Cohocton Wind Watch: June 2013
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

EverPower trying to work big developers’ playbook

Kevin Sheen of EverPower continues to willfully disobey the wishes of the Allegany Town Board in what Judge Michael L. Nenno called “contumacious” conduct.
His company brought not one but two lawsuits against the town, one against the planning board that Judge Nenno threw out, the other against the town board, which EverPower has now scheduled for a hearing before Judge Nenno in December. The company and its principle, Mr. Sheen, want to stretch this out so the town and the Carrollton Town Board will believe there is some sort of sword hanging over their heads.
The reality is, EverPower will likely get thrown out of court again and this story will be over. But by delaying judgment, EverPower hopes to line up a road-use agreement and maybe a few more landowners through whose land it needs to haul its 400-ton crane and some very long wind turbine blades, and make the town boards think this is a done deal. This page out of the big developers’ playbook is classic.

Let's not talk this time about how intrusive wind farms are for the communities asked to host them. Let's talk instead about why wind farms don't achieve their only mission: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. We are well on the way to achieving fossil-fuel independence, and now we are focused on addressing climate change.

The first thing to note is that despite hundreds of thousands of wind turbines installed all over the world, there appears to be no affect on climate change. Whether climate is our fault or not, wind farms were supposed to slow down the pace of extreme storms and global warming, but that hasn't happened.

Most power plants are designed to generate about 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity, and most operate at 90 percent or better of their design capacity. Wind farms are designed to generate 50 MW 0r less, and, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, they operate at 10 percent of that.

Wind farms are not viable without lots of money from taxpayers. The price paid for electricity fluctuates widely during the day, and season by season, according to demand. When demand for electricity is high, during the daytime and during the summer months, the grid operator calls up quick ramp-up power plants like Indeck in Olean and pays about $90 per MW hour.

Conventional power plants that operate all the time get the same price. Wind farms generate intermittently, mostly during the winter and at night. That's when the wholesale market price for electricity averages about $25 per MWh, and can dip below $1. A generous federal tax credit makes up the difference for wind farms, paying another $25 or so per MWh for 10 years.

Wind farms operating in New York are now getting in the range of $5 million to $10 million in federal tax credits per year. These tax credits force consumers and taxpayers to pay billions of dollars each year for electricity that has little economic value and, in many hours, has negative value.

Because they have so little taxable income because they generate so much less electricity than conventional power plants, wind farms sell the credits to other companies, often oil and gas companies.

In addition to tax credits, most of the monthly "SBC" item on your electric bill (system benefit charge) goes to wind farms in the form of outright grants by NYSERDA.

Wind farms also benefit from selling "renewable energy credits," which are suppose to represent one ton of carbon emissions avoided. But there is no way to determine whether carbon emissions were avoided by the electricity generated by a wind farm. Wind farms often bid negative prices for power generated in the winter, when the wholesale price can be less than a penny per kilowatt hour, just to qualify for the production tax credit. That electricity then gets generated and connected to the grid, regardless of whether the power is needed.

Where in all this is the displacement of greenhouse gas emissions from conventional power plants? No conventional power plant has ever been shut down because of the availability of wind power, because we rely on 24/7 electricity generators. Maybe someday most us will be driving all-electric cars, and we'll all agree to charge them only at night; and maybe someday massive flywheels or water storage reservoirs will be utilized to capture wind power generated during the winter and at night so it can be released during the daytime and in summer.

But that's not today, nor in our lifetime.

Until then we keep throwing public money at a technology that still hasn't proved very useful. Maybe we should return all that public money to households and businesses, to make their own choices about how to reduce their electricity usage.

(Mr. Abraham, an attorney, lives in Allegany.)


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Take a hard look at wind-farm windfalls

I can’t help but be amused at periodic news stories of some Northern New York town representatives gushing about a proposed wind energy deal. As they regurgitate the sales pitch they’ve been fed, it’s clear that the developer has succeeded in appealing to the second oldest human frailty: greed. “We will be getting $10 million over 10 years” is a frequent rationale. Their tactic is clear, since they have been easily duped by the allure of money, they believe that most of their constituents should be likewise susceptible.
How many of our legislators convey the true picture to citizens? Haven’t they ever heard that there’s no free lunch? Yes, they have been offered a financial deal, but the rest of the story includes numerous other aspects like:
■ The “windfall” money is coming from local taxpayers and ratepayers.
■ The deal is premised on an enormous property tax giveaway that no other citizen gets.
■ None of the figures conveyed to the public are net — why not?
■ Property values near this development will depreciate: who will compensate those citizens for their loss?
■ Some proximate residents will experience negative health effects: who will compensate them for their illnesses?
■ It’s proven that there will be agricultural losses up to 15 miles away: who will pay for those?
■ There are several adverse environmental impacts, yet these people say they are helping the environment.
■ The claim that this project “will power 10,000 homes” is a totally dishonest statement.
■ The claims that this project will replace imported oil, or some polluting coal facility, are also false.
■ In fact there are zero scientifically proven NET societal benefits for wind energy. Zero.
So listen carefully when your town representatives explain the pros and cons of a proposed wind project. In many instances they are assuming that you are too dumb to understand the details, that you don’t care anyway, and that the inducement of some unguaranteed future payoffs will insure that you start drooling (so you won’t pay attention to the big picture).
On the other hand, real representatives will give you an honest, complete, and objective explanation about the whole situation. You decide which is acceptable.
John Droz Jr.
Brantingham Lake

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Kibby Mountain turbine fire prompts DEP to scrutinize wind farm proposals

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is raising more questions about fire safety standards at wind farms proposed in the state.

The increased scrutiny is in part a reaction to a fire in January that destroyed a $4-million turbine at TransCanada’s wind farm on Kibby Mountain in northern Franklin County, according to Mark Bergeron, director of the DEP’s Division of Land Resource Regulation.

The blaze, which was first reported in the Bangor Daily News on April 23, has raised questions about fire safety standards at wind farms and whether sufficient response plans have been coordinated between wind farm developers and local and state emergency responders.

“Certainly since the Kibby fire we have taken a second look at the issue and that’s what’s raised some of these questions,” Bergeron said Monday.

On May 29, the DEP reopened the public record on the Bowers Wind farm project so that it could ask the developer, Boston-based First Wind, for additional details on proposed fire safety standards. Bowers is a 16-turbine, 48-megawatt wind power farm that First Wind wants to build in eastern Penobscot County.

The DEP held a public hearing on the Bowers project on April 30 and May 1, just a few days after the BDN published the story about the Kibby Mountain turbine fire.

Bergeron said emails requesting similar information were sent to other developers with wind farm proposals under consideration by the DEP.

The DEP’s additional questions for First Wind on the Bowers project concern the lack of a fire suppression system in one of the turbines being considered by the company, how “regular maintenance and inspection … reduces fire risk in wind turbines,” and how fire safety standards for wind farms developed by the National Fire Protection Association apply to the project.

In addition, the DEP has asked for a copy of the project’s fire protection plan, which First Wind references in its Bowers application, but was not required to provide. The department also wants the company to “provide written notification to the project manager or appropriate Bureau of Land and Water Quality staff within 48 hours of any fire event that causes one or more turbines to not generate electricity,” according to the email.

The DEP doesn’t currently have the ability to require developers to make such a 48-hour notification, Bergeron said, but it’s requesting it. In the case of the Kibby Mountain fire, a DEP spokeswoman said the department wasn’t notified about the fire until seven days after the incident, and even then the department only learned about the fire from an oil and hazardous spill report that the company filed because turbines contain lubricating oil.

John Lamontagne, a spokesman for First Wind, declined to respond to the DEP’s questions in detail before the company filed its official response, which it plans to do later this week.

“First Wind takes safety at our projects incredibly seriously,” Lamontagne said in an email. “Fires in wind turbines are extremely rare in the industry.”

He said the company is considering two turbines — one from Vestas and one from Siemens — at its proposed wind farms in Maine, including the Bowers project, the Bingham Wind Project, and the Hancock Wind Project.

“The turbines each have sophisticated systems in place designed to prevent malfunctions, overheating and fires,” he wrote. “In our response to the DEP, we will provide detail on how those systems work.”

He said once the company decides which turbines would be used at each location, “we will develop an extensive emergency response plan for each site and provide trainings with project staff and local fire responders.”

Applicants such as First Wind have been “fairly receptive” to the DEP’s additional scrutiny of fire safety issues, Bergeron said.

“We haven’t received a lot of negative comments from applicants at this point,” Bergeron said. “They’ve certainly been open to describing how the design, operation and maintenance of these turbines in general keep the risk of fire safety low.”

Gary Campbell, president of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, the main opponent of First Wind’s Bowers project, said his group’s chief concern had been with the turbines blocking scenic views. But after the BDN article about the Kibby turbine fire came out, fire safety issues, which surfaced at public hearing on April 30 and in filings with the DEP, came on the radar.

Campbell admits turbine fires may be rare, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important issue that deserves more attention.

“The opportunity is there for a catastrophic forest fire,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s likely. I have no way of knowing how likely a fire is to begin, but I’m fairly confident that if it started under the right conditions it would be a catastrophe.”

To ensure that consistent fire safety standards are adhered by Maine’s wind farms, Campbell requested in a DEP filing May 17 that the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Protection Branch be required to review the fire safety standards for all wind farms in Maine, and certify that they are adequate and meet a predetermined set of standards.

“That’s certainly something the Forest Protection Branch could review, just like the Army Corps of Engineers and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife review certain sections of the application,” Campbell said. “So why we haven’t we done that with fire danger that can directly impact the lives of Maine citizens?”

Campbell is glad the DEP is asking more questions concerning fire prevention, but whether the increased scrutiny will lead to stiffer regulations governing wind farm proposals remains to be seen, he said.

“It’s gratifying they’re doing this, but as to how they’ll handle this information, I don’t have an inside track on that,” he said. “It’s nice they’re listening, though.”


Saturday, June 01, 2013

Turbine blade blown into daycare center

Shocking images of tornado damage in the Oklahoma City area. ABC News meteorologist Ginger Zee reports a wind turbine blade slammed into the child care facility at Canadian Valley Technology Center. No one was hurt.

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