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Archive for the ‘Viewscape Issues’ Category

KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, July 22, 2009

north-carolina-bans-wind-turbinesSome North Carolina politicians consider this type of thing an aesthetic blight — and want to ban it from the state’s peaks and ridgelines.

A furious battle over the aesthetics of wind energy has erupted in North Carolina, where lawmakers are weighing a bill that would bar giant turbines from the state’s scenic western ridgelines.

The big machines would “destroy our crown jewel,” said Martin Nesbitt, a state senator who supports the ban, according to a report in The Winston-Salem Journal.

As it currently stands, the bill would ban turbines more than 100 feet tall from the mountaintops. Residential-scale turbines (typically 50 to 120 feet high) could still go up, but the industrial-scale turbines that can produce 500 times as much power or more would be effectively ruled out. The legislation appeared likely to pass the state Senate last week, but got sent back to committee.

Such a ban would be virtually unprecedented, according to Brandon Blevins, the wind program coordinator for the the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and it would make roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s land-based wind potential unavailable.

(The state is also starting to look offshore.)

“I know of no other state that has so uniformly banned wind,” he said. State lawmakers, Mr. Blevins noted, voted not long ago to enact a renewable portfolio standard requiring North Carolina to get 12.5% of its electricity from renewable energy and efficiency measures by 2021. “Now they’re stripping away some of the most cost-effective options for their utilities” to achieve those targets, he said.

Christine Real de Azua, a spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, said that while some counties around the country have enacted height bans, the association is unaware of similar bans “covering large areas.”

“The main objection seems to be appearance, and the reality is that many people find wind turbines elegant and a symbol of a clean energy future, and that wind turbines often become a tourist attraction,” she said in an e-mail message.

The North Carolina bill has roots in a 1983 law that barred most structures taller than 40 feet along the state’s ridgelines — though exceptions were made for communications towers and windmills, Mr. Blevins said.

An early version of the current bill, supported by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, would have kept big turbines away from the Appalachian Trail and other landmarks, but granted local governments the authority to allow them in other areas.

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CATHY PROCTOR, Denver Business Journal, July 31, 2009

SmartGrid-graphicWind farms and solar power plants may offer free fuel costs and no carbon-dioxide emissions, but don’t assume there’s universal support from environmentalists, according to industry observers.

“The world is changing,” said Andrew Spielman, a partner at the Denver office of Hogan & Hartson LLC who works on renewable energy projects.

Spielman was part of a panel discussing issues in the renewable energy sector at the Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s annual natural gas strategy conference. “There are more complexities with renewable projects,” he said, “and it’s no longer an assumption that the environmental community will approve and support renewable projects.”

Among the larger considerations of renewable energy:

  • Big wind farms and solar power plants take up a lot of land. Whether it’s for towering wind turbines or acres of solar panels, additional land is needed for construction areas and support services such as workers and storage yards.
  • Rural roads accustomed to a few cars and tractor traffic often need upgrades to handle heavy construction trucks and semis laden with towers, nacelles and turbine blades.
  • Often, the remote new wind farms and solar power plants need a new transmission line — with its own set of construction impacts — to get the renewable power to cities and towns, the panelists said.

For example, the Peetz Table Wind Farm in northeastern Colorado, owned by a subsidiary of big energy company FPL Group Inc. (NYSE: FPL) of Juno Beach, Fla., generates 400 megawatts of power from 267 wind turbines that sprawl across 80 square miles.

The wind farm, which started operating in 2007, also required the construction of a 78-mile transmission line to connect it to the grid and get power to the wind farm’s sole client, Xcel Energy Inc.

It’s called “energy sprawl,” akin to the idea of “urban sprawl,” said Tim Sullivan, panelist and acting state director for the Colorado Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“All energy has a footprint, and renewable energy has to be a concern for anyone concerned about land-based habitat,” he said. “We need to treat renewables and oil and gas equally on their footprints.”

That doesn’t mean, Sullivan said, that every square inch of ground in Colorado should be off-limits to energy development. “We don’t have to protect every inch of ground,” he said.

“We can make trade-offs.”

One area of land good for wind energy might be “traded” for another piece that’s good for wetlands or grasslands where birds flourish, he said.

People who live near wind farms also are growing more aware of their impacts, Spielman said.

There’s the height issue. A wind turbine can soar 400 feet from the base to the top of the blade, he said. That’s about the height of the Tabor Center’s office building.

Also, there are new “flicker” problems — stemming from light flashing off the rotating blades as they go around about once a second. Turbines also make a repetitive, low-key “vrroomp” noise as they rotate, he said.

State regulators are becoming more aware of the impacts from renewable and alternative energy projects, said Kate Fay, energy manager at the Colorado Department of Health & Environment.

“All energy projects have impacts,” she said. “There is no free ride. The impacts from renewables may be small now, but there’s not that many of them out there.”

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DAVID EWENCHIEF, The Evening Express, February 11, 2009

images2The Aberdeenshire Council has pointed to tides – rather than wind turbines – as the best green solution to the energy crisis. The council took part in a consultation on the Scottish Government’s Climate Change Bill, which is going through Parliament, suggesting tide and current generation would be more reliable than wind turbines. “Wind cannot take up the slack. And we have a fair amount of coastline to play with,” a report said.

Aberdeenshire council suggested mini hydro-electric schemes on its rivers could also be more effective than wind turbines. Nearly 200 wind turbines have already been approved in the Northeast.

Mervyn Newberry, former chairman of the Skelmonae Windfarm Action Group, said he was not surprised at Aberdeenshire council’s sudden change of heart over the wind turbines. “It is completely expected,” he said. “The politicians just go with whatever is popular at the time. Though I am not as familiar with tidal energy, I am certainly more in favour of this form of energy because it doesn’t destroy the environment.”

Tarves, in Aberdeenshire, has been hit with a proposal for four wind turbines. Chairman of Tarves Community Council Bob Davidson claimed Aberdeenshire Council has been inconsistent in backing wind turbines. “I would not be surprised at inconsistency from the local authority,” he said.

Today Aberdeenshire Council boss Anne Robertson defended the use of wind turbines. She pointed out that tide technology has lagged behind wind-based technology in the North-east. Mrs Robertson stressed that the impact of wind turbines on the landscape was always considered. She said: “The wind turbine issue is one that has been dealt with through the planning process. “There have been quite a number of schemes turned down in Aberdeenshire.”

In its response to the bill consultation, Aberdeen City Council stressed the “importance of joint working” to reduce energy consumption. Wind turbines planned for Aberdeen Bay could supply all of the city’s houses with electricity.

Aberdeen-based Green Ocean Energy Ltd is developing a wave-based energy system to work alongside wind turbines. The Scottish Government rules on planning projects at sea.

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Editors Note:  On May 11, 2009, PG&E pulled-out of Mendocino WaveConnect, read it here: http://tinyurl.com/qwlbg6 . The remains of the $6M are now solely allocated to Humboldt WaveConnect.

MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

wave-ocean-blue-sea-water-white-foam-photoPG&E caught a major renewable energy wave today as the California Public Utilities Commission approved $4.8 million in funding their centerpiece wave energy project, WaveConnect. The program also received an additional $1.2 million in matching funds from the Department of Energy. PG&E’s WaveConnect, a project already two years in the making, launches with a $6M kitty.

WaveConnect is chartered with exploring wave energy development off the coasts of Mendocino and Humboldt counties in Northern California. The stakeholders in this region are dyed-in-the-wool political activists, living in environmentally-centric coastal communities and have reacted protectively, sounding alarms that PG&E and the Federal government’s wave energy plans may foul, diminish and destroy the Pacific Ocean and marine life.

Over the two years that PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) advanced WaveConnect, only recently have environmental concerns and study become part of the discussion. The opportunity for Mendocino and Humboldt coastal communities and local governments to embrace wave energy development and connect with WaveConnect has not gone well, especially as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has disallowed the City of Fort Bragg and local fishermen to be party in the WaveConnect FERC Preliminary Permitting.

Jonathan Marshall, publisher of Next100, a PG&E blog, wrote “PG&E’s first step will be to conduct meetings with local stakeholders and agencies to learn about their issues and concerns. After completing appropriate environmental reviews and permit applications, which could take a couple of years, PG&E then plans to build an undersea infrastructure, including power transmission cables, to support wave energy demonstration projects. The utility will then invite manufacturers of wave energy devices to install them offshore for testing and comparison.”

“The anticipated cost of wave power compares favorably to the early days of solar and wind,” says William Toman, WaveConnect project manager at PG&E. “It will take several stages of design evolution to lower costs and increase reliability.” The CPUC and the DOE are betting on this evolution as in this funding scenario engineered by PG&E, the CPUC awards $4.8M in ratepayer funds while the DOE $1.2M is a matching grant.

Wave energy may become a key source of renewable energy in California. It’s proposed that the 745-mile coastline could produce 1/5th of California’s energy needs if, admittedly a big if, economic, environmental, land use and grid connection issues — and community issues — don’t stand in the way.

Marshall wrote in closing “Making ocean power technology work reliably and at a competitive price will be the first big challenge. Serving offshore installations with power transmission lines will be another economic and engineering hurdle. Finally, ocean power developers must also convince local communities and government regulators that their installations will not destroy marine life, cause boating collisions or navigational hazards, or degrade ocean views.”

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MICHELLE MA, Seattle Times, November 17, 2008

What started out as a mad dash to extract energy from the ocean’s waves and tides has slowed to a marathoner’s pace — complete with a few water breaks and sprained ankles along the way.

In the past three years, more than 100 preliminary permits have been issued nationally for wave and tidal energy projects, and nearly 100 more are pending approval. But only one has won a license to operate — a small wave energy development off Washington’s northwest coast.

That project is still awaiting state and federal permits, and its British Columbia-based developer, Finavera Renewables, doesn’t know when the first devices will go in the water. It doesn’t help that a wave power buoy the company was testing off the Oregon coast unexpectedly sank last year.

Tapping the power of waves and tidal currents to generate electricity is promoted as one of many promising alternatives to the fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

But no one knows exactly how the technologies will behave in the water, whether animals will get hurt, or if costs will pencil out. The permitting process is expensive and cumbersome, and no set method exists for getting projects up and running.

“The industry is really young, and everything is hodgepodged right now,” said Jim Thomson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Lab who is involved in tidal research.

A new report that collected findings from dozens of scientists raises concerns about the impact wave energy developments could have on the ocean and its critters. Wave energy buoys could alter the food chain or disrupt migrations, the report says.

Still, developers, regulators and researchers are moving forward. A 2.25-megawatt project off the coast of Portugal went on line this fall, becoming the world’s first commercial wave energy development in operation. It can supply 1,500 households with electricity.

The first commercial wave energy park in the U.S. could go in off Reedsport, Ore., within the next two years.

Tidal energy has yet to go commercial, but devices have been tested in Ireland and Canada. Turbines have been placed in New York’s East River, and a demonstration project is planned for the Bay of Fundy off Northeastern U.S.

In the Northwest, the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) has narrowed its search for tidal power sites in Puget Sound, although the PUD doesn’t expect to have a test project in the water for another two years.

Race to develop

Dozens of developers have staked claim to plots in the ocean and in waterways that could provide wave and tidal energy. But despite the jostle for space, getting projects off dry land has proved difficult.

Wave power generators use the up-and-down motion of the ocean’s swells to produce electricity. Tidal generators act like underwater windmills, spinning as the tides move in and out.

To get small projects in the water quicker federal regulators recently created a five-year pilot license for tidal and wave developments. That’s meant to help developers gather data they need to launch future projects, said Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

Yet even with a more streamlined process, no one has applied for the pilot license, Miller said. Finavera received its license for the 1-megawatt Makah Bay wave project before this option became available.

Given the unknowns in a young industry, it’s not surprising projects are taking longer than some developers would like, said Myke Clark, senior vice president of business development for Finavera.

His company encountered another hurdle when Pacific Gas and Electric’s agreement to buy power from a planned Finavera wave energy project off California was rejected last month by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Regulators said the rates were too high and the buoy technology not yet ready.

Clark said the decision wouldn’t affect Finavera’s Makah Bay project.

Research under way

Researchers from the University of Washington and Oregon State University hope that a new national marine renewable energy research center in the Northwest will help answer questions about tidal and wave energy.

A federal grant provides $1.25 million annually for up to five years. The UW will continue research on tidal energy in Puget Sound, while OSU will focus on wave energy.

“The feeling is that a lot of questions being asked now are only questions that can be answered with a responsible pilot [project],” said Brian Polagye, who is pursuing his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the UW.

Locally, researchers want to see where marine life in Puget Sound congregates and to create a standard way to evaluate sites around the country to determine which would be good candidates for tidal energy projects.

Admiralty Inlet, between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend, is the likely spot for the Snohomish County PUD’s small test project set to launch at least two years from now, said Craig Collar, the PUD’s senior manager of energy resource development.

The inlet’s tides are strong, and the area is large enough to accommodate a tidal project without interfering with other activities such as diving and ferry traffic.

Finavera wants to install four wave energy buoys in Makah Bay in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary to test its technology. Developers also plan to monitor the project for effects on wildlife and shoreline habitat, keeping an eye on federally listed species such as the marbled murrelet, a small bird that dives for food.

Finavera doesn’t intend to continue the project after its five-year license expires. Still, if the company can negotiate a purchasing agreement with the Clallam County Public Utility District, homes in the area could use the wave generated power while the project is in the water, Clark said.

The Makah Nation wants to see what effect the project might have on the environment before deciding whether wave energy is a viable long-term option, said Ryland Bowechop, tourism and economic-development planner for the tribe.

The buoys would sit just offshore from the tribal headquarters in Neah Bay.

“We are always concerned because our livelihood is the ocean,” Bowechop said.

Concerns linger

The environmental effects of wave and tidal energy are largely unknown and require more studies, dozens of scientists concluded after meeting a year ago at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

The group was concerned that electromagnetic cables on the ocean floor could affect sea life, and that buoys could interfere with whale and fish migration.

Large buoys might actually attract more fish, but the marine ecosystem could be altered if more predators move in. Buoys also could disrupt natural currents and change how sediment is moved. Shorelines might be affected as energy is taken from the waves.

Even if environmental concerns are checked, costs to extract the power remain high. Wave energy costs at least 20 cents per kilowatt hour to generate, compared with 4 cents per kilowatt hour for wind power, said Annette von Jouanne, leader of OSU’s wave energy program. Wind energy used to be much more expensive 20 years ago.

In comparison, coal-generated power costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, and power from dams can be as low as 3 cents, said Roger Bedard, ocean energy leader with the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute.

Tidal energy costs are harder to determine because there aren’t any projects trying to sell electricity, Bedard said.

Fishermen have their own worries. They fear that wave and tidal projects could further reduce access to fishing grounds, said Dale Beasley, a commercial fisherman in Ilwaco, Pacific County, and president of the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association.

“There’s so many things coming at the ocean right now,” he said.

Beasley says the industry wants a say in how wave and tidal energy projects are developed.

“Coastal communities are going to have to figure out a way to deal with this, and if they don’t, the character of the coast will change dramatically,” he said.

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NICOLAS CONFESSORE, The New York Times, August 18, 2008

BURKE, N.Y. — Everywhere that Janet and Ken Tacy looked, the wind companies had been there first.

Dozens of people in their small town had already signed lease options that would allow wind towers on their properties. Two Burke Town Board members had signed private leases even as they negotiated with the companies to establish a zoning law to permit the towers. A third board member, the Tacys said, bragged about the commissions he would earn by selling concrete to build tower bases. And, the Tacys said, when they showed up at a Town Board meeting to complain, they were told to get lost.

“There were a couple of times when they told us to just shut up,” recalled Mr. Tacy, sitting in his kitchen on a recent evening.

Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

“It really is renewable energy gone wrong,” said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the wind companies. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo agreed this year to take over the investigation.

“It’s a modern-day gold rush,” Mr. Champagne said.

Mr. Cuomo is investigating whether wind companies improperly influenced local officials to get permission to build wind towers, as well as whether different companies colluded to divide up territory and avoid bidding against one another for the same land.

The industry appears to be shying away from trying to erect the wind farms in more affluent areas downstate, even where the wind is plentiful, like Long Island.

But in the small towns near the Canadian border, families and friendships have been riven by feuds over the lease options, which can be worth tens of thousands of dollars a year in towns where the median household income may hover around $30,000. Rumors circulate about neighbors who can suddenly afford new tractors or trucks. Opponents of the wind towers even say they have received threats; one local activist said that on two occasions, she had found her windshield bashed in.

“My sisters and brothers won’t even talk to me anymore,” said Mr. Tacy, who with his wife has become active in recent years in a network of people who oppose the wind companies. “They tear communities apart.” Opponents of the farms say their scenic views are being marred by the hundreds of wind towers already in place, some of which stand nearly 400 feet tall. They also complain of the irritating hum of spinning turbines and what they say are wasteful public subsidies to wind companies.

But corruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm’s developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative’s car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, “That’s up to you,” according to the complaint.

Last month, Mr. Cuomo subpoenaed two wind companies, Noble Environmental Power, based in Connecticut, and First Wind, based in Massachusetts, seeking a broad range of documents. Both companies say they are cooperating with the attorney general.

“We have no comment on specifics, but we want to be clear: Noble supports open and transparent development of wind projects in accordance with the highest ethical standards,” said Walt Howard, Noble’s chief executive.

The industry’s interest in New York’s North Country is driven by several factors. The area is mostly rural, with thousands of acres of farmland near existing energy transmission lines. Moreover, under a program begun in 2004, the state is entering into contracts to buy renewable energy credits, effectively subsidizing wind power until it can compete against power produced more cheaply from coal or natural gas.

Nine large-scale wind farms housing 451 towers, each with a turbine, are in operation in New York, with at least 840 more towers slated for construction, according to state officials. And in June, Iberdrola S.A., which is based in Spain and is one of the world’s largest energy producers, announced its proposal to invest $2 billion to build hundreds more towers here.

Every day in the North Country during the warm months, trucks pulling giant flatbed trailers rumble down the highways, carrying tower sections and turbine blades. Some residents see the trucks not as a disturbance, but as an omen of jobs, money and cleaner air.

“I feel as a mother, as a grandmother, that the country needs it — not just here,” said Susan Gerow, a Burke resident who has signed easements with Noble worth about $3,000 a year. Like others who have signed deals with the companies, Ms. Gerow and her family will also earn a portion of the revenue from the windmills if they are ever built.

The North Country is a chronically distressed region, and farming is increasingly a profitless enterprise here. The General Motors plant in Massena, for years a reliable source of good jobs, is closing in mid-2009. One of the few bright spots in the local economy in recent decades has been the construction of state prisons, of which there are now five in Franklin County alone.

“You’re talking about a poor farming community out here,” said Brent A. Trombly, a former town supervisor of Ellenburg, which approved a law to allow and establish regulations for the wind towers in 2003. “Our only natural resources are stone and wind.”

For some farmers, he said, the wind leases were their last chance to hold onto land that had been in the family for generations. Supporters also say that the wind towers bring in badly needed tax revenue.

“We see this industry coming, we see the payments coming in,” said William K. Wood, a former Burke Town Board member who also signed a lease option. The school board of Chateaugay, he pointed out, received $332,800 this year from Noble for payments in lieu of taxes, money that the district used to lower school taxes, upgrade its computers and provide a prekindergarten class for the first time.

The local debates over wind power are driven in a part by a vacuum at the state level. There is no state law governing where wind turbines can be built or how big they can be. That leaves it up to town officials, working part time and on advice from outside lawyers, some of whom may have conflicts of their own.

Two Franklin County towns, Brandon and Malone, have passed laws banning the wind turbines. But the issue remains unresolved in Burke, population 1,451, where two Town Board members recused themselves from the issue this year because they had leases with wind companies, leaving the board deadlocked.

At a meeting last month at Burke’s Town Hall, opponents and supporters sat on opposite sides of the aisle, arms crossed. The mood, as it has often been at such meetings, was quietly bitter.

“I’d like to hear what people think,” said Darrel Bushey, the town supervisor and a wind-tower opponent.

“We’ve listened to the people for two years,” responded Timothy Crippen, who sits on the town’s zoning board, which favors permitting the turbines. “It’s time to make a move.”

Some hands shot into the air from the audience, but were ignored.

“There is no decision you are going to make that is going to make everyone happy,” said Craig Dumas, another zoning board member, almost pleading for action.

But the meeting soon broke up, still with no decision made.

“This is a problem for these communities,” Mr. Dumas said as the room emptied. “There’s a lot of emotion on both sides.”

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