometimes outweighing those of a few neighbors, Righter also stresses:
While some objections to wind farms are clearly economically inspired and quite political in nature, no one can deny the legitimacy of many NIMBY responses. When the electrical power we want intrudes on the landscapes we love, there will be resistance, often passionate. This is part of the democratic process. The vocal minority, if indeed it is a minority, has a legitimate right to weigh the pros and cons of wind development in the crucible of public opinion, in public hearings, and if necessary in our court system.
As a bottom line, and despite his support for the industry and belief that we may learn to appreciate a landscape with more turbines, Righter calls strongly for new development to proceed in ways that minimize or eliminate intra-community conflict. Recounting one of many stories of a community torn apart by hard feelings between nearby neighbors (at the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in New York), he concludes:
Should the wind companies shoulder the blame? I believe they should. Good corporate citizens must identify potential problems and take action, and that action should precede final placement of the wind turbines….The most optimal ridge need not be developed at the expense of residents’ rights to the enjoyment of their property.
“In the final analysis,” writes Righter, “we can best address the NIMBY response by building wind turbines where they are wanted…and where they do not overlap with other land use options.” He elaborates:
Conversely, wind developers should give serious consideration to not insisting on raising turbines where they are not wanted…Unlike Europe, our nation has land. there are vast areas of the United States that have excellent wind resources and welcome the wind turbines….We can hope the industry will adopt the attitude of Bob Gates, a Clipper Wind Power vice president: “If people don’t want it, we’ll go someplace else.” Fortunately, the country can accommodate him.
Righter also stresses that current setbacks requirements encourage the building of wind farms in ways that almost inevitably cause heartbreaking problems for some neighbors. While at one point he makes the mistaken assumption that most setback limits are already a half mile or more, he addresses in some detail the findings of a 2007 report from the National Research Council’s Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects. Righter observes that scientific difficulties with subjectivity led the committee to “shy away from the most important subject,” the impacts on humans, including social impacts on community cohesion and psychological responses to controversial projects. But he’s pleased to note:
Yet they did address one key impact on human beings: the fact that those individuals and families who suffer negative visual or noise effects from the turbines live too close to them. This is not the fault of the homeowners, for in most cases the home was erected before the wind turbines arrived. Usually it is attributable to local government regulations, which often allow setbacks of only 1,000 feet. Significantly, in their study the NRC’s wind committeee observed that ‘the most significant impacts are likely to occur within 3 miles of the project, with impacts possible from sensitive viewing areas up to 8 miles from projects.’
One might expect that this would preclude setbacks of less than at least a mile. But the industry prefers setbacks measured in feet rather than miles.
Righter’s book also includes chapters addressing grid integration, government incentives, reliability, and smaller turbines. He repeatedly makes the case for more research and development into smaller, vertical axis turbines, which, even with their smaller outputs, could be far more acceptable in many locations where landscape disruption and noise issues are paramount. Anti-wind campaigners won’t find Righter to be very comfortable company, for he sees the technological and grid challenges as easily surmountable, and the government support and investment in the industry as both warranted and of proper scale. He also supports various efforts to achieve better community consensus, including making royalty payments to those not hosting turbines. Make no mistake, this is an avid supporter of the industry.
Indeed, his long history and his deep knowledge of wind energy make his final recommendations about siting all the more striking. Righter’s experience and stance has fueled my confidence that the path AEI has been pointing to for the past year or so is more than the pipe dream of a tiny non-advocacy nonprofit. Larger setbacks, to protect unwilling neighbors from quality of life upheavals, combined with easements obtained via royalty-sharing or annual payments to neighbors who don’t mind hearing turbines a bit more often, is a fair and promising path forward.
As Righter says in his conclusion:
The days of an oil patch mentality of greed and boom-bust cycles are about over. Most developers understand that it is in their best interest to operate openly and in good faith with the local community. More problematical is the question of landscape. Wind turbines placed in a pleasing agrucultural, scenic, or historic landscape evoke anger and despair. At the heart of the issue is visual blight. Residents do not want to look at the turbines and are willing to fight wind development. Their wishes should be respected.
Wind developers should take to heart geographer Martin Pasqualetti’s advice: “If developers are to cultivate the promise of wind power, they should not intrude on favored (or even conspicuous) landscapes, regardless of the technical temptations these spots may offer.” The nation is large. Wind turbines do not have to go up where they are not wanted. We can expand the grid and put them where they are welcome.
From The Waubra Foundation
12/24/11 UPDATED: Before you sign on with a wind developer: some legal advice AND Money doesn't always talk: More farmers saying no to wind developers
WINDS OF CHANGE: WIND LEASE CONSIDERATIONS
Beware of a wind developer who attempts to include unnecessarily long evaluation periods or free extensions, as such lessee may be attempting to stockpile potential wind sites, without any intent to develop and with the hope of assigning the leases to larger wind developers.
Colorado has become a leader in the wind energy industry. According to the American Wind Energy Association, our state is the third-highest wind energy generator in the United States. Farmers, ranchers, and other landowners should consider if their property is suitable for wind energy development and how such development could be integrated into the current uses of their land. Some major factors that impact the decision to enter into a wind lease are discussed in this article.
Power in Numbers
Owners of land in areas that are advantageous for wind farm development should consider joining forces. Increasing the acreage available for wind farm development will increase the landowners' leverage when negotiating with a wind developer. Landowners in high wind-speed areas may wish to collectively engage an environmental consultant to determine the suitability of their land for wind development.
Factors that may increase the value of the lease opportunities include proximity to transmission lines, local and state economic incentives, and the approval process of the local regulatory authority. Factors sometimes found in Colorado, which may decrease the suitability for wind development, include rocky or mountainous terrain and close proximity to federally protected lands. If neighbors join forces, in addition to enhancing their bargaining power, the evaluation costs can be spread among the collective group.
The Four Stages of Wind Development That Must Be Addressed in the Lease
Evaluation Stage – During this period, the wind developer studies the feasibility of the site for constructing wind turbines, evaluates environmental issues, determines the permitting process, and obtains the necessary financing. While the duration of this stage will vary, the landowner should attempt to limit this stage to a period that lasts no longer than three years. In addition, during this time the wind developer should be paying a guaranteed monthly or annual rent payment. Beware of a wind developer who attempts to include unnecessarily long evaluation periods or free extensions, as such lessee may be attempting to stockpile potential wind sites, without any intent to develop and with the hope of assigning the leases to larger wind developers.
Construction Stage – Assuming that the wind developer desires to proceed from the evaluation stage, the construction of the wind turbines will begin. The landowner should negotiate for a construction bonus that reflects the value of the site and also may be based on the number of turbines constructed. The wind developer should continue to pay the monthly or annual rent during this stage.
Operational Stage – Once the equipment has been installed, wind energy is produced and sold for profit to available markets. Generally, the landowner will receive a royalty or percentage of gross revenues received from the production of the wind energy. The landowner should negotiate the percentage of gross revenues that it receives to be increased every five or so years of the lease. While the percentage will vary from location to location, the landowner should be suspicious of any proposed royalty of 3 percent or less of gross revenues during the beginning period of the operational stage. Operations of the wind turbines can last anywhere from fifteen to fifty years.
Termination Stage – If the wind developer terminates the lease prior to even reaching the construction stage, the landowner should negotiate for a termination fee. Otherwise, the wind developer will have encumbered the landowner's property for the relatively low price of the monthly or annual rent, when the landowner could have been negotiating with another wind developer with the means to actually construct and operate the wind turbines. Assuming that the wind developer does complete the operation stage, the lease will provide for the wind developer to "decommission" the wind turbines. The landowner should receive some type of security, in the form of a bond or cash security deposit, to assure that the wind developer has an economic incentive to properly remove its equipment. The landowner should ensure that the wind developer removes its wind turbines and other equipment in an efficient manner, and leaves the land in a condition no worse than when the wind developer commenced construction.
Beware of the Landowners' Indemnifications
As with many legal agreements, parties often agree to mutually indemnify the other for any damage caused by their own acts or negligence. For example, if the wind developer breaks the farmer's fence or irrigation structures when installing its large equipment, the wind developer will fix and replace the damage; such repair or replacement costs could run into thousands of dollars. Conversely, imagine if the farmer's tractor runs into the wind turbine, which costs millions of dollars to replace. Such type of damage could force many farmers into bankruptcy. As a result, the landowner may wish to negotiate a maximum limit to its indemnification obligations, to account for the parties' potential economic risks.
Location of Wind Development, Reserved Uses, and Prohibited Uses
The landowner should expressly require the wind developer to refrain from development on or use of specific portions of the land if the circumstances dictate. For example, the landowner may prohibit the wind developer from operating within 500 feet of a residence or within 25 feet of either side of a river or a creek that runs through the property. Most importantly, the lease should expressly reserve to the landowner the right to use his or her property for other uses, such as grazing, hunting, fishing, mineral exploration, or solar energy. In addition, the landowner may desire to reasonably restrict the access rights of the wind developer so as not to disrupt the landowner's peaceful enjoyment.
Taxes and Utilities
Upon construction of the turbines, the value of the property will increase. As a result, the county assessor likely will increase the property taxes assessed to the property. In addition, the utility costs on the property to operate the turbines will rise dramatically. The landowner should ensure that these increased costs incurred by the wind developer are passed on to the wind developer.
As mentioned previously, some wind developers desire to obtain numerous wind leases without ever intending to construct or operate wind turbines. Instead, their hope is to assign these wind leases to larger wind developers. As advised above, landowners should work with their neighbors and join forces to cut out this type of middleman, and they should attempt to present their own attractive opportunity to a large wind developer. As another protection, the individual landowner also should restrict the ability to assign the lease. At a minimum, the landowner should have some type of "reasonableness" standard in being required to consent to such assignment to ensure that the assignee has the same economic capacity to both construct and operate the wind development.
The above are just some of the major factors that landowners should consider before entering into a lease with a wind developer. The wind lease may provide attractive economic security; however, given the long duration of these agreements, the landowners must ensure that their interests are protected. If you have any questions regarding wind-lease issues, please do not hesitate to contact Sam Arthur or Justin Boyd.
NO WELCOMING COMMITTEE FOR WIND FARMS: HAMILTON TOWNSIP AMONG COMMUNITIES IN OPPOSITION
BY DAVID GIULIANI,
December 23, 2011
“They wanted us to sign a 70-year contract,” Gonigam said. “That would affect my kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
WALNUT – Stacy Gonigam’s family decided against having wind turbines on their farm in southwestern Lee County.
Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power approached the family for its Green River wind farm, which is planned for Lee, Whiteside and Bureau counties.
Gonigam said she didn’t sign a contract with Mainstream because it would bind her family for a long time.
“They wanted us to sign a 70-year contract,” Gonigam said. “That would affect my kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Gonigam also is the supervisor for Hamilton Township, population 236.
During the past summer, the township board voted unanimously for a comprehensive plan that recommended against the construction of wind turbines.
The township is not alone in its opposition. In the spring, the village board in Whiteside County’s Deer Grove, population 48, voted unanimously to regulate turbines within 1.5 miles of its boundaries. That was in response to news of Mainstream’s plans.
Now that Deer Grove has passed a zoning ordinance, the village has the right to ban wind farms in the areas near its borders, county officials say. Opposition to Mainstream’s proposal is strong in Deer Grove, so it’s doubtful the board will approve construction of turbines nearby.
While Hamilton Township’s comprehensive plan isn’t binding, it’s a statement against turbines, Gonigam said.
Sandy Cruse, a lifelong resident of Hamilton Township, said her survey found that 80 percent opposed wind turbines.
“Our area is recovered swampland,” said Cruse, whose family has a farm. “We’re 90 percent flood plain. It’s all supported by good drainage.
“We are stewards of the land, and we want to be good stewards. We’re all agricultural, and that’s what we would like to see.”
She feared that a wind farm would affect the drainage. She also said she and others don’t want the noise and shadow flicker associated with turbines.
Mainstream officials have pledged to be good neighbors, saying they want to reach out to residents.
Mainstream plans to put in 60 to 90 turbines in the first phase, the vast majority of which would be in Lee County. The second phase would include a similar number, officials say.
Last month, Whiteside County finished its review of its wind energy regulations. Officials decided against making changes.
Mainstream was expected to turn in its application to Whiteside County soon after that. But the company has yet to do so.
John Martin of Mainstream said his company is working on the application and expects to complete it soon.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has been meeting since the summer; it has recommended many changes to the existing ordinance.
On Thursday, the board will debate perhaps the biggest issue of all – the required distance between turbines and houses.
That should be the last major item of business.
The board’s recommendations will go to the full Lee County Board, which has the final say.