Cohocton Wind Watch: November 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, November 28, 2013

Could this be the end of wind subsidies?

Could Congress actually end lucrative tax credits for wind energy production? Former Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles is optimistic that lawmakers will not extend tax credits for wind energy as pressure mounts to reform the tax code and cut spending.

“I think there is a good chance it won’t be extended,” Nickles told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think a lot of members are really focused on it. Members realize if you do it, it will cost billions more.”

“I think they realized the sentiment has turned, the economics have turned — big time,” said Nickles, who served as Oklahoma’s Republican Senator from 1981 to 2005 and was around when wind was first subsidized in the early 1990s.

Congressional Republicans have ramped up their campaign against the Wind Production Tax Credit, or Wind PTC, arguing that the tax credit should be cut as part comprehensive tax reform talks taken up in the House and Senate.

“As the House Ways and Means Committee takes on the commendable, but difficult, task of enacting revenue-neutral tax reform legislation, the PTC should be excluded from there or in any tax extenders legislation that the committee may consider,” reads a letter from 52 lawmakers to committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp, who is heading up tax reform talks with Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus.

The wind industry and allied lawmakers have opposed ending the tax credit, arguing that it would be a huge setback for the wind industry and harm economic growth in wind-heavy states like Iowa.

Our nation has some of the best wind resources in the world, but the lack of stable policy hinders the nation’s ability to develop them fully,” reads a letter from 11 state governors to House and Senate leadership. “The nation’s wind industry developers do not need this tax credit forever, but they do need policy certainty in the near term to bring their costs to a fully competitive level.”

The Wind PTC was first enacted in 1992 and gave wind producers 1.5 cents for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated in the first ten years of operation. The subsidy has ballooned to 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour this year and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that extending the tax credit for another year would cost $6 billion.

“I remember when it passed in ‘92 and we were assured it was temporary,” Nickles told TheDCNF. “Since then it’s been extended seven times.”

Nickles and his fellow Republicans argue that wind energy is not reliable enough to provide baseload power, so it requires fossil fuels to back it up — eliminating the touted environmental benefits of the renewable energy source.

“Wind doesn’t blow all the time,” Nickles said. “For reliability, utilities usually have to purchase a gas-fired generator as a back-up. It blows at night when grids need the power least, it’s generating most of its power off-peak and crowding out more economical power in the process.”

Furthermore, wind producer could be facing increased legal trouble as the Obama administration has finally started to prosecute wind farms for the killing of federally protected birds and eagles.

A subsidiary of Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds at two wind farms in Wyoming — marking the first time the Obama administration has prosecuted wind farm operators for killing federally protected birds.

“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s environment division.

“No form of energy generation, or human activity for that matter, is completely free of impacts and wind energy is no exception,” the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

“When coupled with the fact that experts globally see climate change as the single greatest threat to wildlife and their habitats, wind energy – which is produced without creating air or water pollution, greenhouse gases, use water, require mining, or drilling for or transportation of fuel, or generate hazardous waste requiring permanent storage – is a key to both meeting our nation’s energy needs and protecting wildlife in the U.S. and abroad,” the statement continued.

Wind turbines kill 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats each year in the U.S., according to an independent study published earlier this year.

“As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring,” writes K. Shawn Smallwood, the study’s author.


First Wind Company Criminally Convicted for Bird Deaths

 In the first criminal conviction of a wind company for killing birds, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced they settled with Duke Energy for $1 million.

Duke Energy Renewables pleaded guilty in the US District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act for  the deaths of endangered birds. This is the first-ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm.

Between 2009-2013, 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds - including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows - were killed at two Wyoming wind farms owned by Duke Energy. The Campbell Hill and Top of the World wind farms have 176 turbines and are sited on private agricultural land.

Eagle Golden

Until now, even though every death of a protected bird violates federal law, no wind company has been held liable. Wind companies can apply for a federal permit (which is opposed by the conservation community) but not a single company has done so. 

Under the settlement, Duke will pay fines and restitution of $1 million and is placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan to prevent bird deaths at its four Wyoming wind plants - expected to cost $600,000 a year. Duke must also apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for how to minimize and mitigate golden eagle deaths at the wind farms, states DOJ.

"This is a welcome action by DOJ and one that we have long anticipated," says Dr. George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a long-time advocate for stronger federal management of the wind industry. "We are pro-wind, but development needs to be Bird Smart. The unfortunate reality is that the flagrant violations of the law seen in this case are widespread."

In early 2012, the Fish & Wildlife Service published voluntary operating and siting guidelines for the wind industry, and this year, they released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. ABC believes these guidelines would be much more effective at preventing bird deaths if they were mandatory, with project permits used to cover costs.

Because guidelines are voluntary, "companies have been able to pay lip service to bird protection laws and then largely do what they want. Poorly sited wind projects exist or are being planned that clearly ignore the advice of federal and state biologists who have few, if any, means of preventing them from going ahead," says Dr. Michael Hutchins, who coordinates the National Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign for ABC. 

"In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts," says Robert Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

"We deeply regret the impacts of golden eagles at two of our wind facilities," says Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables. "Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible."

How the $1 million fine will be disbursed:
  • $400,000 for the federally-administered North American Wetlands Conservation Fund
  • $100,000 for the State of Wyoming
  • $160,000 for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, designated for golden eagle conservation projects and research on how they interact with wind turbines
  • $340,000 to a conservation fund to buy golden eagle habitat in Wyoming  
"All wind projects will kill some birds. It is sadly unavoidable, but some areas are worse than others, and we can predict where many of these will be," says Hutchins of ABC. "Wind farms are being built without adequate plans to mitigate and compensate for bird impacts."

Several tools are available to help wind developers choose the best sites based on wind and environmental concerns, including one developed by National Renewable Energy Lab and another by ABC.

ABC estimates that as the wind industry has grown in the US, bird deaths have risen from 440,000 in 2009 to 600,000 in 2012.

How many birds will die as the wind industry continues to grow? Clearly, strong siting and operational regulations are needed, says Hutchins. "We believe it's necessary to enforce development restrictions on wind, such as avoiding bird migration corridors and places where protected species and sensitive habitats are present."

Enacted way back in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements US commitments with Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan and Russia. The Act protects over 1,000 species of birds.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

First Wind grows by aiming low

AURORA, Maine — The truck wound along the logging road in the deep woods of this northern Maine community, snaking up a bump in the landscape called Bull Hill. Only as the truck neared the base of a 95-meter-tall wind turbine did the silvery-white blades become visible among the trees.

The 19-turbine wind farm at Bull Hill operates hundreds of feet lower than other industrial-scale wind farms, which typically spread along mountain ridges that are visible for miles. It is one of the latest developments of First Wind Holdings Inc. and an example of how the fast-growing Boston firm has become a dominant player in the Northeast.

First Wind, just over a decade old, has prospered by following an unconventional strategy that often avoids towering ridgelines, instead building at lower elevations and taking advantage of technological advances that allow turbines to generate electricity at lower wind speeds. Even so, the company’s projects have still attracted controversy, provoking outrage from some residents of rural and remote areas who say the peace, quiet, and beauty of natural landscapes is marred by the industrial developments.

First Wind today owns and operates 12 wind farms in six states, its portfolio comprising more than 500 turbines with a combined generating capacity of roughly 1,000 megawatts, or enough to power about 285,000 homes. Its revenues have soared to about $250 million a year from just $7.1 million in 2006, according to the company and financial filings, as it has targeted states such as New York, Maine, and Hawaii where high energy costs and friendly renewable energy policies make wind power competitive.

“We’re focused on places where it makes economic sense,” said chief executive Paul J. Gaynor.

Originally known as UPC Wind, the firm was founded in 2002 by Brian Caffyn, a Massachusetts native who spent years working in the wind industry in Italy. Gaynor, a former executive at a division of General Electric, was the company’s fifth employee. He has led the firm since 2004.

Wind power was barely a speck on the energy landscape then, with oil prices as low as $33 a barrel.

Installations were few and far between, with about one-tenth of today’s generating capacity.

“God, it was uncharted waters,” Gaynor recalled recently at his company’s headquarters near South Station in Boston. “When I showed up, we had no money, no megawatts, virtually no people.”

First Wind built its first project in 2006 on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a 30-megawatt wind farm along a ridge on the West Maui Mountains, which tested another key component of its strategy: winning the support of environmentalists. The ridge is home to three endangered bird species and a type of endangered bat.

Before building, First Wind worked with experts on plans to protect those animals and committed a minimum of $1 million to make them happen.

“You have to find a way to coexist. You can’t look at a wind farm and say they have no environmental impacts,” Gaynor said. “That’s the ethic we took from there — I took from there — to every other project.”

First Wind has followed that ethic in New England, said Ted Koffman, executive director of Maine Audubon, a nonprofit wildlife conservation group that has monitored large wind developments for more than a decade. First Wind, he said, has proved its willingness to work with environmental organizations and communities to protect rare and sensitive habitats.

The company sends out analysts to study bird populations, talking to hikers who frequent the location where they plan to build, and sometimes helping to build wildlife sanctuaries.

“First Wind is not always going to agree with us because we want the Cadillac of all best-management practices, and to go above and beyond what the law requires,” Koffman said, but “they’re often very willing.”

While building its Bull Hill wind farm, First Wind worked to accommodate outdoor enthusiasts, improving some access roads, leaving the surrounding area open to snowmobiles and ATVs, and adding picnic tables for visitors to use. First Wind also limits the construction footprint of its projects, said Sean Mahoney, executive vice president for the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation in Maine, which has supported several of First Wind’s projects.

The company often uses existing logging roads, as it did at Bull Hill, to transport equipment and parts, and does something else worth noting, said Mahoney. It clusters projects around existing transmission to avoid the need build new lines, which might have to cross sensitive natural areas.

Percy L. Brown Jr., a commissioner of Hancock County, where the wind farm is located, said he was initially wary of First Wind’s impact. But the project has brought benefits to the community, including an agreement by the company to pay the county $200,000 a year for the next two decades.

“We can utilize these funds for public purposes,” Brown said, “property tax reduction, economic development, [or] tourism and promotion, reduction of energy costs.”

But First Wind has also attracted fierce critics, who argue its industrial installations are out of place in remote, natural areas, destroying landscapes and property values. Some blame the rotating turbine blades for headaches and dizzy spells.

In Maine, community groups such as Friends of Maine’s Mountains have repeatedly opposed more wind development in favor of hydropower, which generates about quarter of Maine’s electricity. Christopher O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said the relatively small amount of power generated by wind energy, an intermittent source, is not worth the environmental damage.

In Hawaii, First Wind has come under scrutiny following several battery fires at a wind farm on Oahu Island, including one that shut the site for a year. On Maui, some critics say First Wind’s turbines have marred the view of the ridge, visible as planes descend onto the island. Still others say the wind projects have failed to lower electricity prices in Hawaii, the highest in the nation.

“If you heard the message as, ‘Your bill is going to drop,’ those people feel a sense of disappointment,” said Doug McLeod, Maui County’s energy commissioner.

First Wind said it has no control over electric rates set by the state, but knows that the energy its produces is cheaper than other sources of power in Hawaii. Gaynor added that he’s not surprised by criticism there and elsewhere.

“You are always going to have someone opposed to anything new,” he said, “whether it’s a shopping mall, or a house, or a telephone pole.”

In First Wind’s Boston headquarters, Gaynor strode past a room where employees watched a bank of screens, monitoring 17,000 data points, from energy production to weather conditions, coming in each second from the company’ turbines.

Gaynor said he sees more expansion ahead. The company, which employs more than 200, including 70 in Massachusetts, recently launched a solar power division. In addition, First Wind’s systems are built to monitor up to 3,000 megawatts of energy projects — triple today’s capacity.

“That’s why we have empty desks,” Gaynor said, pointing to vacant cubicles around the office. “We hope to continue to grow.”


Where First Wind is setting up shop

Friday, November 22, 2013


 WASHINGTON – Duke Energy Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming today to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming.  This case represents the first ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.

          Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state.  The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.

          The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013.  The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land. 

          According to the charges and other information presented in court, Duke Energy Renewables Inc. failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  However, the company cooperated with the USFWS investigation and has already implemented measures aimed at minimizing avian deaths at the sites.

          “This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths. To its credit, once the projects came on line and began causing avian deaths, Duke took steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to an extensive compliance plan to minimize bird deaths at its Wyoming facilities and to devote resources to eagle preservation and rehabilitation efforts.”

          “The Service works cooperatively with companies that make all reasonable efforts to avoid killing migratory birds during design, construction and operation of industrial facilities,” said William Woody, Assistant Director for Law Enforcement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “But we will continue to investigate and refer for prosecution cases in which companies - in any sector, including the wind industry - fail to comply with the laws that protect the public’s wildlife resources.”

          More than 1,000 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).  The MBTA, enacted in 1918, implements this country’s commitments under avian protection treaties with Great Britain (for Canada), Mexico, Japan and Russia.  The MBTA provides a misdemeanor criminal sanction for the unpermitted taking of a listed species by any means and in any manner, regardless of fault.  The maximum penalty for an unpermitted corporate taking under the MBTA is $15,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, and five years’ probation. 

          According to papers filed with the court, commercial wind power projects can cause the deaths of federally protected birds in four primary ways: collision with wind turbines, collision with associated meteorological towers, collision with, or electrocution by, associated electrical power facilities, and nest abandonment or behavior avoidance from habitat modification.  Collision and electrocution risks from power lines (collisions and electrocutions) and guyed structures (collision) have been known to the utility and communication industries for decades, and specific methods of minimizing and avoiding the risks have been developed, in conjunction with the USFWS. The USFWS issued its first interim guidance about how wind project developers could avoid impacts to wildlife from wind turbines in 2003, and replaced these with a “tiered” approach outlined in the Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines (2012 LBWEGs), developed with the wind industry starting in 2007 and released in final form by the USFWS on March 23, 2012.  The Service also released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance in April 2013 and strongly recommends that companies planning or operating wind power facilities in areas where eagles occur work with the agency to implement that guidance completely.

          For wind projects, due diligence during the pre-construction stage—as described in the 2003 Interim Guidelines and tiers I through III in the 2012 LBWEGs—by surveying the wildlife present in the proposed project area, consulting with agency professionals, determining whether the risk to wildlife is too high to justify proceeding and, if not, carefully siting turbines so as to avoid and minimize the risk as much as possible, is critically important because, unlike electric distribution equipment and guyed towers, at the present time, no post-construction remedies, except “curtailment” (i.e., shut-down), have been developed that can “render safe” a wind turbine placed in a location of high avian collision risk.  Other experimental measures to reduce prey, detect and deter avian proximity to turbines are being tested.  In the western United States, golden eagles may be particularly susceptible to wind turbine blade collision by wind power facilities constructed in areas of high eagle use.

          The $400,000 fine imposed in the case will be directed to the federally-administered North American Wetlands Conservation Fund.  The company will also pay $100,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, and perform community service by making a $160,000 payment to the congressionally-chartered National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, designated for projects aimed at preserving golden eagles and increasing the understanding of ways to minimize and monitor interactions between eagles and commercial wind power facilities, as well as enhance eagle rehabilitation and conservation efforts in Wyoming.  Duke Energy Renewables is also required to contribute $340,000 to a conservation fund for the purchase of land, or conservation easements on land, in Wyoming containing high-use golden eagle habitat, which will be preserved and managed for the benefit of that species.  The company must implement a migratory bird compliance plan containing specific measures to avoid and minimize golden eagle and other avian wildlife mortalities at company’s four commercial wind projects in Wyoming. 

          According to papers filed with the court, Duke Energy Renewables will spend approximately $600,000 per year implementing the compliance plan.  Within 24 months, the company must also apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a Programmatic Eagle Take Permit at each of the two wind projects cited in the case.  

          The case was investigated by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Senior Counsel Robert S. Anderson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Conder of the District of Wyoming.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Invenergy in New York: blade break


Invenergy's Orangeville Wind Farm (formerly known as the Stony Creek Wind project) experienced a catastrophic blade break. The project, which is still under construction includes 58 GE 1.6-100 wind turbines (94 megawatts). The turbines are scheduled for commission  the second week of December 2013. Witnesses at the site told WindAction that blade debris flew past the 511-foot safety zone set by the town. This setback distance was requested by Eric Miller from Invenergy to get more turbines in a smaller area. General Electric said 1.5 times hub height plus rotor diameter or 885’ would be necessary.


Northeast Wind bags refinancing

A First Wind-Emera joint venture has refinanced its debt with a new corporate credit facility consisting of a $320m term loan B debt facility and a $75m letter of credit facility.

Northeast Wind Partners’ own 419MW of wind power projects in the northeast United States.
Pricing on the new term loan was set at LIBOR plus 400 basis points with a 1% LIBOR floor, with 99% of original issue discount. The proceeds were used to refinance the joint venture’s existing debt.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas, KeyBank, Union Bank, CIT Group, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China were joint lead arrangers and joint book-runners for the syndication of the term loan B facility.

Northeast Wind tried to refinance its debt this past summer but postponed efforts because of unfavorable market conditions.

Boston-based First Wind retains 51% and Nova Scotia-headquartered Emera owns 49% of Northeast Wind. First Wind is the managing partner, operating the wind energy projects.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Suit Against First Wind Over Noise Pollution Dismissed

The summary judgment for First Wind upholds a lower court ruling made earlier this year on a lawsuit brought by Michael Gosselin of Mars Hill.

"I'm feeling terribly disappointed in the justice system because I thought truth and justice would prevail," Gosselin says. "And I'm very disappointed and really, really shocked."

Gosselin, a disabled veteran who suffers from PTSD, claimed in the suit that noise created by the turbines, which are situated about 1.7 miles from his home, have made his life so stressful that he's had to build a noise proof bunker in his garage.

"I'm going to have to continue sleeping in the garage until we can move out of the area I guess," he says.

Gosselin was seeking a buyout of his property for fair market value. While First Wind settled similar disputes with 18 neighboring landowners last year, Gosselin was excluded from that case because he was judged to be too far from the turbines.

First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne says the company is pleased with the ruling, and glad that all parties are spared the ordeal of a trial.

"We work very hard to be good neighbors in the Mars Hill community," Lamontagne says, "and I think we've been very successful when it comes to that."

In the ruling, the justices say the lower court did not err when finding against Gosselin, who claimed the turbines created a nuisance and emotional distress.

Claims of personal and property damage from related activities were also tossed out, and a new claim of breach of contract was not heard. Gosselin says he may petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Wind turbine demolished as crowd watches

Click on link to submit your SEC complaint on the
First Wind Holdings Inc. IPO public offering

TEN Reasons
Why the SEC should not allow First Wind to be listed on NASDAQ

First Wind Holdings Inc. 12/22/09 SEC S1/A IPO Filing

First Wind Holdings Inc. 7/31/08 SEC S1 IPO Filing

May 14, 2010 addition to the First Wind Holdings Inc. SEC S1A IPO Filing

August 18, 2010 amendment 7 to the First Wind Holdings Inc. SEC S1A IPO Filing

October 13, 2010 Filing update to the First Wind Holdings Inc. SEC S1A IPO Filing

New October 25, 2010 Filing update to the First Wind Holdings Inc. SEC S1A IPO Filing

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