Cohocton Wind Watch: March 2012
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.


READ about the FIRST WIND Connection to the Obama Administration

Industrial Wind and the Wall Street Cap and Trade Fraud




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Saturday, March 31, 2012

New York and Department of Energy reach wind deal

New York State has reached a deal with the Obama administration that will speed up the development of off-shore wind projects on the Great Lakes.

Friday, the Department of Energy announced a Memorandum of Understanding with New York and four other states that would basically streamline the regulatory reviews of any proposed off-shore proposals.

Last year, New York State passed the Article X law, giving itself power to make the final decision on wind projects instead of local governments. The Department of Energy says this deal is all about the President's commitment to renewable energy.

"We're also very strongly committed to make sure all regulatory steps are properly performed and all kinds of public comment and all of those protections are fully observed. We're just trying to be efficient in the way we do that," said Daniel Poneman of the U.S. Department of Energy.

And while there aren't any wind projects on the Great Lakes yet , there is a proposal in the works for one on Lake Erie.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Great Lakes Offshore Wind Farms Agreement Reached Between 5 States And Federal Government

The Obama administration and five states have reached an agreement to speed up approval of offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes, which have been delayed by cost concerns and public opposition.

Under the deal, which administration officials disclosed to The Associated Press ahead of an announcement scheduled for Friday, state and federal agencies will craft a blueprint for speeding regulatory review of proposed wind farms without sacrificing environmental and safety standards. The Great Lakes have no offshore wind turbines, although a Cleveland partnership announced plans last year for a demonstration project that would place five to seven turbines in Lake Erie about 7 miles north of the city, generating 20-30 megawatts of electricity.

Offshore wind projects have been proposed elsewhere in the region, including Michigan and New York, stirring fierce debate.

Critics say they would ruin spectacular vistas, lower shoreline property values and harm birds and fish. New York Power Authority trustees last September abandoned a plan for private companies to place up to 200 turbines, each about 450 feet high, in lakes Erie and Ontario. The Canadian province of Ontario in February 2011 ordered a moratorium on wind energy development in its Great Lakes waters to allow more study of environmental issues.

Supporters describe the lakes' winds as a vast, untapped source of clean energy and economic growth.

"This agreement among federal agencies and Great Lakes states is a smart, practical way to encourage the development of homegrown energy that will create jobs, power homes and reduce pollution in American communities," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Administration officials said the region's offshore winds could generate more than 700 gigawatts – one-fifth of all potential wind energy nationwide. Each gigawatt of offshore wind could power 300,000 homes while reducing demand for electricity from coal, which emits greenhouse gases and other pollutants, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Public resistance and logistical problems would pose formidable obstacles to approaching those levels. Yet harnessing only a small portion of the Great Lakes' offshore wind could generate thousands of jobs, officials said.

Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania signed the agreement. The other three states with Great Lakes coastlines – Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin – declined invitations but could join the partnership later, an administration official said.

The agreement is modeled after another between the federal government and Eastern states designed to support wind energy production in the Atlantic and encourage investment in new offshore wind technology.

"This agreement will enable states to work together to ensure that any proposed offshore wind projects are reviewed in a consistent manner, and that the various state and federal agencies involved collaborate and coordinate their reviews," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said developing offshore wind energy would "promote economic development and create jobs, while reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources."

Among 10 federal agencies taking part are the Pentagon, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Developers would need state and federal approval to establish offshore wind farms. State governments own the Great Lakes bottomlands within U.S. territory, while a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be required to erect the turbines and all 10 federal agencies would review the plans.

APOV: PC power not sustainable

Tom Rivers’ recent report on the costs associated with installing home-use-size wind turbines was quite enlightening (“Partridge adds third Batavia windmill,” story, March 13)

As cited in the article, “State and federal incentives are covering almost the entire $75,000 cost for the new windmill.” It was also reported that “grants” paid half of the cost for the first two ($55,000 each). That adds up to $130,000 that the rest of us paid to cover the cost of one residence’s electricity — and they will still have to rely on our reliable sources when the wind isn’t blowing.

While such set-ups are certainly nice for those on the receiving end, let’s take a deeper look to see just how “sustainable” such a solution really is.

Reportedly, the cost of installing the unit would be covered in 12 years — information that presumably comes from the company selling the units. The article made no mention of maintenance costs, which are typically ongoing with these things due to all the moving parts. The average life of the units was not mentioned either — which, if the same as their larger counterparts, is only 13-15 years.

Since Americans’ average annual income was recently reported to be $32,400 per year (while those living off government entitlements is higher, at $32,700), the $130,000 that we (all ratepayers and taxpayers) paid to cover the cost for one residence to get the “politically-correct (PC) electricity du jour (of the day)” would be over four years salary for today’s average wage earner. (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/02/2012-index-of-dependence-on-government)

Let’s say 100 lucky residences across New York state are able to get the same deal, and have one to three home-use-size turbines installed. Those 100 residences would get their “PC electricity du jour” at a cost to the rest of us of $7,500,000 to $22,500,000. Yes — it is our ratepayer and taxpayer dollars that cover the cost of these things.

New York state was already ranked as one of the worst states in the country to do business for many reasons, including our already-high electricity rates. (www.northnet.org/brvmug/NYSDirtyDozen.pdf )

A recent report by The Manhattan Institute cited that states (like New York) that have mandated the use of “renewables” (i.e., wind) have seen their electricity rates soar even higher — increasing from 30 percent to 50 percent. (www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/eper_10.pdf)

So while a few folks may be the lucky recipients of “PC electricity du juor” installed at their homes, the rest of us will assume these costs through increased utility bills, the economy worsening as businesses and industry avoid or leave New York state, and “average” wage earners who are already struggling to make ends meet see their situation become even more dire. And this is what they call “sustainable”?

Just as it is for the federal incentives offered to those who buy the “Volt,” the fact is, only those who are financially well off enough can afford to buy one — be it a Volt, or a turbine — while the rest of us pay for it. Will it really be any surprise when today’s “average” wage earners simply decide it isn’t worth the struggle anymore, and join the ranks of those living on the government dole?

Sadly, I see this as the ulterior motive of an administration focused on achieving total government control. Their means to this end is already working extremely well, and unfortunately, is being helped along by well-intended people who fail to consider long-term ramifications as they exploit these kinds of “grants” and incentivized programs. At some point, we — or our children — are going to have pay the fiddler.

I don’t know anyone who is opposed to “green” energy per se, as long as those who want it, pay for it themselves. Entitlement debt is destroying our great nation. These kinds of taxpayer- and ratepayer-funded give-away programs in the name of being “green” are not at all “sustainable” — especially if we want our children and grandchildren to live free and prosper.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Prattsburgh against Ecogen appeal, seeks to negotiate

Prattsburgh, NY — The Prattsburgh Town Board on Tuesday counter appealed an attempt by a wind farm developer to overturn an order signed by a state Supreme Court justice.

Ecogen officials did not give a reason for appealing the order, which they originally submitted.

The order – approved by Justice John Ark in February – included a road use agreement written by Ecogen. It also gave the developer 168 days to show “substantial construction.”

Councilman Chuck Shick said the town is challenging Ecogen’s appeal in an attempt to get the developer to negotiate. Ecogen has declined to meet with town officials, including Shick, who is the town’s appointed liaison with the town's lawyer for the lawsuit.

“That seemed like the only way we have to get them to talk to us,” Shick said. “They sure haven’t responded to any of our other offers to sit down and talk.”
Shick said board members had discussed challenging the judge’s order but agreed to wait until he and Supervisor Lenny McConnell could meet with their attorney, Ed Hourihan.

After Ecogen’s unexpected action Monday, Hourihan advised a counter appeal, Shick said.

The appeals mark another chapter in a long dispute, which erupted about four years ago when residents in the nearby town of Cohocton complained the newly operational First Wind wind farm was noisy.

At the time, the Prattsburgh Town Board was in negotiations with Ecogen, and was divided on the developer’s proposed setbacks. The board considered a moratorium on wind farms to investigate the reports of noise, but withdrew its plans when the developer notified the town the temporary ban would be seen as a hostile move.

• APPEAL, Pg. 2

Ecogen held a public meeting to explain to residents what measures it would put in place to reduce any noise and maintained it was ready to begin construction.

However, other issues arose, including a dispute over a road use agreement and the incentives Ecogen was prepared to offer the town.

Opponents of the project were elected the following November, giving them a clear majority during the following term.

Within days of the election, Ecogen threatened to sue the town if the issues were not settled in December, before those favoring the project stepped down.

A settlement, including a road use agreement written by Ecogen, was approved by the outgoing board, but rescinded by the new board – thus s parking a year-long lawsuit before Ark.

Ark’s April 2011 ruling included a call for both sides to agree on the road use agreement and gave Ecogen 168 days to show “substantial construction.” He signed the order last month. Ecogen has yet to begin construction and has refused to discuss the road use agreement.

Currently, Town Board is united in the need to discuss any settlement with Ecogen. McConnell maintains the terms of the order – in particular, the lack of incentives – are simply up for negotiations.

Others on the board say the project should meet setback requirements enacted under the town’s industrial wind laws.

At a special meeting two weeks ago, the board offered to meet with Ecogen in open session to discuss their differences. Instead, the wind developer appealed Ark’s order.

“We can’t get them to the table,” Shick said. “They’re ignoring us, like they always have. To me (the counter appeal) means ‘We’re not going to roll over. We won’t have you bullying us.’”

Ecogen has a standard policy of declining to discuss litigation in public.

Friday, March 23, 2012

UTC's Clipper Sale Underscores Harsh Wind Power Market Realities

Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp. (UTC) announced on March 15 that it was selling off Carpinteria, Calif.-based wind turbine manufacturer Clipper Windpower as part of a strategy to acquire Goodrich Corp., a supplier of systems and services to the aerospace and defense industries.

To help fund the Goodrich acquisition, UTC is also divesting its Pratt & Whitney, Rocketdyne, Milton Roy, Sullair and Sundyne business units.

UTC acquired 49.5% of Clipper in December 2009 for about $270 million. Less than a year later, UTC spent an additional $112 million to acquire Clipper's remaining shares.

At the time of the acquisition, it was expected that Clipper could leverage UTC's management and operational expertise, as well as its technology in blades, turbines and gearbox design. Further, it was thought that Clipper could build on UTC’s existing portfolio of energy-efficiency products and power generation systems, which are manufactured by UTC’s Pratt & Whitney business unit.

Despite the synergistic potential, the current market challenges in the wind industry call into question not only the sector's short- and long-term viability, but also UTC's long-term strategy for Clipper.

The crushing market realities
While UTC characterized Clipper as no longer core to its operations, Gregory J. Hayes, the company's senior vice president and chief financial officer, was far more candid during an analyst call last week.

"We got into this business with the thought that there was going to be a renewable energy mandate in this country - and there has not been one," he said. "We entered into this business thinking that the growth we've seen in the last five years would continue as a push for renewables in this country. And, in fact, that has not happened. It really has made wind power less economic than anybody had anticipated two years ago."

Market realities aside, Hayes also questioned if UTC should invest further in Clipper's turbine technology to go heavily into the offshore wind market.

"If we're going to stay in this business, it requires significant additional investment," he said. “Clipper makes a very good machine in the 2.5 MW class. But where growth is going to come is in the higher 5 MW class, and it's going to come from offshore [which will] require hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. And quite frankly, we're not going to do it."

Shortly after UTC's announcement, industry reaction was mixed.

"Given the market's uncertainty, UTC concluded that a low-margin, high-risk, highly capital intensive business is not where they wanted to spend their investment dollars," Brian Redmond, managing director at Paragon Energy Holdings, a principal investment firm that provides financial advisory and commercial asset management services in the energy sector, told NAW.

"The current low energy prices negatively impact energy sale margins, and the uncertainty around a long-term [production tax credit and investment tax credit] and/or comprehensive renewable energy mandate adds market risk,” he added.

However, UTC’s announcement came as a surprise to some.

"I was surprised by a few things," Dan Shreve, a principal at MAKE Consulting, told NAW. "Firstly, [i] that UTC does not recognize that there are growth markets in the Americas outside of the U.S. - especially in Mexico, where Clipper has had success in the past. Further, I would assume that a large conglomerate such as UTC would take advantage of the near-term market weakness in the U.S. to retool Clipper and make a strong push when the market recovers in the mid term."

Shreve speculated that UTC's motivation for the sale may have been an offshore wind-only strategy similar to that of AREVA.

However, he said, UTC is "spot-on" when it comes to development spending being quite significant, as evidenced by recent announcement from Vestas indicating the wind turbine manufacturer would be willing to entertain a strategic partner to help offset the development costs of the massive V164 turbine model.

Monday, March 19, 2012

United Technologies Unloads Clipper Windpower

United Technologies, the industrial conglomerate based in Hartford, CT, is putting Clipper Windpower on the chopping block.

Less than two years after picking up Clipper for $112 million in late 2010, UTC claims the Carpinteria, CA-based wind turbine manufacturer does not fit within UTC’s future focus on the aerospace and building industries, according to comments made by an UTC representative.

Clipper, which has about 600 employees, makes one of the largest wind turbines in the United States – the 2.5-megawatt (MW) Liberty wind power turbine.

When UTC picked up the wind energy pioneer in 2010, Clipper was developing a mega-scale wind turbine, the Britannia, for offshore wind farms in the United Kingdom, which would have had a nameplate capacity of 7.5 MW. Eight months after the acquisition, UTC pulled the plug on the Britannia offshore wind turbine project.

Several factors have recently dampened demand for utility-scale wind power turbines, including a global oversupply of wind turbines, escalating competition from lower-cost manufacturers and the stubbornly sluggish speed of the global economic recovery.

As always, ReCharge News provides an excellent blow-by-blow breakdown of the UTC’s two-year affair with Clipper Windpower:

UTC in January 2010 invested an initial $207m to take a 49.5% stake in Clipper following a liquidity crisis at the wind turbine manufacturer. It gained full control in December 2010 for an additional $223m . . . Clipper was then losing money and share in its core US market. Installations of its flagship 2.5 MW Liberty wind turbine plunged to 28 in 2010 from 242 the previous year . . . .

The company’s image had also taken a hard hit after cracking problems surfaced in 2007 that required a $330m remediation program to replace the blades on all its turbines. Many of its third-party customers left for other vendors.

UTC plans to use the proceeds from the Clipper Windpower divestiture to pay for the $16.5 billion acquisition of Charlotte, NC-based aerospace-industry juggernaut Goodrich Corp.

Friday, March 16, 2012

United Technologies to sell wind, rocket engine businesses to finance $16.5B Goodrich deal

He added that selling Clipper was not a difficult decision because the alternative energy business has stalled. “We’ve gone into this business with the thought that there was going be a renewable energy mandate in this country and there has not been one,” Hayes said.

That’s a reversal from comments to analysts last year that United Technologies’ $382 million purchase of Clipper Windpower in 2010 would help it capitalize on a global market it valued at $60 billion.

Alternative energy has stagnated with booming natural gas exploration. The nation’s supplies are bulging and natural gas is cheap. By comparison wind power is less economical than many thought it would be two years ago, he said.

United Technologies Seeks Sale of Clipper Windpower Turbine Unit

United Technologies Corp. (UTX), the industrial conglomerate, is seeking a buyer for Clipper Windpower a year after taking control of the struggling turbine maker.

United Technologies is selling Clipper, along with other units, to raise $3 billion for its purchase of Goodrich Corp. (GR), the Hartford, Connecticut-based company said today in a statement.

United Technologies decided to sell the “non-core” wind business, based in Carpinteria, California, as it reevaluates its portfolio, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Louis Chenevert said in the statement.

United Technologies bought the 51 percent of Clipper it didn’t already own for $222 million in October 2010, after reduced orders left the wind company struggling to finance operations.

Clipper abandoned plans in August to build the world’s largest turbine, the 10-megawatt offshore Brittania model to focus on land-based products.

United Technologies is classifying Clipper as a discontinued operation. The wind unit declined to comment.

The Wind Industry’s License to Kill

In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the domestic wind turbines are killing about 440,000 birds per year. Since then, the wind industry has been riding a rapid growth spurt.

But that growth has slowed dramatically due to a tsunami of cheap natural gas and hefty taxpayer subsidies. Even worse: that cheap gas looks like it will last for many years and Congress has been unwilling to extend the 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour subsidy for wind operators that expires at the end of this year.

And now, the wind industry is facing yet another massive headache: increasing resistance from environmental groups who are concerned about the effect that unrestrained construction of wind turbines is having on birds and bats. Ninety environmental groups, led by the American Bird Conservancy, have signed onto the “bird-smart wind petition” which has been submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s about time. Over the past two decades, the federal government has prosecuted hundreds of cases against oil and gas producers and electricity producers for violating some of America’s oldest wildlife-protection laws: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Eagle Protection Act. But the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — has never prosecuted the wind industry despite myriad examples of widespread, unpermitted bird kills by turbines. A violation of either law can result in a fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment for two years.

But amidst all the hoopla about “clean energy” the wind industry is being allowed to continue its illegal slaughter of some of America’s most precious wildlife. Even more perverse: taxpayers — thanks to billions of dollars given to the wind industry through the production tax credit and federal stimulus package — are subsidizing that slaughter.

Last June, Louis Sahagun, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, reported that about 70 golden eagles per year are being killed by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, located about 20 miles east of Oakland. A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks — as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act — are being killed every year by the turbines at Altamont.

A pernicious double standard is at work here and it riles Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who wrote the petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service for the American Bird Conservancy. He told me, “It’s absolutely clear that there’s been a mandate from the top” echelons of the federal government not to prosecute the wind industry for violating wildlife laws.

Glitzenstein comes to this issue from the Left. Before forming his own law firm, he worked for Public Citizen, an organization created by Ralph Nader. But when it comes to wind energy, “Many environmental groups have been claiming that too few people are paying attention to the science of climate change, but some of those same groups are ignoring the science that shows wind energy’s negative impacts on bird and bat populations.”

That willful ignorance may be ending. The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife recently filed a lawsuit against officials in Kern County, California, in an effort to block the construction of two proposed wind projects — North Sky River and Jawbone — due to concerns about their impact on local bird populations. The groups oppose the projects because of their proximity to the deadly Pine Tree facility, which the Fish and Wildlife Service believes is killing 1,595 birds, or about 12 birds per megawatt of installed capacity, per year.

The only time a public entity has pressured the wind industry for killing birds occurred in 2010, when California brokered a $2.5 million settlement with NextEra Energy Resources for bird kills at Altamont. The lawyer on that case: former attorney general and current Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s now pushing the Golden State to get 33 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Despite the toll that wind turbines are taking on wildlife, the wind industry wants to keep its get-out-of-jail-free card. Last May, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed new guidelines for wind turbine installations. The American Wind Energy Association has responded by calling the proposed rules “unworkable” and “extremely problematic.”

Given that many billions of dollars are at stake, it’s not surprising that the wind industry is eager to downplay its effect on wildlife. And while much of the focus has been on birds, bats are getting whacked, too. Last July, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the 420 wind turbines that have been erected in Pennsylvania “killed more than 10,000 bats last year…That’s an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and the Nature Conservancy predicts that as many as 2,900 turbines will be set up across the state by 2030.” A coalition of environmental groups have mobilized to fight the proposed Shaffer Mountain wind project in Pennsylvania because of its possible effect on the endangered Indiana bat.

Last November, that coalition – which includes Allegheny Plateau Audubon Society, the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, Sensible Wind Solutions, the Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited — sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing an opinion that may allow the Shaffer Mountain project to go forward. The letter cited Michael Gannon, a bat expert and professor of biology at Penn State University, who said that “there is an unprecedented risk to Indiana bats at the Shaffer Mountain project site.” He continued, saying the project could “jeopardize the species’ survival and recovery efforts.”

The backlash against the wind industry that’s now coming from the Left, has clearly put the Obama administration in a tight spot. President Obama has repeatedly said he favors renewable energy. But now, even the Sierra Club is saying that mandatory rules are needed for proper wind turbine siting.

In closing, a little historical perspective. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I wrote extensively about the issue of bird kills in open oil pits. At that time, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 100,000 ducks and 500,000 other migratory birds per year were being killed by the pits, which were trapping and poisoning the birds. The problem was widespread and the agency’s division of law enforcement launched a multi-year, multi-state investigation and enforcement effort. And rightly so. The oil companies were violating the law. They were killing birds without a permit. To get into compliance they had to either put nets over their pits or get rid of them. The Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the Department of Justice, brought charges against the companies under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Eagle Protection Act.

But today, more than two decades later, the Fish and Wildlife Service is turning a blind eye to bird kills by the wind industry, even though that industry is killing nearly the same number of birds per year as the oil and gas sector was back in the 1980s.

Wildlife protection is essential. But the broader – and more important — issue at hand is equitable treatment under the law. Do we have one law for everyone in America? Or are certain politically favored classes exempt from enforcement? That’s the question that needs to be addressed. And unless or until the Obama administration actually prosecutes the wind industry for bird kills, the answer will be obvious.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

US Senate refuses to continue Big Wind’s outrageous tax credits! Hooray!

In what may well be the biggest defeat for Big Wind around the world in over a decade, the US Senate voted today not to attach the “non-germane” Stabenow amendment #1812 to the Transportation Bill. Dead in the water! Done (for now). And likely done for quite awhile. Most “in the know” predict that the Transportation Bill is likely the last legislation for the year that will have bipartisan support.

The Production Tax Credits (PTC’s) for wind have expired three times in their 20-year history, and been reinstated each time, but this time we are so much closer to a critical mass of the electorate having learned the truth about Big Wind—it doesn’t work. It doesn’t reduce carbon emissions; it doesn’t reduce fossil fuel use. And without adequate setbacks, infrasound from turbines makes people sick.

Up against an army of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, tens of thousands of impassioned citizens around the country, with little but truth on our side, stayed apprised of the moment-to-moment specifics throughout the past week, and our voices were heard. First Big Wind presented the Bennet Amendment #1709, then another version, the Bennet/Moran Amendment #1790. Then replaced these with another with new language offered by Senator Cantwell (D-WA). Eventually Senators Reid and McConnell chose to present the Stabenow Amendment #1812 to the full Senate.

#1812 would not only have extended the Production Tax Credit for Big Wind, but would also have resurrected the 1603 credit—the worst of all possibilities. Big Wind needed 60 votes to attach their self-serving agenda to the BigDaddy S.1813 Surface Transportation Bill. Instead, they got only 49 votes, less than a majority, a benchmark of sorts.

That’s $5-$20 billion in debt (plus interest) our kids won’t have to pay to the Chinese PLUS billions in savings coming from lower energy costs for the entire economy. (Is it too much to assume this means Cape Wind is finally off the chart?)

In all events, it is really amazing, almost worthy of miracle status. For those so inclined, say a prayer of thanks tonight!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prattsburgh, Ecogen plan open sessions

Prattsburgh town board members sent a strong message to wind developer Ecogen Monday night.

Board members told their attorney Ed Hourihan there is no settlement of their long-standing legal battle with Ecogen.

Instead, the board said they would meet in open session with the developer and negotiate the end result of their dispute.

What that negotiation entails depends on board members. For some, like Town Supervisor Lenny McConnell, Ecogen will have to pay the town the financial incentives it withdrew from the table more than two years ago.

For others, such as town Councilman Chuck Shick, the board’s liaison with Ecogen, negotiations also will include new setbacks – something the developer has steadfastly refused to consider.

And looming in the background is a new state regulation, Article X, which calls for new wind farm projects to be reviewed by a panel of state and local officials under Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines.

If Ecogen settles with the town board, the 10-year-old project would be able to go forward unhindered by the state review. If it fails, Ecogen could apply under Article X – and go back to the drawing board with its plans.

Shick said the possibility Ecogen could be forced to start over again puts the town in the drivers seat.

That – and a recently signed order from state Supreme Court Justice John Ark drafted by Ecogen.

Critics of the order say it simply turns the clock back to December 2009, when a former board approved a resolution essentially giving the developer the ability to do what it wanted. The resolution provided no incentives to the town and set out a road use agreement with changes made by Ecogen.

Ark’s order also gives Ecogen 168 days to establish vested rights to the project, which includes “substantial construction” according to Hourihan.

The question remains – when did the deadline to establish vested rights begin, Shick said.

Shick maintains the deadline started last year when Ark made his decision and the town agreed.

“But if it starts now or a year and 168 days, I don’t think they can do it,” he told the board.

Board members said Ecogen does not have the financial backing, the leases, or the required permits to begin work, as ordered by Ark.

In a proposed road use agreement, drawn up by Ecogen – and now disputed by Ecogen.

In addition, Ecogen now plans to add six more turbines to the project, which would be reviewed by the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, according to SCIDA Executive Director Jamie Johnson.

However, Johnson said, SCIDA can not revoke the existing environment study, or payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement which provides significantly less money for Prattsburgh than its neighbor Italy in Yates County.

Italy -- also the site of proposed Ecogen turbines and substation – has been locked in a legal dispute with Ecogen for years.

The difference in payments to the towns is a key issue for McConnell.

“(Ecogen) said the (Italy) payout is more due to the distance to the substation,” McConnell said. “That’s garbage.”

McConnell also has said he is concerned about the cost of a second lawsuit with Ecogen. The current town budget includes $50,000 for legal fees, although the amount can be returned to the general fund if it’s not used.

Shick said later he sees no reason for the town to appeal Ark’s order.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Wind farms in Pacific Northwest paid to not produce

Wind farms in the Pacific Northwest -- built with government subsidies and maintained with tax credits for every megawatt produced -- are now getting paid to shut down as the federal agency charged with managing the region's electricity grid says there's an oversupply of renewable power at certain times of the year.

The problem arose during the late spring and early summer last year. Rapid snow melt filled the Columbia River Basin. The water rushed through the 31 dams run by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency based in Portland, Ore., allowing for peak hydropower generation. At the very same time, the wind howled, leading to maximum wind power production.

Demand could not keep up with supply, so BPA shut down the wind farms for nearly 200 hours over 38 days.

"It's the one system in the world where in real time, moment to moment, you have to produce as much energy as is being consumed," BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said of the renewable energy.

Now, Bonneville is offering to compensate wind companies for half their lost revenue. The bill could reach up to $50 million a year.

The extra payout means energy users will eventually have to pay more.

"We require taxpayers to subsidize the production of renewable energy, and now we want ratepayers to pay renewable energy companies when they lose money?" asked Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment of the Washington Policy Center and author of "Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment."

"That's a ridiculous system that keeps piling more and more money into a system that's unsustainable," Myers said.

Green energy advocates also oppose BPA's oversupply solution.

"It sends a very poor signal to the market about doing business in the Northwest," said Rachel Shimshak, executive director of the Renewable Northwest Project. "We want the Northwest to be a good place to do business."

BPA says its hands are tied by environmental regulations. Officials contend if they shut down hydropower generation instead of the wind farms, endangered salmon would be harmed.

It's counter-intuitive because for decades environmental advocates have complained about dams killing fish by sending them through the turbines on their way to the ocean.

But spilling too much water over the dam can apparently also be harmful. It can create too much oxygen in the water at the base of the dam, which has also killed salmon.

Interestingly, fish advocates are unconvinced. Save Our Wild Salmon is encouraging BPA to test salmon downstream of the dams to determine if their being impacted by high oxygen levels, and only stop the overflows when they have proof fish are being harmed.

Pat Ford, the group's executive director, said Bonneville is using the salmon as an excuse to keep hydropower dominant over wind power.

"I think it's driven by Bonneville's customers who are worried about the increases in wind generation in the Northwest and what it means to them," Ford said.

BPA submitted its plan Tuesday to the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission for approval. FERC has to decide if the oversupply compensation plan is fair to wind producers, utilities and ratepayers.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Prattsburgh: Board unites on wind farm

Wind farm developer Ecogen may be facing something new in its long history of threatened, and real, lawsuits against the town of Prattsburgh – a united Town Board.

Board members were in unanimous agreement the developer’s current proposal needs re-working when they met Monday night.

“I’m not in favor of this,” town Supervisor Lenny McConnell said. “A lot more is needed.”

McConnell received support from all councilmen, including Councilman Chuck Shick, the board’s liaison for the current legal dispute, which was ruled on early last year by state Supreme Court Justice John Ark.

Shick’s objections to Ecogen’s proposal were more pointed.

“This is a slap in the face,” he told the board. “They don’t want to discuss anything.”

Ecogen’s proposal is one of two orders awaiting Ark’s signature. The other proposed order was submitted by the town shortly after Ark’s February 2011 ruling.

Ecogen’s proposed order simply turns the clock back to December 2009, when a former board approved a resolution essentially giving the developer the ability to do what it wanted. The resolution provided no incentives to the town and set out a road use agreement with changes made by Ecogen.

The incoming board rescinded the 2009 agreement and the parties took their case to court. Ark ruled Prattsburgh and Ecogen should come together on a road use agreement and gave the developer about six months to establish vested rights to the project.

Town officials promptly signed the road use agreement, tailored by Ecogen, and submitted its proposed order.

The only difference between December 2009 and now is Ecogen wants a different road use agreement, Shick said.

Shick told the board Ecogen refused to meet with town representatives, adding “They said we should just sign the settlement.”

McConnell said Ecogen’s stand simply opens the door for more negotiations, which includes incentives similar to the ones it offered the neighboring Yates County town of Italy for a related wind project.

Board members said any negotiations also should fill the gaps they see in the proposed order including the number of turbines in the project, “health and safety” setbacks set out in the town’s recent wind utility law, and the size and model of the turbines.

Shick said he is mystified by Ecogen’s stand on the road use agreement and suggested the town leave it up to Ark to decide which order to sign – something the board said it will consider if negotiations fall through.

McConnell and Councilwoman Angela Einwachter will meet with Steuben County Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Jamie Johnson to learn what options the town has regarding the tax-incentive payments Ecogen must make to the town. The status of the environmental impact statement also is not known.

Johnson said the environment statement can be changed only if Ecogen makes substantial changes to the project, including adding or reducing the number of turbines. However, the tax-incentives can be negotiated between the recipients, which include the town, school districts and county.

The Prattsburgh town board will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the municipal hall, to further discuss their options with Ed Hourihan, the attorney representing the town in the Ecogen lawsuit.

Wind-power companies lose luster with investors

The weather's getting worse for wind-power companies, which are finding it increasingly difficult to attract venture backers.

U.S. investments in turbine farms and wind-energy businesses tumbled 38 percent last year to $9.7 billion, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Venture capitalists have practically left the sector altogether. They invested only $177.6 million in wind startups last year, down 71 percent from the year before.

Wind power is bucking a broader trend for clean energy, which is seeing a surge of investment. Venture backers pumped $4.29 billion into the sector in 2011, up 13 percent from the previous year, according to the National Venture Capital Association. With wind, it's harder for early investors to afford the large outlay of cash needed to get a business off the ground, said Jason Matlof, a partner at Battery Ventures in Menlo Park.

"We can't compete as venture investors in capitalizing energy companies," Matlof said.

There's also a glut of turbine production - fueled by investments over the last half decade in the United States, Europe and Asia - and not enough demand. Global purchases of turbines will fall 14 percent this year from 2010 and won't surpass 2011 levels for two years, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.

That's hurting the biggest makers of turbines, the giant fanlike devices that turn kinetic energy from gusts of wind into mechanical energy. Vestas Wind Systems in the Netherlands and India's Suzlon Energy reported wider-than-anticipated losses last month, and China's Sinovel Wind Group estimates that its 2011 profit fell by more than half from 2010. The companies have seen their stocks plunge in the past year.

With a market that's battering publicly traded companies, there's little room for startups to find opportunities, said Matlof, whose firm has invested in one early-stage wind company, Modular Wind Energy.

"Historically, there's been a handful of wind turbine companies that own all the development, all the technology and all the integration," he said.

Wind companies in the United States also face the expiration of a tax credit at the end of this year, adding to their risk. The industry is seeking a four-year extension to the credit, which helps lower the cost of wind power to make it more competitive with traditional sources of energy.

Venture capitalists for the most part are steering their investments toward technologies that make existing energy sources more efficient and alternative-energy sources easier to deploy, Matlof said.

As far as investing in production itself, "that is not a winning formula going forward," he said.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Wind Production Tax Credit: Time to End Big Wind's Loophole

“We hear a lot of talk about federal subsidies for Big Oil. I would like to talk about federal subsidies for Big Wind – $14 billion between 2009 and 2013, according to the Joint Tax Committee. And what do we get for these billions in subsidies? A puny amount of unreliable electricity that arrives disproportionately at night when we don’t need it. Americans are finding out that these are not your grandma's windmills. These gigantic turbines – which look so pleasant on the television ads paid for by the people getting all the tax breaks – are three times as high as football stadiums, taller than the Statue of Liberty, with blades as wide as a football field; you can see the blinking lights for 20 miles, and on top of that, these giant turbines have become the Cuisinart in the sky for birds. It’s time to end Big Wind’s big loophole.”
– Lamar Alexander

  • Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012
  • TIME12:30 PM -

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