Monday, April 29, 2013

Environmentalists fight for $100M Maine wind farm

Professional guides and sporting camp owners are opposing a proposed $100 million wind farm in eastern Maine they say will forever spoil the region's wilderness character. Environmental groups say the project will cut pollution, create jobs and bring clean energy to the state.

The sides will square off when the Department of Environmental Protection holds two days of hearings this week on First Wind's application to build a 16-turbine, 48-megawatt wind farm, known as the Bowers Wind project, in a backcountry area straddling Washington and Penobscot counties.
A year ago, regulators rejected First Wind's application for 27 turbines in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. The company says its revised plan with fewer turbines minimizes the scenic and cultural impacts. 

Project supporters include the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club, Maine Audubon, Environment Maine and the American Lung Association. Opponents include the Maine Sporting Camp Association, the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association, the Maine Wilderness Guides Association and the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed.

Allies and critics will make their arguments Tuesday and Wednesday at hearings being held in Lee, about 10 miles from the project site. There's no timeline on when a decision will be made on the application.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said the revised project has fewer turbines that are placed in less visible locations than the first proposal. The turbines will have radar-controlled lighting that will stay off at night unless a plane is flying over, he said.

"We think this is a better project that people can get behind," he said.

But guides, sporting camp owners and property owners on nearby lakes say the presence of 459-foot wind turbines detracts from the backwoods experience that draws people to the area for fishing, hunting, snowmobiling and other outdoor activities. The wind turbines will have an adverse economic impact on businesses that serve those people, they say.

"The windmills just don't fit the outdoor experience. They'll change the wilderness feel of the area," said Louis Cataldo, a guide from Grand Lake Stream and vice president of the Grand Lake Stream Guides Association.

First Wind, which has four other wind farms operating in Maine, says the project will create jobs, boost tax revenues and cut pollution while generating power for up to 25,000 homes. If the project is approved, First Wind plans to create a $300,000 fund for promotion of sporting camps and guides in the area, conservation efforts and restoration of the area deer population.

Carroll Plantation residents overwhelmingly support the project, the town clerk wrote in a letter to the DEP commissioner. The town was once a thriving community with farms and seven schools, but it doesn't have a single business today, Anita Duerr wrote. Two other wind farms are visible from town, she said, but nobody's bothered by them.

People support the project because "we are getting economic benefits that are sorely needed and we have no problems with the view," her letter reads.

The Conservation Law Foundation and the Marine Renewable Energy Association have filed as interveners in support of the project.

Jeremy Payne, executive director of the MREA, said wind power is good for Maine and that people aren't going to stop coming to the area because of some wind turbines, he said. The Stetson wind farm has 55 turbines and is located about 10 miles away.

"I find it hard to believe that people who are taking guide trips up to Maine from Boston, Hartford, New York or wherever are suddenly going to stop coming because there are wind turbines spinning on a mountaintop," he said. "I just don't believe it."

The Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed and registered Maine guide David Corrigan have intervened in opposition to the project.

If the project's built, there'll be clear views of the towers from nine nearby lakes that have been designated as scenic resources of state or national significance, said Gary Campbell, president of the Downeast Lakes group. Campbell, who's from Massachusetts, has a seasonal log cabin not far from the project site.

A wind farm will bring down the inherent and market value of properties, he said, while forever diminishing the wilderness character of the region.

Clients of the area's guides and sporting camps have written letters to the DEP expressing opposition, he said.

"The region is unusual because it's almost 100 percent 'escape tourism,'" he said. "People have written the DEP saying, 'If I want to go to fishing at the foot of some turbines, I can do that in Massachusetts, New Jersey or New York. I don't need to go all the way to Maine to do that.' So they'd probably find another place to go."


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lobbyist for wind power apologizes to Vt. panel

First Wind - Wind Lobbyist's Acoustics Expert Witness Tells Panel Health Concerns are "All Made-up and Make Believe"

A lobbyist for an industry group supporting wind power apologized to a Vermont Senate committee on Wednesday after a witness she brought in called health concerns connected with wind power ‘‘hoo-hah,’’ nonsense and propaganda.

Gabrielle Stebbins, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, called the remarks of acoustics expert Geoff Levanthall unhelpful and offered an apology to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee after Leventhall testified at the hearing by phone from England.
‘‘There’s no scientific evidence behind what they (critics of wind power) say,’’ Leventhall said. ‘‘It’s all made-up, make-believe, trying to find something to object to, and trying to find something that will be difficult to disprove. It’s a technique, a propaganda technique, and they've been very, very effective.’’
Afterward, Stebbins said she regretted Leventhall’s comments. ‘‘I don’t think that’s helpful for the debate and, for the record, I do apologize for that.’’
Stebbins’ comments came at the end of the hearing in which two Vermont doctors — one of them critical of a wind power project near his home in Ira and of the industry generally — testified about what they said were ill health effects connected with wind power among people living near the turbines.
Leventhall did describe for the committee low-frequency, inaudible ‘‘infrasound,’’ that some blame on problems connected with wind turbines but that he said have less of an impact on people than sounds generated within the body, like the heartbeat.
The committee also heard from Luann Therrien, a Sheffield resident who said she and her husband have suffered severe sleep loss leading to depression since 16 turbines operated by First Wind began operating within about two miles of their home, with the closest being about a half mile away.
‘‘We did not oppose the project, not until it was up and running and creating noise,’’ Therrien said. ‘‘I have constant ringing in my ears that can be very distracting. My husband has been feeling so bad that he is currently unable to work. His doctor has pulled him from his job.’’
Discussion centered on sleep loss due to audible sounds from the turbines and on infrasound, the low-frequency noise inaudible to human ears but which some doctors have linked to ill health effects — sometimes called wind turbine syndrome.
Dr. Sandy Reider, a primary care provider practicing in Lyndonville, told the committee he had seen ‘‘a half dozen or so patients who are suffering from living in proximity to these turbines.’’ He told of one particularly tough case of a 33-year-old, healthy man who developed problems after a wind turbine began operation on Burke Mountain near his home.
The man ‘‘began to experience increasingly severe insomnia, waking multiple times at night with severe anxiety and heart palpitations, and experiencing during the daytime pressure headaches, nausea, ringing in his ears and difficulty concentrating,’’ Reider said.end of story marker

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Italian police seize $1.7 billion from alleged green energy Mafioso

Italian authorities have seized a record $1.7 billion in assets from a Sicilian green energy entrepreneur with alleged ties to the Mafia.
Vito Nicastri, called the “king of alternative energy” for his extensive holdings in green-energy companies, stands accused of evading taxes by only declaring a fraction of the value of his businesses. He has been placed under surveillance by police and must remain in Alcamo, Italy for three years.
Police seizures included “43 companies, 98 pieces of real-estate including buildings, homes, stores and land; 66 bank accounts, credit cards and investment funds,” according to the Associated Press.
The Washington Post reported that the Mafia has been getting involved in the green energy businesses for the past decade as governments began to pour vast sums of money into renewable energy development.
The mob has been shaking down local land permit holders in order to lease their permits to green-energy developers and get a generous subsidy for doing so. The Italian government has been investigating the “eco-corruption” and has seized about 30 wind farms and several solar power plants on the island of Sicily. Italian officials have also frozen more than $2 billion in assets and arrested alleged Mafia crime bosses, along with corrupt local officials and businessmen.
However, this phenomenon is not isolated to Italy. Spain has also suffered from “eco-corruption,” with some companies illegally receiving government subsidies.


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

BP puts U.S. wind farm arm up for sale

BP (BP.L) has put its U.S. wind farm operation, one of the largest in the country, up for sale, marking the continued retreat of big oil companies from renewable energy investments while oil and gas projects offer them better returns.

The British oil company has already sold or earmarked for sale some $38 billion worth of assets, partly to raise funds to pay for its 2010 U.S. oil spill liabilities, but also to reposition itself as a smaller, leaner company with an emphasis on high-margin oil production and exploration. Reports said the sale could raise a further $1.5 billion.

BP would not put a value on any sale, but said in a statement it expected "attractive offers" for the assets. They include interests in 16 operating wind farms in nine states with a combined generating capacity of around 2,600 megawatts of renewable power, as well as a portfolio of projects in various stages of development.

Over a decade ago, big oil companies including BP and Shell began to ramp up investment in renewable energy. But the uncertain outlook for government subsidies and prices in solar, wind and other clean energy areas, along with the re-emergence of strong prices for oil and opportunities to develop large gas fields, have since distracted their attention.

BP, which under former chief executive John Browne once named itself "Beyond Petroleum", still has a substantial interest in Brazilian biofuels, but has invested only about $1 billion a year in renewables since 2005 from a total capital spending budget of well over $20 billion annually. It has no specific investment plans for the sector in the years ahead.