Renewable Energy Installations in WI

Monday, January 31, 2011

"Pants on Fire!" says Truth-o-Meter to health problems from turbine shadow flicker

From an article on Political Fact Check:

To some, spinning wind turbines are a majestic source of pollution-free energy. But when they're proposed for residential areas, opponents often portray them as a menace to healthy, safety, aesthetics and property values.

The rhetoric can get pretty extreme.

When one was proposed in Barrington in 2008, opponents claimed that unnamed "independent medical experts" had found that turbines can cause everything from headaches to heart problems, and that sunlight flashing through the blades can produce a stroboscopic effect that may lead to nausea, dizziness, disorientation and seizures.

So when a massive 427-foot turbine was proposed for Stamp Farm on Route 2 in North Kingstown, it wasn't surprising that the opposition would echo those claims. One opponent was state Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt of North Kingstown. He co-authored an opinion column published in The Providence Journal with former North Kingstown Town Council President Edward Cooney.

For one of their bullet points, they played the epilepsy card: "The health risk of 'flicker' impact created by shadows of blades of turbines poses real and significant health risks, particularly seizures. . . ."

We contacted two epilepsy experts who said the concern was ridiculous because it was so unlikely.

David Mandelbaum, a neurologist and pediatrician at Brown University's Alpert Medical School, said even if an epileptic is sensitive to light, the flicker has to be at just the right frequency, and that frequency can vary widely from person to person.

Dr. Gregory Kent Bergey, director of the epilepsy center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in an email: "The fact is, the great majority of people with seizures [probably greater than 95 percent] do not have this photosensitivity." Some patients may experience a brief spasm if they see the sun coming through the trees, "but these seizures are usually readily controlled by medication. I do not tell these patients not to drive in the forest!"

He said "the risk from sun coming through a wind turbine would be very small -- the person would first have to be looking at the sun, not just at a turbine, and most of us know not to look at the sun directly. . . . We cannot use this as a reason not to erect wind turbine farms."

Mandelbaum said he has never seen any reliable documentation that turbines can cause seizures, or any other health problems. "They're using the epileptic community. It's clever and it's nonsense, and I find it personally offensive," he said.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coalition discredits realtors’ wind assessment

A news release issued by the Wisconsin Energy Business Association:

A group of over 60 Wisconsin energy businesses and organizations distributed a memorandum to legislators today to respond to the factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations in a memorandum distributed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association last week, including the following points:
1. There is no credible evidence that existing wind development in Wisconsin has depressed property values in Kewaunee County.
2. There is no credible evidence that existing wind development in Wisconsin has depressed property values statewide.
3. The property value study cited by WRA contains several methodological errors and weaknesses that greatly reduce its value.
4. WRA’s discussion of windpower’s impacts on commercial and residential construction is wholly one-sided and overlooks the benefits from building energy-producing systems on rural land.
5. WRA’s characterization of the rule’s promulgation is inflammatory and untrue.
6. A longer setback distance is not necessary given PSC 128’s strict regulation of sound and shadow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tapping into Wisconsin’s energy potential should be bipartisan goal

From an article by Tom Stills in Wisconsin Technology News:

MADISON - Unless someone strikes oil in Oshkosh, discovers natural gas in Necedah or mines coal in Colfax, the state of Wisconsin is destined to remain largely dependent - perhaps for decades - on outside sources of energy that power its homes, businesses and vehicles.

That economic dependency can be slowly but steadily reduced, however, if Wisconsin builds on its emerging expertise around development of new sources of energy.

Two recent news events sounded alarm bells for those who believe Wisconsin has the right combination of natural resources, research capacity and private sector know-how to begin charting a new energy future. In rapid order, Gov. Scott Walker introduced regulations that would make it harder to build wind-power projects in some parts of Wisconsin and he cancelled plans to convert a UW-Madison power plant from coal to biomass.

There may be logical reasons for the new administration's specific actions. Some people have complained that current state rules allow wind generators to be built too close to private property, and the conversion of the UW-Madison's Charter Street plant to burn switchgrass pellets was estimated to be $75 million more expensive than burning natural gas.

The larger danger is that Wisconsin could lose momentum around the development of much-needed energy technologies - advanced wind, next-generation biofuels, energy storage systems and much more - if the message is sent that energy and conservation innovation isn't welcome or valued.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Peak oil and free pizza!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Illinois wind advocates advise Wisconsin's renewable energy developers to 'Escape to Illinois'

From a news release issued by The Illinois Wind Energy Association:

(CHICAGO) -- Today the Illinois Wind Energy Association (IWEA) invited wind power developers working in Wisconsin to focus their efforts on Illinois, where Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly have worked to streamline regulations for the wind energy business.

Wind developers have been apprehensive about investing in Wisconsin since Governor Scott Walker proposed legislation that would effectively ban wind development from the Badger State. With these new job-destroying regulations on the table, IWEA is happy to highlight the much more business-friendly climate just to the south.

Recently introduced in the Wisconsin legislature, the War on Wind Initiative would dramatically extend setback distances from wind turbines in the state. If adopted, the bill would mandate a minimum setback requirement of 1,800 feet from neighboring property lines, far exceeding the setback distance from occupied dwellings specified in a rule issued by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

"Even the strictest county setbacks in Illinois are nowhere near as extreme as what Wisconsin would have if this bill passes," said IWEA Executive Director Kevin Borgia. "Illinois has no statewide minimum setbacks."

As Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week, "it is one of the most onerous regulations we have ever seen."

"In light of Wisconsin's War on Wind, IWEA invites developers to focus their resources on Illinois," Borgia said. "Businesses with wind farm proposals in both states are likely to focus their efforts on locations with the most beneficial regulatory climate. If the legislation is adopted, that location will not be Wisconsin."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Don't blow back on wind power

From an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal:

More government regulation and tighter restrictions?

That's the wrong path for Wisconsin to take on promising wind energy projects.

Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature should instead stick with the reasonable and uniform rules that the state Public Service Commission has approved.

Wisconsin is already falling behind its neighbors in the push to use wind as a clean, renewable energy source. At the same time, Wisconsin imports a huge portion of its power from out of state.

That's why the PSC was smart to adopt standard rules for siting smaller wind operations as well as bigger wind farms. The PSC, after listening to public testimony, health experts and industry officials, wisely streamlined and replaced a hodgepodge of local restrictions.

The PSC standards now protect public health and safety while permitting well-designed wind farms on appropriate sites. Besides more home-grown energy, Wisconsin gains jobs related to the manufacturing of parts for turbines. Farmers also benefit from the additional income they receive for allowing turbines of varying size on their land.

Walker's welcome mantra since his election last fall has been that Wisconsin is "open for business." But Walker's proposal for more regulation and restrictions on wind projects runs counter to that promise.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walker's wind ban proposal is jobs killer

From a commentary by by Keith Reopelle, Senior Policy Director of Clean Wisconsin:

MADISON -- A special session bill recently proposed by Governor Scott Walker includes many provisions that could hurt Wisconsin’s economy and environment, but one of the most perplexing proposals in this package is a new regulation that would effectively ban wind energy projects in Wisconsin.

The regulatory reform bill proposed by Gov. Walker would close Wisconsin’s doors to clean, renewable wind power and cost our state thousands of jobs. Our state legislators – who were elected on the promise of real job creation and economic recovery – should reject Gov. Walker’s bill.

The proposed bill creates regulations that effectively prohibit wind energy developers from constructing a wind turbine within 1,800 feet of the nearest property line. If approved, this law will make siting a wind farm so difficult that no wind developer will even bother trying; especially when Illinois and Iowa are waiting with open arms, having no setback provision at all.

The bill will immediately jeopardize 11 proposed wind projects that are set to create hundreds of jobs and undoubtedly many others in the planning stages.

Beyond killing current projects, this law would ensure that no new wind development companies or wind turbine manufacturers locate in Wisconsin, and result in the loss of thousands more jobs constructing and maintaining wind turbines.

Wind energy production is one of the world’s fastest growing industries. In 2010, the industry employed over 85,000 people nationally. In Wisconsin, the wind industry supports thousands of jobs at businesses like Tower Tech in Manitowoc and Renewegy in Oshkosh. Both companies produce parts for wind turbines. Tower Tech produced its first turbine in 2005 and now employs over 250 people at its plant where it offers competitive wages and good benefits.

By effectively banning wind energy construction in the state, this law would leave manufacturing companies like Tower Tech with far less incentive to develop in Wisconsin.

These more restrictive regulations would replace rules that the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) recently approved after two years of study, six rounds of public comments, and input from all major stakeholder groups.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Walker proposal would torpedo $1.8 billion in new wind power investments

From a news release issued by RENEW Wisconsin:

The window on new wind power developments is likely to slammed completely shut by the end of 2011 under a proposal released by Governor Scott Walker, according to RENEW Wisconsin, a statewide renewable energy advocacy organization.

“As part of a larger proposal ostensibly to create jobs, Governor Walker unveiled new restrictions on wind energy development that, if adopted by the Legislature, would drive development activity worth $1.8 billion out of state,” said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin.

Governor Walker’s proposal would mandate minimum setbacks of 1,800 feet between a wind turbine and the nearest property line, a dramatic increase from the setback distance of 1,250 feet from a neighboring residence approved by the Public Service Commission in a rule that would otherwise take effect on March 1.

“There are very few locations in the entire Badger State that are windy and large enough, and located near transmission lines, to overcome such extreme constraints,” said Vickerman.

This setback requirement, which would be more stringent than any other statewide regulation in the nation, would also apply to permitted projects that have not begun construction, such as the two-turbine project in a Village of Cashton industrial park that was ready to begin construction this spring. A 99-megawatt project near Darlington in Lafayette County would also be blocked, said Vickerman.

“Because construction has commenced, We Energies’ 90-turbine Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County will avoid these extreme restrictions,” said Vickerman. “Adoption of Walker’s proposal will draw the curtain on projects that would follow Glacier Hills, which will be able to power up to 45,000 homes.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Walker proposal would halt wind energy projects, send jobs to other states

From an article by Tom Content of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

A coalition of 15 wind power developers and manufacturers of wind components says a proposal by the Walker administration could make it more difficult to build wind farms in the state.

In his first executive order since taking office, Gov. Scott Walker included “requirements for wind energy systems” as one of several regulatory reform proposals being developed by the administration. Details of the administration’s proposal are pending.

The wind siting rule, developed in response to a bill that called for uniformity in wind standards across the state, was completed in December after nearly a year of work by the Public Service Commission and a wind siting advisory council. It calls for wind turbines to be built at least 1,250 feet from nearby residences, or 3.1 times the height of a wind tower.

The wind firms said Tuesday proposals that would make wind siting more restrictive could send wind developers, and the construction and manufacturing jobs linked to wind power, out of state.

“Repealing or modifying the wind siting law will send a message to manufacturers, developers, and investors that Wisconsin is not open for this particular business, which can which can be a key contributor to Wisconsin’s manufacturing renaissance,” the group of businesses, including both developers, turbine manufacturers and other firms, said in a letter Tuesday to Walker and legislative leaders.

The thorny issue of how close wind turbines should be built to nearby homes has dogged the state’s energy policy for several years. The Legislature wrestled with the issue before deciding to forward the matter for the Public Service Commission and an advisory council to debate.

Before developing the siting standards for small wind farms, the PSC had applied less restrictive standard to utility wind projects.

In its Blue Sky Green Field wind farm in Fond du Lac County, We Energies was required to build turbines at least 1,000 feet from nearby homes.

More recently, the PSC tightened the standard for We Energies’ latest wind farm, Glacier Hills, northeast of Madison. No turbine can be within 1,250 feet of nearby homes in that project, which is now under construction, the PSC said.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Say no to revving up rickety reactors

From a column by John LaForge of Nukewatch, a Wisconsin-based organization, in The Capital Times:

The owners of two 40-year-old nuclear reactors at Point Beach, on Lake Michigan north of Two Rivers, want to increase the power output for each unit by 17 percent -- from 1,540 megawatts to 1,800.

The gunning of rickety old nukes is getting a green light all over the region.

The Monticello reactor, 30 miles from Minneapolis, will boost its output to 120 percent of the original licensed limit -- from 613 megawatts to 684. Monticello’s been rattling along since 1971, and it rattles badly. In 2007, a 35,000-pound turbine control box (6 feet by 6 feet and 20 feet long) broke its welds and fell onto a large steam pipe that was cut open, causing the loss of so much pressure that an automatic reactor shutdown was tripped. Decades of intense vibration and poor welding were blamed for the crash. The reactor had been operating at 90 percent power. So why not push the limits to 120 percent?

In 2009 the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected claims that the accident record at the two Prairie Island reactors, south of Minneapolis, is so bad that its license extension should be denied. In May 2006, one of them accidentally spewed radioactive iodine-131 gas over 110 of its own workers, who inhaled it. Internal radiation poisoning is the kind for which there is no decontamination. Even so, the NRC could soon OK letting the Prairie Island jalopies run until 2033 and 2034, respectively, rather than shut them down in 2013 and 2014 as the license now requires.

Back in Wisconsin, Point Beach’s “extended power uprate” (EPU) plan was published in the Federal Register by the NRC Dec. 10. The draft environmental assessment and “finding of no significant impact” are hair-raising. The public has until Jan. 8 to comment.

Should we be skeptical? Point Beach has received two of only four “Red findings” -- the worst failure warning available -- ever issued by the NRC. In 2006, the NRC found that operators had harassed a whistle-blower who documented technical violations. In 2005, Point Beach was fined $60,000 for deliberately giving false information to federal inspectors. In May 1996, it was the site of a potentially catastrophic explosion of hydrogen gas that upended the 3-ton lid on a huge cask filled with high-level radioactive waste. The lid was being robotically welded when the gas exploded.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Oil Drum praises Vickerman's analysis of vacuum in federal energy policy

The following column by Michael Vickerman, RENEW's executive director, landed among the top guest columns in the last five years according to the editors The Oil Drum, one of the Internet's most respected sites for analysis of energy policies in light of declining oil supplies. Though Vickerman wrote the column in 2007, the conclusions continue to remain true about the federal vacuum, but last fall's elections probably reduced the possibility that states will "counter the policy vacuum that persists at the federal level."

Petroleum and Natural Gas Watch
by Michael Vickerman, RENEW Wisconsin
July 27, 2007, Vol. 6, Number 9
A Federal Energy Policy: Can It Happen Here?
Of all the issue areas that Congress dives into from time to time, none reveals the inability of our legislative branch to fashion an internally consistent national policy quite like energy. The usual items in an energy bill--tax credit extensions, fuel subsidies, fresh regulatory requirements (and loopholes), new rules on offshore drilling, etc.—are designed to reward specific industries and influential constituencies. This year’s energy bill promises to follow that timeworn path left by Congresses of yesteryear.

But an energy bill has to be more than the sum of its subsidies to constitute effective policy. This is especially true as we enter a time of growing resource and environmental limits that threaten to bite us in the collective behind if we don’t curb our profligate consumption of energy.

Now is not the time to continue subsidizing every form of energy that can be produced in the United States, as the current Congress seems intent on doing. In previous bills, Congress has taken great pains to make sure that every energy constituency—coal, oil, nuclear or renewables--gets its fair share of the federal pie, regardless of need or environmental impact. This is the cheap energy paradigm at work—promoting economic growth by artificially lowering energy prices.

But while this paradigm may have been defensible before U.S. oil output reached its maximum in 1970, it has no place in today’s energy-constrained world. Artificially lowering the cost of all energy sources will not only encourage waste and overconsumption, it will hasten the arrival of that traumatic day when the flow of cheap oil and natural gas cannot meet the demands of a hypermobile society.

It’s no secret that Congress lacks the stomach for offending powerful energy lobbies like Big Coal. But it’s simply not possible to institute policy changes, especially those intended to reduce carbon dioxide discharges into the atmosphere, without picking a fight with the coal industry, the electric utilities, and what’s left of the U.S. automotive industry. Therefore, if Big Coal pronounces itself satisfied with the energy bill’s contents when it is passed, you can be certain that Congress declined to incorporate any provisions that would cause coal’s share of the energy pie to shrink, such as a carbon tax or renewable feed-in tariffs.

What makes the United States singularly incapable of producing a coherent energy policy aimed at cutting energy consumption and using low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels? I believe there are three factors explaining this lamentable state of affairs. The first is that your average American citizen has the energy IQ of beach sand, and, in this regard, your average Member of Congress is the mirror image of his or her constituents. For proof, I would direct your attention to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who regularly appears on news programs to suggest that gasoline is overpriced at $3.00 per gallon and that motorists are being fleeced by dastardly oil companies.