Industrial wind … optimism just isn’t enough.

During a long ago conversation, I said to my Dad, “I’m an optimist Pop!  I’m not going through life a pessimist … you know … always seeing the negative side!”  Dad asked if I knew the definition of a pessimist.  Without waiting for my answer he smiled and said, “a pessimist is a person who lends money to an optimist.

What I took from the conversation that followed was that it’s OK to be an optimist, as long as you allow reality to guide you.  This advice, I suppose, is how I moved from supporting wind energy to the conclusion that industrial wind is not a reasonable solution to our energy needs, now or in the future.

Seems a lot of folks want it to work.  I did!  And when the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and wind developer LLCs painted their picture, it sure looked great.  But as I began to learn more, the wizard behind the curtain was exposed.

Anyway, it appears likely that a 23 turbine project, known as the Pinnacle Wind Farm at New Page, will consume the ridge-line across the Allegheny Front above Keyser, West Virginia.  Some have challenged the powerful that this project will not bring the much needed economic salvation to the community or aid the climate in any significant way.  The quiet voice of reason seems however drowned by emotion.  You see, promise of jobs and increased tax revenue is a sure bet to get the attention of us folks in Mineral County.

If you’ve visited Allegheny Treasures before, you might know that I started out a supporter of wind energy.  It was after being encouraged to look further that I had my conversion from optimistic supporter to skeptical pessimist.  In short, that’s how I got my NIMBY moniker (not in my back yard).  Seems when the wind folks can’t convince you with facts, they and their enablers simply label you with a dismissive term.  Hey, it’s worked pretty well around here!  A little more on that at the end of the post.  For now, suffice it to say I believe the proposed wind farm is not worth the financial and environmental sacrifice.  Unfortunately, we won’t know who’s right and wrong until it’s far too late.

I do hope I’m wrong about the project.  It would be a shame if I’m right because what I believe is, Pinnacle will fail to deliver on its promises, and none of us really wants that result!

Here are some of my concerns:

  • I believe Pinnacle will proceed without any serious attempt by the developer/future owner to comply with the recommendations made by the WV Department of Natural Resources and US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps the developer has made formal application to the USFWS to seek and secure an incidental take permit prior to beginning construction.  But with all the fuss, don’t you think it would have made the local papers?
    • Another gang actually said they would seek the permit, and now their Allegheny Front project is ready to fire up and … you guessed it … no application.  So how much faith do I have that US WindForce, who hasn’t even indicated they have an interest in securing an ITP, will do so?  Zippo!
  • I believe significant killing of bats, birds and yes … eagles will occur in the migratory flyway along which the turbines will be fixed, yet mostly the kills will be kept from the public.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps the developer/owner will be different than their neighbor to the south and open it’s area to more than industry paid environmentalists to assess the carnage and, as a result, take appropriate action to resolve, not simply “mitigate,” the problem.
  • I believe the large numbers of temporary jobs projected for construction will reap very few benefits for Mineral County workers as most of the workforce will come from outside of the county.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  Maybe US WindForce guaranteed that significant high level hires (say more than 50%) will be Mineral County residents.  Now this would be front page stuff, for sure!
  • I believe the number of temporary construction jobs is purposely not defined and that the actual labor content will be significantly less than the number US WindForce allows to “float” in the press.
    • Of course, I could be wrong, but the only true measure of work is labor hours and the last US WindForce work schedule I saw only shows a time-line of activities, not actual labor content.
  • I believe, if weighed against the cost to taxpayers for subsidizing employment, the construction jobs will be a net negative to the US economy.
    • Of course, I could be wrong and perhaps US WindForce will accept no subsidy or taxpayer provided benefit to apply to labor cost and equipment.
  • I believe there will be few local permanent jobs following construction.
    • Of course, I could be wrong that, beyond the half dozen jobs suggested as operating the power plant, a significant tourism industry will sprout up to support the dozens of busloads of sightseers who will come to town to view the turbines.  (I am, of course, ready with my lemonade stand just in case!)
  • I believe the developer/owner will seek Federal and State financial benefits via tax credits/subsidy schemes with the ultimate effect of paying taxes due with taxpayer dollars received.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  But the issues was, in fact, raised in the WV PSC final order:  “In the Application, Pinnacle indicated that the federal government is considering programs that could provide funding to foster the development of renewable energy projects, Pinnacle might seek funding under the program, and if it does so, Pinnacle will promptly make any disclosures required by the Commission’s Siting Rules. It is reasonable to require Pinnacle to advise the Commission if it receives any public funding for the project so that the Commission can reopen this proceeding and perform the Part Two analysis that W. Va. Code 5 24-2- 1 1 c requires.
    • As a personal aside, I’m amazed how this subsidy driven industry can be supported by anyone claiming to be a fiscal conservative.
  • I believe the ultimate owner will quickly seek, and receive reassessment and tax relief from the state to reduce its burden, thereby reducing the level of payment promised to the local community.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps US WindForce and future owners will not follow their compatriots and heck … maybe they’ve contractually committed not to seek reassessment.  Tickle me Elmo, if that’s the case.
  • I believe the 23 turbines will produce electricity at less than 25% of their rated nameplate capacity, and will produce primarily during off peak demand hours.  (In other words, the site will require consumption of land and air space for 23 turbines to generate the equivalent of perhaps 6 turbines.)
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  But will the Pinnacle owners provide real time, user friendly and publicly accessible reporting of production output for each of the turbines in order to verify performance?  Why, of course, the fiscally conservative supporter of wind farms would say.  Well, let’s see them pass that law in Charleston!
  • I believe the wind farm will not reduce the consumption of coal or other fossil fuels or, in fact, reduce carbon emissions as claimed.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  And admittedly, this is not a purely “local” issue, but a number of folks have this feel good attitude about industrial wind as “green” and, well, they should hear the other side of the argument.  Take a look … you’ll be amazed.
  • I believe that the project will “sell” far more than 100% of its “renewable value” to entities seeking to comply with politically established goals.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  You have to think that the purchase by two Maryland agencies of 100% of the output would pretty much wrap it up.  There’s no way, you say, that partial landlord New Page Paper Company or any other “connected by simply being nearby” entity would attempt to claim some advantage as a member of the “green” team.  Right … and I have my tooth under the pillow for tonight’s visitor!
  • I believe, at the end of their “useful life,” the large burden for removal will fall upon the residents of the county.
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  But I think the hard push to have this project completed will perhaps blind our local leaders to the pitfalls involved in deconstructing these over sized erector sets and hauling them away.

Why such a pessimist, you ask?  Because I believe there’s been no serious inquiry of US WindForce locally to challenge any of my beliefs.

The developer has had a cake walk through this community.  From newspaper accounts, it appears they have not been engaged in any serious debate, at least that I’ve seen.  Having personally attended two sessions over the past year when a number of these same challenges were raised and the leaders of US WindForce had the opportunity to counter, they did not.

And, oh yeah … that NIMBY thing.  I recall back in March of 2009 while still forming my position on the proposed wind farm, one of our local “reporters” lead his article about the wind project with, “as a human, which most reporters are, one cannot truly be free of bias. The trick is to keep it out of your reporting, as opposed to column-izing.  After 20 years in the newspaper business, and no complaints of substance, I believe I’m up to the task.”  He then promptly suggested opponents of industrial wind “need perspective beyond the back yard” and are perhaps, unable to accept “change, growth, evolution.”  The reporter further chastised that “a species or society that does not embrace it, stagnates and dies for lack of it.”  Needless to say, the only “task” he was “up to” was shameless promotion of the wind farm.  The article is still worth a read as an example of utter silliness and poor “reporting.”  Note:  Search Mineral Daily archives for “Answers and energy, blowing in the wind” – May 26, 2009.  (archive link won’t embed)

Yes, it is likely the Pinnacle Wind Farm at New Page will be built, and I suspect construction will begin in time to insure the developer/owner won’t miss feeding time at the US taxpayer money trough.

But I also believe the much touted temporary jobs will soon be forgotten, the grumbling and complaints will grow and the grand scrape for what was promised will suddenly have some folks around here scratching their heads, all of which brings me to my last concern:

  • I believe our once best wind developer “neighbors” will be long gone, off to sell another set of mountain top propeller hats to some other hapless community.  The commitments made to the Mineral County community will be handled by some distant committee who could care less and our kids will be left to mop up after us asking, “What the hell were you people thinking?”
    • Of course, I could be wrong.  And boy, I really hope I am!
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3 Responses to Industrial wind … optimism just isn’t enough.

  1. Joan Lagerman says:

    As a resident living in the footprint of 88- 400′ monsters here in Wisconsin “Blue-Sky Green-Field” I feel qualified to tell you
    Your not wrong.
    The invasion began in June 07, and that truly is what it felt like. We couldn’t believe they where putting these monsters this close to our home. 6 within 1/2 mile surround us
    One less than the mandated 1000′ from my back door.
    They took 300′ of my back yard as their safety setback and still put it to close. Get yourself a digital range finder, 4 are too close to a house in this project.
    I guess its not an exact science, or they just didn’t give a
    Trucks, Trucks, Trucks, be ready for it if you are in the footprint. The turbines where all brought in before dawn.
    They woke me up then and have caused me many sleepless night since. They finally fixed the roads this summer, 3 years later.
    Bats and bird deaths, what a shame that has been. The bats can be killed just by coming close, thier lungs explode from the pressure. We had a brutal summer with mosquitos, a bat can eat it’s own body weight in one night. Didn’t see one bat all summer.
    Jobs, done count on them sticking around either. My daughter worked as a bartender at the best hotel in the area, and got to know the guys that worked on setting them up, all the good paying jobs where brought in from other states and countrys. I only know of one local that is still employed by them. A Skeleton crew is all thats left.
    Noise, vibrating walls and windows, and shadow flicker. I could write a book. 50 dba night and day is LOUD.
    I Hope you folks have a better outcome then we have had here in Johnsburg.

  2. Frank O'Hara says:

    Mike thanks for sharing your thoughts and Joan for your insightful comments.
    A good friend wrote me recently, “I suspect we will have a few disappointed folks around here when the dust settles, as well.”
    While we wait for the dust to settle, reflect on what else is tossed to Big Industrial Wind, no common sense, irrational behavior, lack of fiscal responsibility, abandonment of core values and generous perverse subsidies. Without these opportunities, Big Industrial Wind might be uneconomical, because industrial wind is not predictable or reliable.
    When the dust settles, I predict the community will be stunned and saddened when they realize their commonly held resources were exploited, for a few jobs and tax revenues.

    For now, the Allegheny Front offers a unique biological, ecological, geological, cultural and historical landscape.

  3. Ajax Eastman says:

    Mike, I share your pessimism. Except for a handful of folks who have studied the facts about the wind hoax, it seems as if the whole country has lost its’ ability to see through it and lemming like are following the it into the sea (offshore in addition to the mountains that is.) The politicians, the press, almost all of the supposedly environmental groups have enthusiastically fallen hook, line, and sinker for the hoax. I’m exhausted and about to give up tilting with windmills, but the thought of bankrupting our children and grandchildren with the deceptive industry’s product keeps me going even though it isn’t a popular position. With truth-telling, at least the supporters can’t say that they weren’t aware of hoax. What we need is a bigger megaphone. Hang in there buddy. Ajax

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