Report of the CTFWP to the legislature
Credit: Monique Aniel MD and Steve Thurston, co-chairs, Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, www.windtaskforce.org 12 January 2012 ~~
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The following is a written response to the issues raised in the review of wind power permitting by the Office of Energy Independence and Security as requested by the legislature in resolve LD 1366. As co-chairs of the Citizen’s Task Force on Wind Power, a statewide coalition of more than 400 citizens concerned about the proliferation of industrial wind projects in Maine, we strongly encourage the legislature to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the costs and benefits of mountain top industrial wind turbines. Rather than relying on unproven theories of global climate benefits to justify the sacrifice of Maine’s iconic landscapes, or pie in the sky schemes to reduce petroleum consumption with electric cars and electric space heating powered by wind turbines, we believe more attention should be focused on the cost to ratepayers and taxpayers, the impact wind turbines have on local residents’ well being, and the negative consequences of wind turbines becoming the dominant feature of the landscape wherever they are located.
We believe there are serious flaws in the process which created and now sustains Maine’s aggressive agenda for land based wind power.
- 1. Assumption of health and climate benefits. There is no scientific evidence that wind power projects in Maine (or elsewhere) will have any direct or indirect effects on Maine’s air quality or the global climate, yet a presumption of such benefits is the foundation upon which Maine’s wind power agenda is based. Such claims continue, as we see in First Wind’s application in Oakfield, where it is asserted that improved health will result from the cleaner air created by this wind project. One source of this incredibly unscientific claim is no less than the former Director of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Where are the peer reviewed studies upon which such claims are based? They do not exist, and yet policy is determined as if such claims are undisputed facts. The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power admitted that there was disagreement about wind power’s ability to reduce fossil fuel emissions and left it up to the legislature to decide. The governor’s Emergency Bill, LD 2283, was drafted to make the presumption of climate benefits un-rebuttable but the supporting evidence is missing.
- 2. Assumptions about the moderating effect of wind power on the market price of electricity. There is no evidence that wind generated electricity will have any significant effect on the price of electricity in the ISO-NE market. Wind power receives subsidies which are worth more per MW than the average cost of a MW of electricity in the ISO-NE wholesale market today. Without these massive subsidies industrial wind investment would not exist, because the cost would make wind uncompetitive with the mix of generation sources available today and in the foreseeable future.
- 3. Disregard for the degree to which wind turbines alter the character of the area where they are located, based on the misguided belief that turbines deserve special treatment because of their supposed benefit to society. Maine’s mountains have been protected from intrusive development for decades but now they are fair game for wind developers. No economic impact analysis, or cumulative impact analysis was done by the Governor’s Task Force. Ignoring the present and future value of Maine’s unspoiled scenic vistas creates a distorted view of wind power’s benefits.
- 4. Failure to acknowledge the experiences of people living near turbines, not only in Maine but worldwide, whose lives are invaded by the sounds produced by these massive machines. Instead of listening to the complaints of residents living near Maine’s first few wind projects, Maine government has ignored them and given the wind industry a free pass to continue placing ever larger and noisier wind turbines too close to homes. To make matters worse, wind developers are permitted to purchase noise easements from land owners whose properties are too close to meet noise limits, and to enter into lease agreements with landowners who agree to allow turbines on their property, without disclosing the potential health effects that may arise from the projected noise levels. In granting noise easements and leasing land for turbines, landowners are bound by “gag order” clauses that prohibit them from complaining about noise if it becomes an issue. There needs to be a warning label – Wind turbines may be hazardous to your health. Substantial evidence shows that industrial wind turbine noise may cause sleep disturbance, anxiety, vertigo, headaches, annoyance and other health effects for some people.
- 5. The appearance of conflict of interest by lawmakers. The co-chair of the UTE committee works for an engineering firm which benefits from wind power development. Another committee member’s wife is the lead attorney for wind project permitting and litigation in the state. These committee members’ strong support for wind power is tainted by these associations and the public’s trust in government is eroded by the appearance of conflict of interest. They should recuse themselves from participating in wind power legislation.
- 6. Irregularities in the permitting process. The law is clear that financial capacity must be demonstrated prior to the start of construction. In the Rollins Wind project, First Wind received DEP approval to begin construction without proof of financing even as their IPO failed and was withdrawn. In the Record Hill Wind project an illegal condition was included in the final order allowing construction to begin without evidence of financing. The word “construction” in the draft order was changed to “operation” in the final order issued 5 days later. When questioned about financial capacity by interested parties the DEP referred to the changed condition but also asked Record Hill Wind to provide updated financials. Record Hill Wind responded that it did not have financing in place but was relying on the changed condition to move forward with construction. The DEP project manager claims the wording change was a drafting and editing error but that is not a believable explanation. The assistant attorney general who acts as legal counsel for the DEP has not responded to repeated requests to explain how and why this change was made. Only when Record Hill Wind received a US Dept of Energy Loan Guarantee almost 2 years after the commencement of construction did the project wrap up its financing package.
- 7. Refusal of DEP to hold public hearings on controversial aspects of wind project applications, particularly noise. The DEP has never held a public hearing on a wind project, preferring “public meetings” which do not allow cross examination of witnesses, documentation in the record of how every piece of evidence is considered, or the development of findings of fact and a conclusion based on all testimony in the record. Evidence which supports the issuance of a permit is cherry picked, while evidence which does not support the decision is ignored, instead of being examined and responded to. The preponderance of the evidence is not established and permits are issued without sufficient justification. The public is not well served when its ability to fully participate in a fair and open adjudicatory proceeding is denied.
- 8. Maine’s wind power agenda was foisted upon a misinformed and uninvolved public. The elimination of obstacles to wind power development was imposed upon the state by a zealous governor, John Baldacci, who wanted history to record his legacy as the “renewable energy” governor. His predecessor, Angus King, now a wind power developer, has been roaming the state for several years giving inaccurate speeches about the benefits of wind power. Describing Maine as, “the Saudi Arabia” of wind, and claiming that Maine would become uninhabitable without wind power replacing foreign oil, King’s widely reported self promoting PR campaign has softened the citizenry to passively accept wind turbines. Baldacci named his chief of staff Kurt Adams to become Chairman of PUC, where he worked to implement the governor’s wind power agenda. Adams subsequently accepted stock options from First Wind while still employed by the state, and soon after resigned from public office to take employment with First Wind. Such actions do not serve the citizens of the state but take advantage of position for personal gain. Citizens should be the benefactors, not the victims, of public policy.
- 9. Wind sprawl requires massive transmission upgrades. Central Maine Power, a subsidiary of Spanish energy conglomerate Iberdrola, one of the world’s biggest wind project developers, received approval for the “MPRP” a $1.5 billion project. Sold to the public as necessary for “reliability” to replace aging lines, the MPRP is in reality a massive infrastructure project to overbuild Maine’s transmission system to accommodate the haphazard release of energy from dozens of remote wind projects, which otherwise could not be connected. The low capacity factors of wind projects means low utilization of the increased transmission capacity. CMP/ Iberdrola is guaranteed a 13.8% return on this investment, which will cost CMP’s ratepayers about $10 million per year just to cover the ROI.
- 10. Maine’s RPS mandate of 20% of electricity to be supplied by renewables by 2020 will require a huge increase in the number of wind plants or Alternate Compliance Payments will be required. In either case, the cost to Maine’s landscape or ratepayers will be unacceptable. Maine’s goal of 2700 MW of land based wind power and 300 MW of ocean wind power is less than half the total MW required to meet this mandate. No other states in the ISO-NE have significant wind potential, or aggressive plans to exploit their ridges. Public opposition to wind power is growing rapidly due to its negative impact on high value landscapes and quality of life. In Vermont Elizabeth Miller is commissioner of the Department of Public Service, the state agency that oversaw Vermont’s new energy plan. Miller says the wind projects that have already won state permits may be the right balance for the state’s energy mix. “Should all those projects be developed it will be about 7 or 8 percent of our load, which is actually significant when you compare other in-state renewable resources, such as biomass, which is about 10, and hydro, in-state, which is about 10 or 11 percent. I heard last week up in the Northeast Kingdom the concern by some there that the Northeast Kingdom has perhaps a greater share of large wind projects than some feel is appropriate. And I’m sensitive to that concern.” Such statements do not increase investor confidence in grid scale wind projects in Vermont. In Maine, every wind project has been appealed or is involved in some sort of litigation with residents. Massachusetts has so far failed to impose a wind turbine siting law, keeping control in the local communities where it should be, but making it more difficult for wind developers to overcome legitimate concerns about the look, feel and sound of their projects.
- 11. Decommissioning language in permits issued is not in compliance with the statute, that specifically states that decommissioning must be planned without regard to the applicant’s future financial condition. The DEP’s wind project application form does not require, as the statute states, that an applicant demonstrate how decommissioning will be funded in a way that is not dependent on future financial condition, only that a decommissioning plan is submitted. The statute intends that the risks of decommissioning remain with the applicant. The only way to insure this is to require the establishment of a creditor and bankruptcy remote fund at the beginning. The Vermont Public Service Board, in the Deerfield Wind decision, Docket 7250, included conditions for decommissioning which should be a model for Maine:
VI. DECOMMISSIONING FUND
We require Deerfield to file a Decommissioning Plan with the Board and parties prior to commencement of construction. The Plan shall include a revised estimate of the costs of decommissioning, covering all of the activities specified in the Decommissioning Plan, and shall contain certification that the cost estimate has been prepared by a person(s) with appropriate knowledge and experience in wind generation projects and cost estimating. Also, the Plan may allow the Decommissioning Fund to grow as the construction process proceeds such that the funding level is commensurate with the costs of removing infrastructure in place. The amount of the Fund may not net out the projected salvage value of the infrastructure. In addition, we require that the Decommissioning Plan include a copy of the Letter of Credit to be posted by Deerfield to secure the full amount of the Fund, and demonstrate how the Fund will be creditor and bankruptcy remote in the event of Deerfield’s insolvency or business failure. We further require that the Letter of Credit be issued by an A-rated financial institution and that it name the
Vermont Public Service Board as the designated beneficiary. The Letter of Credit shall be an “irrevocable standby” letter of credit and shall include an auto-extension provision (i.e. “evergreen clause”).
Similar to the approach we approved in the UPC Vermont Wind Docket102 we adopt the Department’s recommendation that a trigger be set for decommissioning review. Therefore, if actual production falls below 65% of projected production during any consecutive two-year period, a decommissioning review will be initiated.103 However, in the event that Deerfield can show that it has entered into stably-priced power contracts with Vermont utilities through which a substantial amount of power is to be sold to Vermont utilities at stable prices, we may reduce the decommissioning trigger to as low as 50% if we find that those contracts provide sufficient benefit to Vermont ratepayers. In any case, Deerfield would have the opportunity to demonstrate during this review that there are reasons for the decline in production such that the project should not be removed.
In conclusion, we believe the laws enabling Maine’s mountain tops to be sacrificed to the wind industry have created many serious problems, while solving none. The idea that wind power is inherently beneficial and therefore its impacts must be tolerated is not supported by an objective analysis of the facts. Cheap domestic natural gas generation makes wind power non-viable without a continuation of subsidies that account for more than half the cost of production, and taxpayers are telling Congress that they are fed up with the waste and fraud involved in the greenwashing of America. Jobs building wind projects should be shifted to repairing and improving Maine’s transportation infrastructure, something that will benefit all Mainers.
Monique Aniel MD and Steve Thurston, co-chairs
Citizens Task Force on Wind Power
PO Box 345 Oquossoc, ME 04964
207 864 5423
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