Category Archives: Wind News USA

This is for news articles from all over the nation from all sources, especially from wind-watch.org and WindAction concerning all items that could relate in some way to Somerset County residents or Pioneer Green

Obama’s wind-energy lobby gets blown away

Credit:  By Robert Bryce, Aug. 18, 2015 – wsj.com

Chalk one up for the bald eagle. The avian symbol of American freedom has beaten the Obama administration and the wind industry in court, though the majestic birds still don’t stand a chance when flying near the subsidy-fueled blades of green-energy production.

On Aug. 11, a federal judge in the Northern District of California shot down a rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that would have allowed the wind industry to legally kill bald eagles and golden eagles for up to three decades.

The ruling is a setback for the wind industry and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which depends on tripling domestic wind-energy capacity to meet the plan’s projected cuts in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030. The ruling also exposes the Obama administration’s cozy relationship with the wind industry and the danger to wildlife posed by a major expansion of wind-energy capacity.

U.S. District Judge Lucy H. Koh, an Obama appointee, ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the American Bird Conservancy, and against the FWS’s “eagle take” rule. Judge Koh found that the FWS violated the National Environmental Policy Act in 2013 when the agency’s director, Dan Ashe, decided that the agency could issue permits to wind-energy companies that would have allowed them to lawfully kill eagles for up to 30 years without first doing an environmental-impact assessment. Permits were previously limited to five years.

Mr. Ashe, an Obama nominee who has headed the FWS since 2011, ignored the advice of a staff member who warned him, according to the ruling, that “real, significant, and cumulative biological impacts will result” if the eagle-kill permits were extended from five to 30 years. Rather than listen to his staff, Mr. Ashe sided with the wind-energy lobby, which pushed hard for the 30-year permits. More than a dozen wind companies have applied for eagle-kill permits.

Bird kills in general, and eagle kills in particular, are a legal and public-relations nightmare for an industry that promotes itself as “green.” The FWS and the Justice Department have been reluctant to prosecute the wind industry for killing protected birds – bringing only two cases against wind-energy companies over the past two years – even though a study published in the March 2013 issue of the Wildlife Society Bulletin found that wind turbines in the U.S. kill some 573,000 birds and 880,000 bats each year. The study also said there is an “urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods” at wind facilities.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the Energy Department projects that wind-generation capacity will surge from 66 gigawatts in 2014 to some 200 gigawatts in 2030. But for that expansion to happen, the federal government will have to give wind companies formal permission to kill some of our most iconic wildlife. And that’s where the raptor meets the turbine blade.

The Clean Power Plan relies on wind more than any other form of renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving those reductions will require covering roughly 54,000 square miles of land (an area about the size of New York state) with tens of thousands of new turbines.

Those turbines will be killing birds and bats in far greater numbers than they are now. Yet the federal government has no clear policies for how it will handle the impending slaughter or to what extent it will prosecute wind-energy companies for violating the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The rationale being used by renewable-energy promoters and the Obama administration is that future climate change trumps today’s wildlife concerns. Therefore, we have to kill lots of birds and bats with turbines to save them from the possibility of climate change. Never mind that whatever carbon-dioxide cuts we achieve will be swamped by soaring emissions growth in places like Brazil, India and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, the killing by wind turbines continues. On July 25 a wounded female golden eagle was found near a turbine at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in northern California. A local 2008 study estimated that the Altamont wind facility kills some 60 golden eagles, 2,500 raptors and 7,000 non-raptors each year. The injured eagle was taken to a wildlife hospital where veterinarians found the bird’s wing had been “shredded.” Saving the bird was deemed futile and the eagle was euthanized.

Last week an FWS spokesman told me the agency is “looking into the circumstances surrounding” the eagle death at Altamont.

Court sends 30-year eagle kill permits back to drawing board

Credit:  By Chris Clarke | Rewire | August 13, 2015 | www.kcet.org

A federal judge has spiked a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to issue 30-year-long permits to industry that would allow companies to kill bald and golden eagles.

Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court in San Jose ruled Monday that USFWS acted illegally when it approved the permits without analyzing the policy’s likely environmental impact as required by federal law. Koh ordered the agency to conduct a full environmental assessment of the policy. The permits, which would have allowed accidental “take” of bald and golden eagles at wind power sites and other industrial facilities, were created after wind power companies objected that a previously proposed system of five-year permits wouldn’t allow them to obtain business loans.

According to this week’s court ruling USFWS Director Dan Ashe implemented the 30-year take permits over the strenuous objections of USFWS scientists and other staff, who said the 30-year rule was scientifically unjustifiable and legally flawed. Now, Judge Koh has backed up those Fish and Wildlife staffers.

The ruling comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by Northern California naturalist Debra Shearwater and four other individual plaintiffs, along with the American Bird Conservancy, against the Interior Department and the USFWS in 2014. The American Wind Energy Association later intervened in the case as an additional defendant.

In September 2009, USFWS established the first-ever procedure by which it would issue take permits for eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). That law prohibits a wide range of harm to both bald and golden eagles, ranging from intentional killing to harassment, capture, disturbance, and trapping. The take permits would provide a means for companies to avoid prosecution for violating BGEPA if their otherwise legal activities ended up injuring or killing eagles.

But wind power development started growing dramatically after September 2009, and wind companies – which pose an increasing threat to eagles and other raptors as they spread across the landscape – complained that five-year permits would make them financially unstable. Lenders would be less likely to write loans longer than five years for wind companies whose ability to operate might change if they killed too many eagles and didn’t have their permits renewed.

In April 2012, in a nod to the concerns of wind power companies, USFWS proposed extending the term of those five-year take permits to 30 years, citing among its reasons for the change that the agency wanted to “provide more certainty to project proponents and their funding sources.” After a public comment period marked by vociferous opposition to the idea, USFWS issued its final rule establishing 30-year eagle take permits in December 2013. Environmental groups were outraged, while the wind industry said the new rule didn’t go far enough to protect wind company interests.

And critically for purposes of this week’s court ruling, USFWS made that final rule without conducting an environmental assessment of the 30-year permit extension, despite USFWS staff urging the agency consider drafting an Environmental Impact Statement on the policy. Plaintiffs argued that USFWS was legally obligated to review the policy under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal law that mandates Environmental Impact Statements for potentially destructive projects and policies.

That decision prompted the lawsuit from Shearwater et al.

When USFWS Director Dan Ashe gave the final order to extend the tenure of eagle take permits from five to 30 years it was an about-face for USFWS, which had previously held that there was no solid scientific justification for take permits lasting more than five years. As we reported in 2012 when the 30-year rule was first proposed, USFWS staff had previously said they couldn’t extend take permits’ tenure past five years, saying:

“[T]he rule limits permit tenure to five years or less because factors may change over a longer period of time such that a take authorized much earlier would later be incompatible with the preservation of the bald eagle or the golden eagle. Accordingly, we believe that five years is a long enough period within which a project proponent can identify when the proposed activity will result in take.”

In other words, over a span of more than five years the degree of threat an individual facility poses to eagles might become more dire, as migration patterns shift or eagle populations dwindle. Technological advances that would allow companies to better protect eagles might also arise in a five-year period, and USFWS would have the option of requiring those measures during a permit renewal process.

Judge Koh’s ruling confirmed suspicions voiced by many outside observers that USFWS staff hadn’t changed their minds when agency policy shifted. The shift from 5-year to 30-year eagle take permits didn’t reflect new thinking on the part of the federal scientists charged with safeguarding our nation’s wildlife: it came as Director Ashe sought to address industry concerns about access to loans.

The ruling includes some rather scathing comments by USFWS staff on the top-down imposition of the new rule without environmental analysis. Eliza Savage, USFWS’ Eagle Program Manager for the agency’s Division of Migratory Bird Management, was largely responsible for drafting the language of the 30-year rule. Judge Koh’s ruling cites Savage’s analysis of the task with which she was charged:

Calling the process a “train wreck” that “no one could be proud of,” Ms. Savage warned: “Once again, we find ourselves having taken sloppy action that we will have to do over instead of doing things the way they should have been done to begin with.”

In a telling passage Savage gives a glimpse at turmoil over the rule within USFWS, citing as steadfast opponents of the rule “the wind industry, the enviros, Native American tribes, general public, and the biologists and other staff within [USFWS] who will have to implement it.” Savage added that it was a “no-brainer” that USFWS should conduct an assessment of the new rule under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Real, significant, and cumulative biological impacts will result,” wrote Savage in a USFWS memo, “if the proposed regulatory changes are implemented.”

USFWS staff met with Ashe in October 2012, according to the ruling, to urge him to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement analysis of the effects of longer take permits. Dismissing the chances that anyone would challenge the legality of the rule in court, Ashe ordered his staff to prepare the 30-year permit rule.

Three years later, a federal judge has echoed those USFWS staff, except that her recommendation can’t be blithely disregarded, as it has the force of law. Lesson for Dan Ashe: listen to your staff. You just wasted three years.

Judge rules for eagles over wind power

Credit:  By ELIZABETH WARMERDAM | Courthouse News Service | August 13, 2015

SAN JOSE (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday rejected a federal regulation allowing wind companies to kill or injure bald and golden eagles without prosecution for 30 years, citing lack of proper environmental review.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the rule in December 2013, allowing wind energy projects, electric utilities and timber operations to obtain eagle take permits lasting up to 30 years, rather than 5 years.

But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh found that Fish and Wildlife did not complete a National Environmental Policy Act-compliant impact statement or environmental assessment before increasing the eagle take permits sixfold.

Eric Glitzenstein, attorney for the American Bird Conservancy, told Courthouse News that while expansion of renewable energy is “vitally important,” there is “a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.”

“As this ruling makes clear, the wrong way is for the government to cut legal corners, ignore its own environmental experts, and needlessly jeopardize eagles and other protected species,” he said.

Bald and golden eagles are not endangered species, but are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits anyone from killing, injuring or disturbing eagles, incidentally or intentionally.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service can issue permits for the “take” – killing or disturbing – of eagles if they are “compatible with the preservation” of eagles and “necessary to protect an interest in a particular locality.”

In 2009, Fish and Wildlife adopted a rule setting the maximum duration for each permit to take eagles at 5 years. After 5 years, applicants can request renewal, allowing Fish and Wildlife to re-evaluate the permit conditions to determine whether more eagles were killed than anticipated.

In December 2013, the government sextupled the take period, to allow companies to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles legally.

The American Bird Conservancy called it a response to the wind power industry’s desire to expand into eagle habitat.

Indeed, the regulation itself states that the primary purpose of the expansion was to “facilitate the responsible development of renewable energy and other projects designed to operate for decades.”

The Conservancy challenged the rule , saying it was adopted “in flagrant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act because the Service did not prepare any document analyzing the environmental impacts of the rule change.”

Judge Koh agreed, noting that Fish and Wildlife elected not to prepare an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment, and improperly relied on a two-part categorical exclusion to avoid NEPA review.

Fish and Wildlife determined that the 30-year rule was merely administrative in nature and that the rule’s “environmental effects are too broad, speculative, or conjectural to lend themselves to meaningful analysis,” Koh wrote.

But its decision to increase the take permits to 30 years was not merely administrative in nature, Koh said.

“(T)here is no serious dispute that a sixfold increase in the maximum duration of programmatic eagle take permits will have the effect of reducing public participation in permitting decisions. Over the lifespan of a 30-year permit, a project might be subject to NEPA’s public participation requirements only once, when that permit is first issued,” Koh said in the 46-page ruling.

“By contrast, a project under a 5-year permitting regime would be subject to NEPA’s public participation requirement six times during that same 30-year period. FWS’s apparent compromise to make eagle mortality data compiled by permittees every 5 years ‘available to the public’ in some unspecified manner is no substitute for the public’s right under NEPA to participate in permitting decisions.”

Also, the primary purpose of the 30-year rule was to facilitate energy generation projects. The wind industry had criticized the 5-year rule as “fundamentally unworkable for the industry considering the life of most wind projects is 20 to 30 years,” according to the ruling.

The Secretary of the Interior acknowledged that the rule would help the renewable industry develop longer-term projects. Because the wind industry’s substantive concerns ultimately resulted in the 30-year rule, Koh “fails to see how the regulation could be considered strictly administrative.”

She also rejected Fish and Wildlife’s claim that the environmental effects of the rule are too speculative for meaningful analysis.

Kent Co: Apex Clean Energy slowing pursuit of wind turbine project

By JONATHAN CRIBBS, Staff Writer April 18, 2015 | www.americanfarm.com ~~

A Virginia energy company pursuing a large wind turbine project across 5,000 acres of farmland in Kent County, Md., is slowing its construction timeline after local residents and officials protested the project recently on the Eastern Shore and at the State House in Annapolis, a company official said last week.

Apex Clean Energy was planning to seek approval for the project known as Mills Branch Wind through the state’s public utility agency, the Public Service Commission, within the next few months, said Dahvi Wilson, spokesperson for the Charlottesville-based company. A utility company seeking to build or change an electric generating plant in the state must receive a permit from the commission known as a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity, commonly referred to as a CPCN.

“We have decided to slow that process down so that we can have more time to hear from the community, share more information about the project, and work with local residents to make sure they have the facts they need to understand what the Mills Branch project would mean for Kent County,” Wilson said in an e-mail to The Delmarva Farmer. “We do not have a specific permit application filing date in mind, but we no longer intend to file in the immediate term.”

State Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr., R-Kent, sought earlier this month to prevent Apex from getting the permit by submitting a bill that would have given Kent County the right to vote on the project.

County officials have protested Mills Branch Wind because the turbines — which would be about 500 feet tall — violate county restrictions. But state law, due to the project’s size, mandates Apex go through the Public Service Commission for approval.

With roughly two weeks to make it through the legislature, the bill never made it out of the Senate Finance Committee before the state’s legislative session ended Feb. 13.

Regardless, the bill was likely dead on arrival, Hershey said, due to the precedent it would set — granting a single county say over the fate of a large public utility proposal. “We knew we had an uphill battle just on the timing of this… but we also knew one of the main things we were going to be able to do was get this hearing and draw attention to this project,” he said. Many local residents protested the project before the committee April 7 when the bill was given a hearing.

The interim president of Washington College in Chestertown, Jay Griswold, sent an email to the college community, encouraging them to attend the hearing as well. Among the college’s concerns: what affect the turbines would have on migratory waterfowl and how the skyscraper-tall turbines would “despoil” the county’s scenic landscape. “I think Apex also heard loud and clear that Kent County’s not the right place for their project. Whether they will continue with their project obviously remains to be seen,” he said. Hershey said the commission will also receive a letter signed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton and House Economic Matters Committee Chair Dereck E. Davis reiterating the county’s desire to be involved in the project’s approval. County commissioners, for instance, could be invited to Public Service Commission hearings and testify, Hershey said. “If this is where we are, where the counties don’t have enough say, then maybe the process is flawed or at least not current to the types of projects we’re seeing now,” he said.

Many details about Mills Branch Wind project have yet to be finalized, according to the company’s website. About 25-35 turbines would stretch over six miles from downtown Chestertown and about two and a half miles from Kennedyville and Galena under the current plan, Wilson said. It would eventually be capable of generating 100 megawatts of energy, enough to power up to 30,000 homes each year. The company also claims the project would create 70-100 temporary construction jobs and six to eight permanent, local jobs after it went online. It would also provide income for those farm owners who decide to allow the construction of turbines or transmission equipment on their land. Local residents have said they worry the turbines could create a host of problems from noise to migratory bird kills and plummeting property values. Apex officials say there isn’t research to support any of those claims.

Kent Co: Towns urged to join wind farm opposition

By DORIAN MITCHELL | April 17, 2015 | www.myeasternshoremd.com ~~

BETTERTON, Md— The towns in Kent County were encouraged to join the opposition against the controversial Mills Branch Wind project during the monthly Council of Governments meeting Wednesday, April 15, at Barbara’s by the Bay.

Developed by Apex Clean Energy, the project calls for 25 to 35 500-foot tall wind turbines to be placed in the Kennedyville area. A number of residents and county officials have objected to the presence of a wind farm.

Kent County Commissioner Bill Short said he attended an April 7 public hearing at the General Assembly. The hearing was on a bill that would prevent the Public Service Commission from excluding Kent County in the decision-making process on the wind farm.

Though that bill failed, Short said support for the opposition was growing across the Bay Bridge and that two state senators were going to send letters to the PSC, asking that its evaluation process be reviewed.

“They didn’t look at the consequences when they passed all this legislation,” he said. “The consequences that come to little counties like ours are just draconian.”

Short said communications about further support are currently taking place between the commissioners and the offices of Gov. Larry Hogan; Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Hogan’s director of intergovernmental affairs; Michael Richard, Hogan’s deputy chief of staff; and Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder.

“There have been two projects that have already been killed in the state of Maryland. we’re going to make this number three,” Short said. “We’re working out the details now and going to find a way to move Apex to the next zone.”

Short said the commissioners are encouraging town councils to write letters of support against the project.

“We’re very well fighting this,” he said. “The more we have, the merrier.”

Galena Councilman John Carroll said Kent County’s landscape will be forever changed with the addition of the wind farm, and that animal life, from livestock to migratory birds, will be threatened.

“Five hundred feet is pretty tall,” said Galena Mayor Sam Sessa.

Carroll also also recommended that council members do research into the matter. He said the wind farm project would affect Kent County as a whole.

“It’s a really big deal for all of us,” he said.

Kent Co: Wind bill fails to get out of committee

By DANIEL DIVILIO | April 14, 2015 | www.myeasternshoremd.com ~~

ANNAPOLIS — State Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr.’s bill ensuring local control over a controversial wind farm project failed to get out of committee.

In response to constituent concerns over Apex Clean Energy’s plans to build 25 to 35 500-foot-tall wind turbines in the Kennedyville area, Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, submitted a bill late in the 90-day General Assembly session ensuring the Kent County Commissioners would determine the project’s fate.

Apex is seeking a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the state Public Service Commission, leaving local opponents of the Mills Branch Wind project concerned that the county will not have a say in the approval process. The bill would have barred the PSC from granting a CPNC to Apex without the county commissioners having first signing off on the project.

In a phone interview Tuesday, April 14, Hershey said the bill was filed late in the session, with little time to get through committee hearings and floor debates in both houses of the state legislature.

He filed the bill March 25 and it was heard by the Senate Finance Committee April 7, about a week before the session’s April 13 end. Had the committee approved the bill, it would have gone to the Senate floor for a vote. If the full Senate voted for it, it would then have started a similar process again in the House of Delegates.

“We were lucky to get a hearing to begin with,” Hershey said.

He said committee members were concerned about setting a precedent granting too much or, in Kent County’s case, sole authority over industrial wind farms.

The good news, Hershey said, is that the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Economic Matters committees plan to cosign a letter to the PSC, asking for a review of the CPCN process. He said the chairmen want to know how much authority local jurisdictions have and how much weight their concerns carry in the PSC’s decision-making process.

“I think it’s a win for us regardless of not getting the bill,” Hershey said.

Hershey said the finance committee chairman, Sen. Thomas McLain “Mac” Middleton, D-28-Charles, sympathizes with the Kent County Commissioners and local residents over their concerns with Apex’s project. Hershey said the committee heard loud and clear that local residents believe in renewable energy and are incorporating it into the county’s portfolio, but do not want Mills Branch Wind built.

He said two other wind farm projects in the state have been canceled. He said concerns about the Kent County project could lead the state to review its renewable energy portfolio guidelines.

“And I think that’s a good thing for us as we go forward with renewable energy projects,” Hershey said.

He said industrial wind farms may work well in Midwestern states, like Iowa and Oklahoma, that have large swathes of land with plenty of acreage between turbines and people.

“I don’t think they fit in well with what we have here on the Eastern Shore,” Hershey said.

American Farm: Wind energy – the new air apparent (Editorial)

AMERICAN FARM ( April 14, 2015) americanfarm.com 

There’s something about Maryland that appears to be attracting wind farms.

It’s certainly not the wind and that troubles us.

In recent years, proposals have emerged for miles of wind turbine towers to be erected in farmland first in Somerset County and more recently in Kent County.

Needless to say the proposals were met by storms of citizen protest.
The proposed wind farm in Somerset reportedly has been abandoned in favor of a solar project.
The Kent County wind farm is feeling all sorts of heat but at this point, as far as we can tell, it survives.

It’s important to recognize that leasing farmland for wind power development is not a way for a farmer to “make a little bit of extra money.”

If the 26-page lease being offered to farmers in Kent County is anywhere near “standard operating procedure,” the signed document, in specific circumstances, removes control of the farm from the farmers and releases the wind power developer from normal rental responsibilities.

What attracts wind (and solar) power development firms are the enormous federal subsidies which are available in the current search for “clean power.”

In effect, what’s happening here is that federal money — yours and mine — is being used to encourage the buy-up of prime farmland in the name of alternative energy.

What villages of wind towers could do to the appearance of the area’s rural landsape and the resulting depression in real estate values cannot be ignored either.

Recall that sometime ago, a wind farm was proposed in the waters of the Atlantic (no valuable farmland there) off the coast of Cape Cod.

It never got built after environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr., — whom we assume would favor “clean power” —said the towers on the horizon, as seen from the family compound at Hyannis Port, “violated the viewscape.”

Many farmers and ag busnesses in these parts have turned to solar to meet their power needs and with all of this going against them, we are not surprised that Pioneer Green, the Somerset County developer, reportedly has turned to solar and that Apex Energy in Kent County could possibly do the same in the future.

Wind power generation in these parts, where average wind speeds are in the minimum range for turbine efficiency, are far from a sure bet.

The Statute of Liberty stands 305 feet tall from the ground to the tip of the flame. Both wind power proposals estimated their towers would have to be at least 500 feet if they are to capture the maximum, sustained Delmarva winds.

Put one of those babies in your backyard.

USA: Wind costs more than you think due to massive federal subsidies

Randy Simmons, Professor of Political Economy at Utah State University | The Conversation | April 8, 2015 | theconversation.com ~~

As consumers, we pay for electricity twice: once through our monthly electricity bill and a second time through taxes that finance massive subsidies for inefficient wind and other energy producers.

Most cost estimates for wind power disregard the heavy burden of these subsidies on US taxpayers. But if Americans realized the full cost of generating energy from wind power, they would be less willing to foot the bill – because it’s more than most people think.

Over the past 35 years, wind energy – which supplies just 2% of US electricity – has received US$30 billion in federal subsidies and grants. These subsidies shield people from the uncomfortable truth of just how much wind power actually costs and transfer money from average taxpayers to wealthy wind farm owners, many of which are units of foreign companies.

Proponents tend to claim it costs as little as $59 to generate a megawatt-hour of electricity from wind. In reality, the true price tag is more than two and a half times that.

This represents a waste of resources that could be better spent by taxpayers themselves. Even the supposed environmental gains of relying more on wind power are dubious because of its unreliability – it doesn’t always blow – meaning a stable backup power source must always be online to take over during periods of calm.

But at the same time, the subsidies make the US energy infrastructure more tenuous because the artificially cheap electricity prices push more reliable producers – including those needed as backup – out of the market. As we rely more on wind for our power and its inherent unreliability, the risk of blackouts grows. If that happens, the costs will really soar.

Where the subsidies go

Many people may be familiar with Warren Buffet’s claim that federal policies are the only reason to build wind farms in the US, but few realize how many of the companies that benefit most are foreign. The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University found that, as of 2010, 84% of total clean-energy grants awarded by the federal government went to foreign-owned wind companies.

More generally, the beneficiaries of federal renewable energy policies tend to be large companies, not individual taxpayers or small businesses. The top five recipients of federal grants and tax credits since 2000 are: Iberdrola, NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company and Summit Power, all of which have received more than $1 billion in federal benefits.

Iberdrola Renewables alone, a unit of a Spanish utility, has collected $2.2 billion in federal grants and allocated tax credits over the past 15 years. That’s equivalent to about 6.7% of the parent company’s 2014 revenue of $33 billion (in current US dollars).

President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget would permanently extend the biggest federal subsidy for wind power, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), ensuring that large foreign companies continue to reap most of the taxpayer-funded benefits for wind. The PTC is a federal subsidy that pays wind farm owners $23 per megawatt-hour through the first ten years of a turbine’s operation. The credit expired at the end of 2013, but Congress extended it so that all projects under construction by the end of 2014 are eligible.

In all, Congress has enacted 82 policies, overseen by nine different agencies, to support wind power.

I explained in December why Congress shouldn’t revive the PTC, which expired at the end of 2014. In this article, I’m adding up the true cost of wind power in the US, including the impact of the PTC and other subsidies and mandates. It’s part of a study I’m doing of other energy sources including solar, natural gas, and coal to determine how much each one actually cost us when all factors are considered.

Tallying the true costs of wind

Depending on which factors are included, estimates for the cost of wind power vary wildly. On the low end, the financial advisory firm Lazard claims wind costs $59 per megawatt-hour. On the high side, Michael Giberson at the Center for Energy Commerce at Texas Tech University suggests the it’s closer to $149. Our analysis in an upcoming report explores this wide gap in cost estimates, finding that most studies underestimate the genuine cost of wind because they overlook key factors.

All estimates for wind power include the cost of purchasing capital and paying for operations and maintenance (O&M) of wind turbines. For the studies we examined, capital costs ranged from $48 to $88 per megawatt-hour, while O&M costs ranged from $9.8 to $21 per megawatt-hour.

Many estimates, however, don’t include costs related to the inherent unreliability of wind power and government subsidies and mandates. Since we can’t ensure the wind always blows, or how strongly, coal and natural gas plants must be kept on as backup to compensate when it’s calm. This is known as baseload cycling, and its cost ranges from $2 to $23 per megawatt-hour.

This also reduces the environmental friendliness of wind power. Because a coal-fired or natural gas power plant must be kept online in case there’s no wind, two plants are running to do the job of one. These plants create carbon emissions, reducing the environmental benefits of wind. The amount by which emissions reductions are offset by baseload cycling ranges from 20% to 50%, according to a modeling study by two professors at Carnegie Mellon University.

While the backup plants are necessary to ensure the grid’s reliability, their ability to operate is threatened by wind subsidies. The federal dollars encourage wind farm owners to produce power even when prices are low, flooding the market with cheap electricity. That pushes prices down even further and makes it harder for more reliable producers, such as nuclear plants, that don’t get hefty subsidies to stay in business.

For example, the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant in Wisconsin and the Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vermont both switched off their reactors in 2013. Dominion Energy, which owned both plants, blamed the artificially low prices caused by the PTC as one of the reasons for the shutdown.

As more reliable sources drop off and wind power takes their place, consumers are left with an electrical infrastructure that is less reliable and less capable of meeting demand.

Lost in transmission

Another factor often overlooked is the extra cost of transmission. Many of America’s wind-rich areas are remote and the turbines are often planted in open fields, far from major cities. That means new transmission lines must be built to carry electricity to consumers. The cost of building new transmission lines ranges from $15 to $27 per megawatt-hour.

In 2013, Texas completed its Competitive Renewable Energy Zone project, adding over 3,600 miles of transmission lines to remote wind farms, costing state taxpayers $7 billion.

Although transmission infrastructure may be considered a fixed cost that will reduce future transmission costs for wind power, these costs will likely remain important. Today’s wind farms are built in areas with prime wind resources. If we continue to subsidize wind power, producers will eventually expand to sub-prime locations that may be even further from population centers. This would feed demand for additional transmission projects to transport electricity from remote wind farms to cities.

The final bill comes to…

Finally, federal subsidies and state mandates also add significantly to the cost, even as many estimates claim these incentives actually reduce the cost of wind energy. In fact, they add to it as American taxpayers are forced to foot the bill. According to Giberson, federal and state policies add an average of $23 per megawatt-hour to the cost of wind power.

That includes the impact of state mandates, which end up increasing the cost of electricity on consumer power bills. California is one of the most aggressive in pushing so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), requiring the state to consume 33% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Overall electricity prices in states with RPS are 38% higher than those without, according to the Institute for Energy Research, a non-profit research group that promotes free markets.

The best estimate available for the total cost of wind power is $149 per megawatt-hour, taken from Giberson’s 2013 report.

It is difficult to quantify some factors of the cost of wind power, such as the cost of state policies. Giberson’s estimate, however, includes the most relevant factors in attempting to measure the true cost of producing electricity from wind power. In future reports, Strata will explore the true cost of producing electricity from solar, coal, and natural gas. Until those reports are completed, it is difficult to accurately compare the true cost of wind to other technologies, as true cost studies have not yet been completed.

Blowing in the wind

The high costs of federal subsidies and state mandates for wind power have not paid off for the American public. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, wind energy receives a higher percentage of federal subsidies than any other type of energy while generating a very small percentage of the nation’s electricity.

In 2010 the wind energy sector received 42% of total federal subsidies while producing only 2% of the nation’s total electricity. By comparison, coal receives 10% of all subsidies and generates 45% and nuclear is about even at about 20%.

But policymakers at the federal and state level, unfortunately, have decided that the American people will have renewable energy, no matter how high the costs. As a result, taxpayers will be stuck paying the cost of subsidies to wealthy wind producers.

Meanwhile, electricity consumers will be forced to purchase the more expensive power that results from state-level mandates for renewable energy production. Although such policies may be well intended, the real results will be limited freedom, reduced prosperity and an increasingly unreliable power supply.

Megan Hansen, a Strata policy analyst, co-authored this article.

Kent Co: Conservation group joins fight against wind farm

April 11, 2015 | www.myeasternshoremd.com ~~

CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s Conservation Association April 1 initiated action in opposition to the Apex Energy Wind Turbine project for 49 500-foot industrial wind turbines near Kennedyville between scenic route MD 213 and the Chester River. QACA filed a Public Information Act request with the Kent County Government seeking disclosure of more information about the project and its developer.

QACA Executive Director Jay Falstad stated: “In filing our PIA request, we are taking a first step to join with Washington College, the citizens of Keep Kent Scenic, and the Kent County Commissioners themselves in their unanimous opposition to this almost unbelievable project. The proposed field of turbines, with their 164-foot blades atop 333-foot pylons, will put multiple skyscraper-tall structures into the undeveloped lands of the Eastern Shore, thereby despoiling a historic landscape, creating a wall of destruction for migrating birds, and impinging on the skyscapes of Queen Anne’s and other neighboring counties. We cannot let this happen.”

Falstad attended a meeting on March 21, organized by Keep Kent Scenic, and learned that the project, because it was subject to permitting by the Maryland Public Service Commission, apparently did not need to conform to the Kent County Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws that protect farmland from heavy industrial development.

Afterward, Falstad was able to secure a copy of the APEX Land Lease and Wind Easement agreement that a handful of landowners have already entered into.

“This lease is about as one-sided as I’ve ever seen,” said Falstad. “Essentially, the landowner is handing over control of his property to APEX — or whoever APEX ultimately sells its rights to.

“Take the provision [1.2(c)], for example, where the landowner grants APEX an easement to ‘generate electromagnetic, audio, flicker, visual, view, light, noise, vibration, air turbulence, wake, electrical, radio interference, shadow or other effects attributable to the Facilities or any other operational or development activities.’ That says that if you find your property has become a place where human beings can no longer live safely and comfortably, and therefore isn’t saleable, don’t complain to us, you agreed to it.

“Same thing with farming the property: once the turbines are up, the lease says that APEX ‘shall not be responsible to pay Owner any losses of income, rent, business opportunities, profits or other losses arising out of Owner’s inability to grow crops or otherwise use the portion of the Property occupied by Wind Facilities pursuant to this lease’ (Sec. 6.2).”

“This environmentally destructive project,” Falstad continued, “has nothing to do with good alternative forms of electric power generation, like solar, but instead is a reckless grab for federal subsidies for a thoroughly bad project in a totally inappropriate place. And because the APEX lease is so invasive to the landowner’s property rights, getting people to sign these leases amounts to federally subsidized takings of farmland.

“Like the massive federal anti-terrorism training facility proposed for Ruthsburg in Queen Anne’s County a few years ago, this project would destabilize and devalue rural land in the whole Mid-Shore region. We fought that one off, and now we are gearing up to stand with the leaders and citizens of Kent County in fighting this project with everything we have.”

Kent Co: Kent County resists wind turbines

By John Curran, Elm Staff Writer | The Elm | April 10, 2015 | elm.washcoll.edu ~~

News and discussion regarding the construction of 49 wind turbines in Kent County has reached an all-time high. From local business owners and farmers to Interim-President Jay Griswold, the issue is one that has caught the attention of countless county residents.

With many of its building’s powered geothermally, WC is an example of an institution that embraces the use of clean energy. However, the recent fervor surrounding Apex Clean Energy’s wind turbine project demonstrates that perhaps not all clean energy is created equal.

Operating out of Charlottesville, Va., bold text on Apex Clean Energy’s home page reads “accelerating transition to a world powered by clean electricity.” Founded in 2009, the company caters to communities, businesses and landowners alike through the construction of clean energy wind turbine farms. The company has been involved in wind farm construction all over the country in Arizona, Texas, Illinois, and New York.

The response from residents to the project has been highly negative. A unanimous rejection of the project during a Kent County Commissioners meeting on March 24 has signaled the start of a battle between the county and Apex Clean Energy for authority over the situation. Much of the consternation has come from the county’s lack of control and oversight of the project. Despite a unanimous decision by the county to reject the project and as petitions from local residents, the project can still proceed. This is because the final say on the project falls under the jurisdiction of Maryland’s Public Service Commission who have received a building application from Apex Clean Energy.

The ability of Apex to directly approach the Public Service Commission is seen by many as a circumvention of the law and a loophole that needs fixing. In response to the decision made by the Commissioners, Maryland State Senator Stephan Hershey has drafted a senate bill meant to combat the tactics employed by Apex. The bill will advocate for the inclusion of the local community in deciding whether or not the project will proceed, and transfer final control of the project from the the Public Service Commission to the county.

According to Apex, if constructed, the turbines would be capable of producing up to 100 milliwatts of electricity, which in turn is enough to power 30,000 homes per year. The project would also see up to 100 full-time jobs created during the construction period and as many as eight permanent operation and maintenance jobs thereafter. Farming impact is expected to be minor with the 500 foot turbines mostly taking up vertical space. Integration with local electrical systems would eliminate the need for any major new infrastructure.

However, many in the local community, including, Interim Griswold, see the approach taken by Apex Clean Energy as devious. “At Washington College we value ‘unhurried conversations’ where all sides of an issue can be explored and discussed before a decision is made,” He wrote in an email sent out to the entire college on March 31.

The email focused on three reasons to reject the project, including Apex’s questionable tactics, the potential adverse impact that wind turbines could have on the scenic qualities of Kent County, and the potential threat the turbines could pose to migrating waterfowl. Additionally, a link to an online petition was provided in the email which had yet to meet its goal of 200 signatures at press time. Griswold also suggested members of the WC community spend April 7 in Annapolis where the Senate Finance Committee held an open-to-the-public hearing for SB 938 at 1 p.m.

Beyond WC, one of the many forms of protest in that has been in the form of the website, www.keepkentscenic.org. The website includes the header “Keep Kent Scenic,” accompanied by a picture of wind turbines set up amidst farm land and the caption, “Don’t let this happen.” The website is further comprised of a series of pages outlining the negative impacts of the turbine construction, such as lowered property values or the potential for eminent domain abuses, accompanied by a plea to residents to protest the project.

This is very much at odds with the Apex website dedicated to the Kent County Project, or “Mills Branch Wind,” as they have named it. “In the long-term, the project promises to bring sustained tax revenue to the county for the local government and schools, as well as 25 years of local purchasing, employment, and investment,” the website states beneath the heading, “Why Kent County.”

What started as a project to bring clean energy to the county has now transformed into a debate between Apex Clean Energy, the Kent County community, and the local legislature.

For more information on the issue www.millsbranchwind.com outlines Apex Clean Energy’s plans, while www.keepkentscenic.org looks at the matter from a different viewpoint. Finally, for those interested in signing the petition to support senate bill 938, that can also be found online at www.ipetitions.com.