The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has a Vision Statement.
Have a look at Vision Statement Item 4: “An improvement in the standard of living and quality of life for the people of West Virginia”
Reading this statement, folks following the PSC Commissioner’s actions regarding Mineral County’s wind turbine noise debacle might begin to wonder if the Commissioners are a bit visually challenged.
In case you don’t know, several neighbors, many who supported the recently opened Pinnacle wind project, complain that the noise coming from the turbines make their lives miserable. They appealed to the PSC to take control of the issue and, at least, have the turbines shut down at night so they could get a little sleep.
And then? This headline in the 8/21/2012 Cumberland Times-News says it all: W.Va. wind farm gripe snuffed out
Well, so much for Item 4’s “improvement in the standard of living and quality of life” requirement.
By the way … “A Gripe?” Your life is being destroyed and the Cumberland Times-News headline dismisses it as a gripe? Shameful!
Anyway, the reason the folks affected by the turbine noise formally appealed to the PSC was simply that they couldn’t get satisfaction from the profit-based corporation responsible for the turbines. I suspect they thought that, since the PSC had the authority to grant the permit to build, their government agency would want to insure that the offending wind project was, in fact, “An improvement in the standard of living and quality of life for the people of West Virginia.”
I would have thought the same, since WV state legislators assigned powers to grant (or not) permits to build such projects to the PSC. And, after all, the state legislators surely wouldn’t have assigned authority to the PSC Commissioners if they believed the PSC wouldn’t adhere to the “Vision” they actually set for themselves. (Yes … I know!)
Unfortunately for the local residents, this logic falls apart. The initial and subsequent appeal for help was denied by the PSC, ignoring advice from its own Staff, in favor of Edison Mission Energy, the now profit-challenged child of Edison International.
The reason given by the PSC Commissioners? You’re gonna love this! “the sitting order does not contain material terms and conditions related to noise or flicker and because the agency does not possess the statutory authority to address the issues raised by Braithwaite.”
In other words: “the sitting order (originally written by the very same WV PSC Commissioners as a result of testimony prior to granting the permit) does not contain material terms and conditions related to noise or flicker and because the agency (the very same WV PSC) does not possess the statutory authority (if not them, who?) to address the issues raised by Braithwaite (one of the harmed residents requesting help).”
Your read it right: The PSC, in its Pinnacle wind project siting order, seems to claim it was unable/unauthorized to set adequate measures dealing with potential turbine noise (quality of life?) and now falls back on this failure as a reason to ignore their own Vision Statement’s Item 4 regarding our neighbor’s Quality of Life – even though their own Staff seemed to feel otherwise.
In private industry, I was charged with planning and executing my department activities. I was also directly responsible for the results. I can only imagine the reaction if I asked my boss to ignore poor end results because the planning was inadequate. After the initial “what kind of idiot do you take me for” look, I would likely be replaced and, perhaps even fired.
But that’s what we’re asked to do here. We’re to excuse Commissioners because their hands are tied due to earlier considerations they failed to consider, and further … that they don’t actually have the power or knowledge to enforce the requirements set by their own Vision Statement. Well, maybe we should fire the whole bunch!
Take a look at this from the Siting Order and tell me if you feel secure about these officials protecting your back yard:
While there has been progress in controlling the sound fiom [sic] turbines, we indicated the complexity of our task in considering sound analysis in a previous siting certificate order:
- Wind turbines obviously make noise. The question presented in this case, like prior cases before the Commission, is determining the expected degree of noise impact upon nearby residents and whether that impact is acceptable. We are required at this stage of the proceeding in these wind turbine certification applications to assess the noise impact from a wind turbine Project that is not yet certificated, let alone constructed or operating, in an industry with rapidly changing technology, upon certain possible “receptors,” receiving the noise in varying circumstances (wind, weather, foliage cover, ground cover and so forth) at multiple distances from the wind turbines within the Project area.
What the hells does that mean? Are they actually saying, having learned little from the past, we are unable to make a quality decision regarding this current project … so we’ll just let this one fly as well?
It seems to me the WV State Legislature should have its own rear end kicked for allowing a condition to exist in which one of its agencies can excuse its failures to protect citizens with this nonsense: “Neither the governing statute nor the Siting: Rules contain any operational noise limitations or guidelines. Instead, they require us to balance various project impacts and their effects on the community. The Pinnacle study complied with Commission requirements, accurately portrayed ambient noise levels that are typical for a rural community, and employed a variety of conservative assumptions to allow us to assess the “worst case” scenario for the Project’s noise impacts. Even under all of the conservative assumptions, the highest level of predicted operational noise was 56 dBA. Application App. Up. 8 (Pinnacle Ex. 1. The Commission is not required to conclude that the Project would never impact existing ambient noise levels, nor would that be a reasonable thing to do. Based upon the totality of the evidence presented to us, we conclude that the Project will emit some noise, but the operational noise levels should not be objectionable. The Commission further concludes that, to the extent that operational noise results in negative impacts, those negative impacts are expected to be as minimally disruptive to existing property uses as is reasonably possible.”
Repeat that, please … “Based upon the totality of the evidence presented to us, we conclude that the Project will emit some noise, but the operational noise levels should not be objectionable. The Commission further concludes that, to the extent that operational noise results in negative impacts, those negative impacts are expected to be as minimally disruptive to existing property uses as is reasonably possible.”
Tell that to the neighbors who find their “quality of life” destroyed as a result of your Siting Order!
The PSC Commissioners, in ducking the hard work, would rather the residents they are pledged to protect seek remedy in court. This is absurd in light of this earlier PSC Staff comment: “It is ludicrous to argue that because the Commission possibly had incorrect information before it when it made its decision, it cannot now review that decision. Therefore, Staff believes Pinnacle’s argument that this issue is beyond Commission review should be rejected.” – INITIAL JOINT STAFF MEMORANDUM (WV Public Service Commission) in the matter of Case No. 12-0251-E-C, Richard L. Braithwaite V. Pinnacle Wind, LLC”
The WV Legislature seems satisfied not only with the lack of standards they set, but with the performance of Public Service Commissioners’ granting of siting permits based on wouldas, shouldas and couldas. My boss would have fired the whole bunch based on this poor performance.
For you folks interested in reviewing the Siting Order, it’s at this link. If you really want to get into the weeds, you can let me know and I’ll source the two day (2009) testimony which led to approval. It’s some real Perry Mason stuff.
The neighbors are gathering for what will probably be an expensive lawsuit to in an attempt to do what the feckless Public Service Commission will not. It’s unfortunate that they not only have to pay lawyers to protect themselves, but continue to pay the salaries of the PSC Commissioners and Legislators who actually put them in this tough spot.
By the way … Item 5 of the WV PSC Vision Statement states: “That consumers receive the best value in utility service from financially viable and technically competent companies …”
Well, at the time of the 2009 PSC hearing, the no-longer-affiliated wind developer seeking the permit to build wasn’t even sure of the relationship between his company and the ultimate owner, or which entity/name would assume control of construction and operation. Of course, this muddled testimony set off no warning bells demanding further thorough questioning by our stellar group in Charleston. And now, the potential exists that the current wind plant owner may go bankrupt.
So much for Vision Statement Item 5’s financially viable requirement and, with the noise issue and the redesigning of the turbines on the fly, one begins to wonder about the technically competent requirement as well. Oh … and about that best value requirement? I suppose if the turbines actually spin when needed a bulb will light … somewhere.
Yep! There’s no doubt … my boss would have fired the whole bunch!