The Lesson: This project was a disaster from the beginning. Speed and greed are a recipe for environmental, economic, and social failures. Applications for future wind developments must learn from this experience and be much, much more diligent and responsible in their planning and execution.
Desert Report March 2017 – Parke and Linda Ewing
The Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility (OWEF)1 is an utility scale project placed on 12,436 acres near Ocotillo, California, of which 10,151 acres are public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Let’s not forget the towns of Ocotillo and NoMirage. Not huge towns, but home to 266 residents who chose the solitude, the quietness, and the beauty of the ever-changing seasons. Much of this beauty, along with the ecosystem, has been sacrificed.
This wind energy facility now consists of 112 Siemens 2.3-108 MW Industrial Wind Turbines (IWT), which means each IWT was rated to produce 2.3 Megawatts (MW), and the blade swept area is 108 meters in diameter (354.331’). At a later date, the rating was increased to 2.7 MW per tower, very likely to meet the minimum installed capacity required by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) if San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is to meet their mandated renewable energy requirements.
The nacelle, which houses moving and support components such as the gearbox, generator, and main shaft, sits on top of a round tapered steel tower 80m (262.467’) above the ground. The 173’ long blades are held in place at a hub which is attached to the end of the nacelle. The total height of the wind turbine when a blade is in the 12 o’clock position is about 438’. The base of the tower is 15’ in diameter and houses the inverter and control equipment. Two cooling fans are placed outside of the base under the entry stairway, and the transformer is placed on the ground next to the base. More data can be found at Wikipedia2 and at the Siemens’ link3. All these links are posted in the “Notes” section online at http://www.desertreport.org.
How did this happen? Initially, when we first heard about this project, we were told by Pattern Energy officials and by project documentation that we, the residents, would not be impacted by the turbine facility because it would be located five miles away from the Ocotillo Community. Five miles? That’s an acceptable distance. My wife and I now have turbines that reside one-half a mile from our house and with most less than one mile from the community on all sides.
There were so many maps presented during the different meetings with the various Imperial County departments that confusion ran rampant when someone asked which map represented the location of the turbines for this project. During a scoping meeting, a meeting designed to gain input from every single entity, person, department, or facility that may be impacted by this project, the residents were not allowed to speak. Instead, we were instructed to write our questions on a post card, and they would be addressed at a later time. When?
Now let’s talk about the turbine access roads. Initial discussions and documentation indicated that these roads would be thirty-six feet wide and then narrowed to sixteen feet once the project was complete. In addition there would be an additional fifteen feet on either one side or both sides for the electrical collection lines from each turbine. Some roads ended up being up to 113 feet wide. The disturbance caused to Native American sites and to wildlife has been recorded many times4.5.
Many homeowners have felt the need to purchase flood insurance, in the middle of the desert. Residents feel that Pattern Energy was allowed to change the drainage patterns that will affect the alluvial fans, causing flooding by diversion of rain runoff. Construction of forty-two miles of access roads and an additional eighty-two miles of collection lines has stripped the water absorbing desert crust, creating the potential for flooding in areas that have been safe in past years.
Initial Wind Estimates
The next indiscretion that made itself Somewhere on this map is a community now surrounded by industrial project. known were the wind values. The wind values were incorrectly stated – records were from the Desert View Tower located ten miles up the Interstate Highway grade from Ocotillo and approximately another 2500 feet higher than the desert valley where the project is located. How were they allowed to use those numbers? Three years of data have shown that these turbines are not generating the power that was projected.
During the permitting process, differing estimate were given for the energy production of the facility depending upon who made the estimate and for whom they were intended. Ultimately Patten Energy stated that the OWEF would have a capacity factor of 34% (meaning that over time it would produce 34% of its maximum rated output at full sunlight) and that it would produce 2673 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy in its first three years. In fact, the actual capacity factor during this period was 21%, and the total energy produced was 1438 GWh, far below the projected figures. This was in spite of receiving $115,890,946 dollars from the Department of Energy’s 1603 Cash Grant Program6 in lieu of the Production Tax Credits and $110,000,000 from the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission7.
During the BLM scoping period for the project, many comments were submitted. The majority of these were in opposition to the OWEF. Comments that favored the facility were mostly based on the jobs and economic benefits that the facility would provide. A small minority of the comments favored the facility because of the sustainable renewable energy benefits. Those claims were based on the “Installed Capacity,” which is the maximum power which the facility can generate at full daytime sunlight, and an expected capacity factor of 34%. Ocotillo Wind, as stated previously, has fallen far short of predictions.
Current electricity generation for the residents of California relies on a mix of energy production technologies including: coal (7.7%), natural gas (41.9%), nuclear (13.9%), other renewables (13.7%), hydroelectric (10.8%), and others (12.0%). Based on nearly 204,000 GWh of net power generation in California in 2010, the average annual production of 479 GWh by the Ocotillo facility represents only 0.2 percent of California’s total. It is reasonable to wonder if the negative consequences of the project can be justified by this small contribution.
The OWEF has been plagued by mechanical problems. On May 16, 2013, a 173’ long wind turbine blade was thrown off of Turbine 156. The cause was determined to be a fiberglass root segment curing problem. Ten wind turbine blades were ultimately replaced at Ocotillo Wind. Many people familiar with the facility believe that the blade problem was due to the “fast tracking” of the facility to enable Ocotillo Express LLC to complete the project by the end of 2012, so they could qualify for the 1603 Cash Grant offered by the Department of Energy.
On January 15, 2015, Turbine 110 had a major fire. The cause of the fire was never revealed. The entire turbine was eventually replaced. The turbine did not generate power for nine months.
On November 21, 2016, Turbine 126 collapsed entirely. It was later confirmed to have been caused by a turbine blade striking the side of the tower. According to the Ocotillo Wind website, a shear stiffener inside of the blade was found to have failed. The Ocotillo Wind website8 stated that the turbine actually collapsed “in the Designated Safe Zone.” There are easily twelve wind turbine sites where BLM designated trails fall within that so-called designated safe zone. Potentially, a person could be killed under any of the Ocotillo Wind Turbines since the entire area is open to
The OWEF has been plagued with oil leaks. The residents of Ocotillo have counted over seventy turbines with oil leaks at towers and countless hydraulic oil leaks on the blades, many of them considered to be significant by the Imperial County Environmental Task Force. Additionally failures of yaw drives (which orient the blades into the wind) have caused problems. Eight gearboxes have been replaced since the facility became 100% operational along with hundreds of yaw drives.
The bright red blinking lights of Ocotillo Wind are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and can be seen from the southern portion of the Salton Sea, over seventy miles away. Nobody lives in the desert to view wind turbine lights blinking in unison all night long. Pattern Energy promised the community a lighting control system which would be radar activated only when aircraft were present. The Laufer System9 was approved by the FAA in January of 2016. Pattern constructed the whole first phase of Ocotillo Wind consisting of ninety-four turbines in a record 6 1/2 months, but it has been over a year, and the very irritating red lights still shine.
Death in the Air
Many birds have been struck by the wind turbine blades, and bats lungs have exploded as they fly near the turbines. A carcass survey between 10/05/14 and 09/22/15, obtained by a FOIA request, indicated that sixty-nine birds and bats were found on the agreed upon survey sites, under or near the wind turbines. Every wind turbine site on the facility was not searched every day. We can assume that scavengers consumed many of the carcasses prior to the survey. Bird kills don’t appear to be a huge problem in Ocotillo, but we all hate the killing of any wildlife.
The once numerous Red Tailed Hawks have disappeared. Were they killed by spinning wind turbine blades? There were once so many jackrabbits that it was overwhelming. Now there are no jackrabbits, and the coyotes have also disappeared completely. The last time we saw one, it was skinny and sickly looking, almost certainly for lack of food. The ecosystem is gone.
This project was a disaster from the beginning. Speed and greed are a recipe for environmental, economic, and social failures. Applications for future wind developments must learn from this experience and be much, much more diligent and responsible in their planning and execution.
Desert Report Spring 2017:
Who owns a wind turbine?
It bears repeating that if you are a land owner who has wind facility infrastructure placed on your property to seek experienced legal advice in regards to the implications and liabilities of being involved in a wind project. Take time to review the current title on your property and don’t be surprised to find debentures (totaling in the sum of tens of millions of dollars) and other instruments attached as is the case for many properties hosting projects located in southern Ontario.
In a recent dispute in Illinois a landmark court decision was issued involving a lien placed by a contractor seeking to recover unpaid sums for construction work done for the Clipper Windpower project. The owners Postensa Wind Structures USA declared bankruptcy in 2013.
“According to John Kreucher, an attorney with Howard & Howard, this is the nation’s first case that considered whether commercial-scale wind turbines should be deemed personal property or fixtures in a lien dispute. Kreucher also says the importance of the ruling goes beyond the legal filing.”
READ COURT DECISION HERE:
The debate is no longer about the fear of change or aesthetics. It’s about preserving the health, safety, and welfare of communities from developers hell-bent on sticking turbines on every free acre with transmission access no matter who’s in the way. More than twelve active lawsuits are pending against wind projects in as many states, and more are sure to follow.
But for many thousands of Americans, next week’s election is deeply personal. For them it’s their best opportunity to drive back the spread of industrial-scale wind power that’s plowing through quiet communities and destroying families. On November 4th, they will be checking the box next to those candidates who promise to permanently end the wind production tax credit (PTC). Continue reading Vote NO on Big Wind
Richard H. Podolsky Tuesday April 08, 2014 – North American Wind Power
In response to a precipitous decline of the lesser prairie-chicken (LPC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on March 27 that it is listing the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under the ESA, a “threatened” designation means the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future. Threatened-species status represents a step below “endangered” and, as such, carries fewer restrictions.
Nevertheless, the listing of any species under the ESA has immediate and long-term implications for both energy and agriculture interests. And because the LPC resides in the wind-rich lands of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, rest assured that listing will impact wind developers now and until the species recovers and is de-listed or it goes extinct.
Why the fuss?
According to FWS Director Dan Ashe, “The lesser prairie-chicken is in dire straits.” Last year, the range-wide population declined to a record low of 17,616 birds, an almost 50% reduction from the 2012 population estimate. This once-abundant relative of the greater prairie-chicken, greater sage-grouse (GHG) and other “prairie grouse” species has been reduced by an estimated 84-90% from its historical levels as a result of the human-induced degradation of its preferred habitat. And with land-use pressure from energy development, and agriculture and urbanization on the increase in the West, the prognosis for LPC remains bleak.
Historically, LPC were common in sand sagebrush-bluestem and within shinnery oak-bluestem vegetation types. Currently, LPC are most common in dwarf shrub and mixed grasses on sandy soils, as well as in short-grass or mixed-grass habitats on loamy or clayey soils. In Colorado and Kansas, LPC are typically restricted to sand sagebrush communities dominated by sand dropseed, side oats grama and blue grama. Recently in the northern fringe of its range, LPC have moved into mixed-grass prairie and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields. And although all these vegetation elements are important to LPC, the thing they need more of than almost anything else is what is increasingly in short supply – large and contiguous expanses of undisturbed habitat. In order for LPC to sustain viable populations, it is estimated they need contiguous units of their preferred habitat that are a minimum of 25,000-50,000 acres in area, or coincidentally, about the size of an average wind farm in the Great Plains. A century ago, the heath hen, a New England relative of the LPC, went extinct due to similar cumulative impacts resulting from destruction of its preferred habitat.
As early as next year, this same ESA-listing scenario may play out with another increasingly rare western bird, the greater sage-grouse (GSG). However, the impact of that listing will be even more far reaching because GSG will be listed as an endangered species, as opposed to threatened species for LPC. Also, GSG and their preferred habitats are found in 11 states, as opposed to five states for LPC.
Death from above
While habitat quality and habitat size are critical, LPC live in such mortal fear of being preyed upon by hawks and eagles that they will abandon otherwise-suitable habitat simply because it contains an elevated perch that a bird of prey may someday land on and hunt from. This means that vertical structures of almost any kind, be it a wind turbine or telecommunication tower, will render otherwise-suitable habitat unusable by LPC. Studies have indicated that LPC habitat is also degraded by proximity to roadways, buildings, and oil and gas fields.
The upshot of these ecological proclivities is that, according to the FWS’ LPC Conservation Plan, once a site has been designated as LPC habitat, it is recommended that “avoidance buffers” be established between such sites and the following human impacts: 300 feet to the nearest gravel road; 600 feet to the nearest distribution line or residential building; 900 feet to the nearest oil or gas pad; 1,800 feet to the nearest transmission line; 2,250 feet to the nearest paved road; and 3,000 feet to the nearest wind farm, commercial building or tall telecommunication tower.
These large buffers were derived from careful scientific study of the observed responses of LPC to these various land-use features. The proposed buffers are particularly large for wind farms and telecommunication towers because studies showed that LPC were particularly sensitive to them. These 3,000-foot buffers will invariably result in fewer turbines and tall towers in areas that also host LPC populations or their preferred habitat.
Reducing the impact to wind developers
Due to a special deal struck in 2013 (under section 4(d) of the ESA), the regulatory impact to wind power companies from formal ESA listing will be somewhat less than it would have been otherwise. Yet, by no means will it be “business as usual” for wind power in any of the states that host remaining populations of LPC. Specifically, the special 4(d) rule will allow the five states to continue to manage conservation efforts for the species under the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA) range-wide conservation plan.
The WAFWA conservation plan was developed by a consortium of experts from all five states and with input from a wide range of stakeholders. Regarding the special 4(d) WAFWA deal, Ashe said, “Working through the WAFWA range-wide conservation plan, the states remain in the driver’s seat for managing the species – more than has ever been done before – and participating landowners and developers are not impacted with additional regulatory requirements. We expect these plans to work for business, landowners and the conservation of prairie-chickens.”
Credits for the good, debits for the bad
Under the WAFWA Mitigation Framework, a metric system of debits and credits has been established whereby land-use actions that result in an impact to LPC and their habitats will generate debits, whereas land-use practices that result in impact avoidance or improvements to LPC habitat will generate WAFWA credits. In doing so, WAFWA is providing opportunities for both the exchange and conservation banking of debits and credits.
The bottom line
The listing of the LPC as a threatened species is the inevitable result of a century or more of cumulative human impacts. Therefore, wind companies considering developing or investing in any project site that may support LPC or LPC-preferred habitat are advised to conduct all requested pre-construction site assessments, perform all post-construction monitoring, report any bird fatalities to FWS as required by law, and proactively engage in the WAFWA Mitigation Framework. It is particularly vital to hire certified ecologists who know LPC ecology, have worked in the states where LPC reside, and are intimately familiar with endangered species biology, WAFWA and the ESA.
Dr. Richard H. Podolsky is a certified senior ecologist who specializes in endangered species biology and is CEO of Avian Systems, a biological consulting firm that conducts bird and bat surveys. Podolsky can be reached at podolsky©att.net or (207) 475-5555.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Original Article Here: http://nawindpower.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.12826
By Charles Krauthammer National Post February 21, 2014
Computer models of climate change have been dead wrong, yet alarmists aim to quell debate.
I repeat: I’m not a global-warming believer. I’m not a global-warming denier. I’ve long believed that it cannot be good for humanity to be spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30, or 50 years are white-coated propagandists.
“The debate is settled,” asserted propagandist-in-chief Barack Obama in his latest State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” Really? There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge. Take a non-climate example. It was long assumed that mammograms help reduce breast cancer deaths. This fact was so settled that Obamacare requires every insurance plan to offer mammograms (for free, no less).
Now we learn from a massive randomized study — 90,000 women followed for 25 years — that mammograms may have no effect on breast-cancer deaths. Indeed, one out of five of of those diagnosed by mammogram receives unnecessary radiation, chemo, or surgery.
So much for settledness. And climate is less well understood than breast cancer. If climate science is settled, why do its predictions keep changing? And how is it that the great physicist Freeman Dyson, who did some climate research in the late 1970s, thinks today’s climate-change Cassandras are hopelessly mistaken? Read rest of article here.
While it is heartening to see the Obama administration finally following the law, Justice’s decision might also indicate that the green bubble is about to burst.
Consider data from the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group. In 2012, when federal subsidies were flowing, wind companies installed a record 13,131 megawatts of new capacity—about 6,500 turbines. But installations have tanked this year amid uncertainty over the extension of the federal production tax credit, which offers companies a hefty 2.3 cent per kilowatt-hour subsidy. During the first three quarters of 2013, the domestic wind industry installed a mere 70.6 megawatts of new capacity. Wind-industry lobbyists are desperately trying to get the production tax credit extended again before it expires at the end of the year. The Duke case won’t endear them to the public.
The renewable-energy craze may also lose its lustre as the public discovers how expensive “green jobs” are. Texas is the top wind-energy state in the nation. But in January Texas Comptroller Susan Combs reported that each wind-related job in the Lone Star State is costing taxpayers $1.75 million.
There is also a public backlash against ruining scenic countryside with giant wind turbines. The outrage spans from the United Kingdom to Wisconsin. Last year, to cite just one example, about five dozen landowners in Herkimer County, New York filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Hardscrabble Wind Power Project. Their many complaints included reduced property values and excessive noise. To judge from news reports, suburban and rural residents don’t want 130-meter-tall windmills in their neighborhoods. They also don’t want the constant noise the turbines produce, or the relentless blink of the turbines’ red lights all night, every night.
Definitive proof that the green energy bubble has burst will come when the government brings more legal action against renewable companies for violating U.S. law. That may be happening: The Fish and Wildlife Service has 18 active investigations into bird kills at various wind-energy projects. Seven have been referred to Justice for prosecution.
And it may not be limited to wind energy. Last week, Chris Clarke of the California public television station KCET reported that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a new solar-thermal plant in the Mojave Desert, killed 52 birds in October. Many of the birds were apparently killed by the intense heat generated by the project’s mirrors. It appears that the project is attracting birds, which means the deaths may increase when the facility reaches capacity. Mr. Clarke went on to opine that the solar-thermal projects now being built in the California desert “could well depress bird populations from the Arctic to the Panama Canal.”
Apologists for wind and solar power insist that wind turbines only kill a few birds while climate change is the real threat. Last month, in a letter to The Wall Street Journal, an official from the American Wind Energy Association said that wind energy “enables the U.S. to develop a diverse energy portfolio better equipped to fight climate change—the number one threat to wildlife, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Perhaps that’s true. But everyone is threatened when the law is not applied equally, and so the Justice Department should continue ruffling the feathers of lawbreakers in the green-energy business.
http://junkscience.com/2013/11/16/epa-hearing-exercise/ This is brilliant. They are catching the EPA doing some very nasty things!
http://quixoteslaststand.com/2013/11/13/u-s-big-subsidies-for-wind-solar-dont-make-sense/ Not one more turbine should be installed, until a complete, top to bottom, cost/ benefit analysis has been done, to see what kind of value we are getting for our money, and how much CO2 has been eliminated, because of all of our “investments”! If it is not worth the money we have been paying….get rid of it!