Maybe some will say “softball” is a little unfair. I don’t think so, but if the word got you here to read what follows, I’ll take the criticism.
Published this morning in the Keyser, WV based Mineral Daily News Tribune is this article titled “Managers say firm is focused on safety and community.” The article seems, in my opinion, to have missed a golden (eagle) opportunity to provide truly useful information to the citizens of the Potomac Valley. Or perhaps, as I mention in the title – I’m just being picky!
This blog recently published a list of open questions related to the very project touted in the “article,” but perhaps the questions were unknown to the article’s writer – Mr. Richard Kerns, the Community Advisory Panel for the Pinnacle project, or even Mr. Doug Vance, operations and maintenance manager for the two wind “farms” discussed. Or, perhaps, all the questions have been answered, and the writer of the post you’re reading is clueless. I’ll link to the list of questions HERE for ready reference with the hope I can follow up with a post full of answers. I know you’re out there somewhere!
What follows is the entire article as published at newstribune.info. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few comments and questions to the original article, which I might have asked of Mr. Vance. For clarity, I highlighted my comments in bold text. I make every effort to insure accuracy so, in the event I’ve erred, please notify me immediately. I invite all readers to utilize the comment section at the end of this post to discuss both the article and my comments. The goal here is not to pick a fight on style. The goal is to address issues very important to the discussion, about which some members of the community are not up to speed, including yours truly.
All that being said, here’s what I hope is a starting point to that discussion.
BEGIN NEWS-TRIBUNE ARTICLE
Managers say firm is focused on safety and community
Keyser, W.Va. – By Richard Kerns
tribune staff writer
KEYSER — The manager of two wind farms in Somerset County, Pa., whose company is poised to assume ownership of the proposed Pinnacle Wind Farm near Keyser, described his firm as community oriented and heavily focused on both employee and turbine safety.
Speaking Monday night to the Community Advisory Panel for the Pinnacle project, Doug Vance, operations and maintenance manager for the Forward and Lookout wind farms near Berlin, said Edison Mission Group is a national energy producer committed to both alternative energy and coal-generated power.
“We’re looking at all sorts of alternative fuels,” he said, noting that 80 percent of the company’s energy is still produced by coal-fired plants. (How many coal-fired plants have been, or will be shut down as a direct result of the two “local” wind projects you manage? How many coal-fired plants have been, or will be shut down as a direct result of the total inventory of Edison Mission wind projects? US wind projects? World wind projects? The reason I ask is that it has been suggested that “With nearly 100,000 huge wind turbines now in operation throughout the world—35,000 in the USA—no coal plants have been closed anywhere because of wind technology. And there is no empirical evidence that there is less coal burned per unit of electricity produced as a specific consequence of wind“)
The advisory panel was commissioned by U.S. WindForce, which as the developer of the 23-turbine Pinnacle wind farm, has invested several years in designing the project, researching its effects on the environment and addressing the many other issues related to wind energy development. If the West Virginia Public Service Commission approves the $131 million project, WindForce will essentially turn the keys over to Edison Mission Group, which will build and operate the wind farm. (Will Edison Mission assume and honor any and all contractual obligations negotiated between each and all parties and US WindForce LLC and Pinnacle Wind Force, LLC for the life of the installation? e.g. County Commissioners, landowners, etc.)
Vance said Pinnacle would likely employ five to six full-time technicians once the wind farm became operational. (Were the employees at Forward and Lookout sourced from the local community? Will you be hiring and training local labor for these jobs? … open to union and non-union labor alike?)
Hundreds would be employed during the nine-month construction phase, which will begin next spring if the PSC approves the project in January. (Are you saying that the “hundreds” will be fully employed throughout the entire nine month construction cycle? It seems those doing the foundation work might begin a little ahead of erection and finish before erection is complete. Sorry to again be picky, but wouldn’t the project schedule provide a more accurately constructed labor content by summarizing detailed task and hour contribution in terms of total “man” hours? That would be necessary to cost the project, it seems. Anyway, slinging the often repeated PR phrase of hundreds for nine months only makes skeptics salivate. Being a little more precise takes away the reason for the last few sentences, and that’s a start. In addition, it is said by some that the majority of labor used to construct Pinnacle may come from outside the area. Based on the near term starting schedule for the project, can you speak to the local labor availability issue, the type of work to be done and any training local labor can expect prior to construction?)
An 18-year employee of Edison, and a native of Fairmont, W.Va., Vance said his company goes the extra mile to serve as a good corporate citizen.
“We are heavily involved in the communities where we are,” he said.
In Berlin, Edison is located just outside the town in an former auto dealership. The company allows its lot to be used for an annual tractor pull, works with the fire department, and is a regular presence at the community fair. The company has also purchased specialized equipment for the fire department to mount high-angle rescues on turbines or high-rises.
“Edison Mission is very, very flexible when it comes to working with those kinds of groups,” Vance said.
As for its employees, Edison not only stresses safety but invests in it. After a worker at a Wyoming wind farm was injured while climbing the 300 foot turbine tower to reach the generator at the top, Edison invested more than $200,000 in development of a motorized harness that effectively lightens a man’s own load while climbing. Using the device, a 200-pound man climbs the ladder’s heights feeling as if he weighs 75 pounds.
“That’s an example of a company that will spend money to do the job right,” Vance said.
Aside from the specialized lifting harness, employees scaling the towers for daily maintenance checks go through a rigorous and mandatory check list of safety gear, and are tethered at all times to cables and tie-off points. A sure firing offense, Vance said, is disregarding such safety measures.
As for the work the technicians perform, Vance said each of the 32 turbines at Forward and Lookout are shut down every two days to allow technicians to perform visual checks on the rotors and other equipment. Once every six months, workers check the towers from top to bottom, surveying every nut and bolt.
Vance said there are 311 different reasons for taking a turbine off line.
“It’s a lot of maintenance,” he said. (Speaking of the interest in safety and recognizing that turbines do self-destruct, with two such failures this week, and that debris from rotating blades can cause serious injury or death, what is the minimum set-back required to prevent such disaster at Pinnacle’s turbines?)
While such attention to detail promotes safety and efficiency, it also makes good business sense. Wind turbines are like any other finely calibrated machine, subject to any number of problems, from vibration to inadequate lubricant. The key to producing energy is having the turbines ready to spin when the wind rises.
“Availability is everything with wind,” he said. “You’ve got to be ready when the wind is there.” (When the wind doesn’t blow, the contribution is ZERO. What is the actual efficiency/output v. nameplate to be expected from the Pinnacle project when measured at operation? … What has been the measured performance at the two systems you manage? … During the times the units are not performing, do they not require fossil fuel plants to operate? Isn’t it extremely inefficient to treat fossil and nuclear plants as secondary and ramp them up and down to support wind? … If so, and the wind turbines are supplemental, actually unreliable sources of energy, highly subsidized by taxpayers and rate payers, do they add any real value to the grid? Is the grid able to compensate for the unsteady input of wind? Are they really worth all the money being invested by taxpayers?)
Vance also said that Edison works closely with the landowners who lease their mountaintop property for the turbines. If the landowner wants the area seeded with clover to attract deer, or felled trees piled up to harbor other wildlife, the company will gladly make it happen. (The USF&W and WVDNR both stated disagreement with the risk assessment provided by Pinnacle Wind Force regarding bat/bird kill potential at site. How would you suggest that these assessments be reconciled prior to construction? For how long and with what intensity will you conduct, or allow outside agencies to conduct surveys to insure endangered bats, golden and bald eagles that call the ridge home, are not being killed?)
“We’ve got a great relationship with the landowners,” he said. “They’re heavily involved.” (Who is responsible for any nuisances such as noise, bird and bat kills, damage from water run off or other environmental issues that may surface as a result of the installation – Edison Mission or the Landowners? Who is responsible to remove the equipment at the end of its productive life? According to a documentary produced by Jon Boone, “Life Under a Windplant” (included for your convenience at the end of this post), the aforementioned became serious issues in the real world, and were not resolved by the developer, operator or landowners. Have you experienced any such issues at the two plants you supervise and, if so, how has the issue been resolved.)
(Finally, I often see the term “adaptive management” used by the legal folks who protect the interest of developers. Does “adaptive management” mean you would you stop production and remove the turbines if it is found they are killing endangered bats, golden and bald eagles? Will you adapt your operation should any noise issues, health concerns or danger to the public by shutting down or modifying the operating schedule of the turbines?)
The PSC last week held its evidentiary hearing on the Pinnacle project. A decision on the wind farm is expected in early January.
END NEWS-TRIBUNE ARTICLE
I recognize the Mr. Vance is not available to answer, and in fairness may not be in a position to do so. But hopefully, the discussion will continue and include these questions. If they have been addressed, please accept my apology for not having seen them and allow the excuse that I’m not the only one. The rather interesting reaction from our commissioners a couple of weeks ago, when voting to endorse the project, leads me to believe that one or two items might remain a little fuzzy. At the risk of redundancy however, it might be helpful if we could, just one more time put all the issues in the same spot – much like a checklist – for all to see. It would be a great public service were the News-Tribune to do so.
These turbines will change the way of life here in the Potomac Valley. Beyond that, with international migratory bird treaties, the environment, grid issues, cost and taxes to name a few, this project reaches far beyond us. So, it might be worth the time to put these issues to bed. I respect Mr. Vance’s mention of community service and it’s not that high angle rescue equipment and tractor pulls aren’t important things, but if that’s all that remains on the agenda to discuss, I’ve got to cut back on the Ambien.
This amateur blog routinely publishes information intended to provide the “other side” of the wind energy issues. We make every effort to be accurate and back up our postings with reliably sourced information and commentary from interested citizens. Should you find an error, omission or broken link, please contact via the comments section which follows. We encourage all points of view in the belief that a well informed community will make the best decision for themselves and, looking generations into the future, the Allegheny Mountain community which will follow.
Life Under a Windplant