Virtue signaling is the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue. The wind industry, aided by PTC profiteers, corporate marketing campaigns and unwitting politicians is flooding the planet with virtue signals. Just as some would say an accusation of sexual harassment is enough to justify throwing out due process, the alleged virtue of wind and solar seems to be enough to justify throwing away common sense. Wind’s virtue signals justify the need for in-state Ohio generated wind energy with inadequate setbacks and increased electricity costs passed to consumers. Wind gets an Academy Award for Virtue Signaling and its latest star is American Electric Power with the Icebreaker project running a very close second.
The big news today is the movement of American Electric Power’s (AEP) proposal to develop 900 MW of renewable energy in Ohio. AEP operates Ohio Power and Columbus Southern Power. These companies span much of the state from the Southeast to the Northwest. 500 MW are intended to be wind while 400 MW are to be solar. AEP announced this plan in 2016 and is now moving forward with a filing to the PUCO requesting that the entire 900 MW be deemed necessary and in the public interest. They have not identified where any the projects would be developed. The costs associated with AEP’s proposal would be passed through to AEP customers. It is clear that AEP is trying to ensure it can obtain federal PTC subsidies before they expire.
Attached is the recent testimony of an AEP representative who tries to make the case for why renewable energy must be developed in-state and not brought in from elsewhere in the PJM grid system. Some years ago when former Governor Strickland was running for re-election, AEP tried to push a 400 MW solar project in SE Ohio. Strickland was Governor when the renewable energy mandates were first passed into law and his Administration was the one that originally advocated for 1,000’ setbacks from homes. The solar project, calling Turning Point, never materialized. Now on the eve of another gubernatorial election, AEP appears to be trying again.
It is worth noting the recent failure of AEP to obtain approval for its massive Oklahoma Windcatcher wind development. The failure was based, in part, on the unwillingness of Texas regulators to pass the cost to electric consumers. AEP was forced to abandon that project amid speculation they could not rework it in time to qualify for the PTC which is phasing out.
Everyone is urged to read the AEP testimony of William Allen. This testimony sums up what NW Ohio communities are up against. AEP maintains consumers are demanding wind and solar. They claim they need to build for companies like Whirlpool, Honda, etc. but those companies, working with OneEnergy already have on-site wind without passing the cost to ratepayers. AEP’s rates are already among the highest in the state. If the PUCO buys into AEP’s plan, all of NW will be sitting ducks. Importantly, AEP does not acknowledge any cost to a local community.
Against this backdrop consider today’s news:
APEX ACCUSED OF DISHONESTY
- An editorial appears in the Watertown, NY paper saying “Apex and other developers routinely point to the vast economic development potential of their projects, pointing proudly to the tax benefits counties, towns and school districts will receive. They do not, however, explain that those payments depend on payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements that provide PILOT payments of pennies on the dollar compared to full taxation of the projects once built. The wind companies also rely on a complex series of mergers and subsidiary companies that often obscure who the real owners are. You can be guaranteed, however, that not one dime of the profits from these facilities — profits almost entirely dependent on subsidies paid by taxpayers — will ever land in an upstate New York bank.”
RENEWABLE ENERGY POLICIES FAILING AROUND THE WORLD
- The government of Ontario, Canada is dismantling the green nightmare of renewable energy. A press report states “The Green Energy and Green Economy Act, which the Ford government announced Thursday it would officially cancel, was one of the most monumental government follies of our time. It was a hydra-headed monster of regulations and fiat that bludgeoned Ontario’s rural communities, stripped Ontario’s municipalities of every right to the slightest participation in their own planning, placed a darkling pall over the manufacturing industry, and imposed the highest electricity costs in all North America on some of Ontario’s lowest-income citizens.”
- In Germany, “As older turbines see subsidies expire, thousands are expected to be taken offline due to lack of profitability. Green nightmare: Wind park operators eye shipping thousands of tons of wind turbine litter to third world countries – and leaving their concrete rubbish in the ground. The Swiss national daily Baseler Zeitung recently reported how Germany’s wind industry is facing a potential “abandonment”. An interesting point made in this article is the infeasibility of affordably dismantling turbines and the exorbitant cost of trying. This contradicts what many developers have represented to the OPSB in their decommissioning plans relative to cost.
- The US Energy Information Agency released a report confirming “Nearly one-third of U.S. households (31%) reported facing a challenge in paying energy bills or sustaining adequate heating and cooling in their homes in 2015. According to the most recent results from EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), about one in five households reported reducing or forgoing necessities such as food and medicine to pay an energy bill, and 14% reported receiving a disconnection notice for energy service. Households may also use less energy than they would prefer; 11% of households surveyed reported keeping their home at an unhealthy or unsafe temperature.” In view of this report it is suspicious that AEP claims its customers want to pay extra for Ohio generated wind and solar power.
- In California, “The Two Hundred, a coalition of civil-rights leaders, filed a lawsuit in state court against the California Air Resources Board, seeking an injunction against some of the state’s carbon dioxide–reduction rules. The 102-page lawsuit declares that California’s “reputation as a global climate leader is built on the state’s dual claims of substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously enjoying a thriving economy. Neither claim is true.” “High electricity prices should be a concern for California policymakers, since electric rates in the state are already 60 percent higher than those in the rest of the country. According to a recent study by the Berkeley-based think tank Environmental Progress, between 2011 and 2017 California’s electricity rates rose more than five times as fast as those in the rest of the U.S. SB 100 will mean even higher electricity prices for Californians.” Perhaps AEP’s survey of consumers eager to pay higher electric bills for renewable energy did not include any minorities or otherwise disadvantaged populations.
- In Indiana, “the Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor has filed testimony with the Utility Regulatory Commission opposing Vectren’s proposal to recover from its customers the cost of building a $75 million, 50-MW solar facility in Spencer County. The OUCC said the project would add $2.75 to the average Vectren customer’s bill. The project “is sized and designed to maximize financial and publicity results for Vectren at no risk to Vectren,” John Haselden, an OUCC senior utility analyst, wrote in the agency’s testimony.” Will the Ohio Consumers Counsel likewise oppose AEP’s plan recover the costs of its 900 MW initiative?
- In Virginia, “new state mandates requiring Dominion Energy Virginia to expand its use of renewable energy and modernize its grid will cost its customers nearly $5.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to an analysis by State Corporation Commission staff.”
- In Australia, “a class-action lawsuit is being planned against a local council, the Victorian government and a wind farm operator after an independent review accepted resident complaints that noise from a Gippsland wind farm was causing them harm. A council-ordered report on the Bald Hills wind farm found there was a nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act. This was despite the wind farm being compliant with state planning laws.Investigators said they could hear wind turbines in some residents’ homes and accepted they could sometimes be heard over the television and that residents were suffering sleep deprivation and other symptoms.”
- In Minnesota, “the wind-energy industry said an opinion filed by Minnesota pollution-control regulators defining wind-turbine noise will stifle its growth. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said the state’s limit for wind-farm noise applies not only to sounds from turbines but also should include background noise such as road traffic, said the filing with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC).” The standard in Ohio and pretty much everywhere is 5 decibels above background noise because that level is the most that can be tolerated without annoyance. The wind industry is trying to argue that the noise standard applies to turbine noise only, and it said that’s the way the PUC has interpreted the rule. This assertion is soooooo wrong. In trying to determine why this is only now coming to the fore as an issue, some believe the problem rests with faulty rule-making at the state level. “While the PUC has been permitting wind farms since 2005, it has only been during the past few years that complaints about turbine noise have reached a level requiring the commission’s intervention. The PUC is scheduled to vote on the Freeborn project next week. Some Freeborn County residents fear the wind farm would cause both noise and visual pollution as well as other possible problems. Their opposition has sparked a “contested case” before the PUC, a rarity for wind-farm proposals in Minnesota. Freeborn Wind is being developed by Chicago-based Invenergy, a large U.S. wind-power developer, and it would supply electricity to Xcel Energy. Dan Litchfield, an Invenergy senior manager, said the MPCA’s opinion contradicts the company’s understanding of state noise rules.” Folks in Van Wert and Paulding Counties will remember good old Dan Litchfield who was with Iberdrola. For Litchfield to say that Invenergy does not think state noise rules include background noise is a BIG FAT LIE.
- A bipartisan measure cosponsored by Ohio Sen. Portman that would fund conservation, education and monitoring efforts aimed at protecting migratory bird populations has cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The measure, which is cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), would support habitat protection for about 350 species of birds including Ohio’s state bird, the northern cardinal. Sen. Portman said migratory birds play an important role in Ohio’s economy. “Hundreds of bird species migrate through Ohio each year, making Lake Erie one of the most popular destinations for birdwatching,” He said. “Birding contributes more than $20 million to Ohio’s tourism industry and attracts visitors from across the world each year. I am proud to work with Senator Cardin and my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation to protect and conserve these bird populations so that they may be enjoyed by future generations. I applaud the committee for approving this legislation and urge my colleagues to support it when it comes to the floor.” Has Sen. Portman weighed in on Icebreaker?
LAKE ERIE ICEBREAKER
- Several documents have been filed in the Icebreaker case by the developer requesting the OPSB to limit the participation of the Intervenors on the theory that some questions posed by the intervenor are irrelevant. The developer’s motion can be found at http://dis.puc.state.oh.us/DocumentRecord.aspx?DocID=c22c8877-44cc-41cd-9167-c1e987ece5a3 . The questions the developer considers to be irrelevant include the cost of Icebreaker and the need for the project. In particular, the developer wants no consideration of the fact that this is a demonstration project designed to determine whether more than 1,000 turbines could be erected in Lake Erie.
- In addition to the above, a skirmish is continuing between the Icebreaker developers and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources staff who determined the Icebreaker’s proposed stipulation does not satisfy a statutory requirement that such agreements be in the public interest. Erin Hazelton, ODNR’s wildlife administrator, singled out two provisions the stipulation violates in her testimony. Those include statutory language requiring the facility to present a “minimum adverse environmental impact” and to “serve in the public interest, convenience and necessity.” OPSB Environmental Specialist Stuart Siegfried said in his own testimony that, “Meeting these criteria is a requirement for the OPSB grant a certificate. Therefore, not meeting these criteria is a violation of regulatory principles and practices.”
WIND DEVELOPMENT IN A POST SUBSIDY WORLD
- Lisa Linowes writing in MasterResource asserts current aggressive wind development “is directly attributable to the high value of the PTC as a percent of project cost. With lower construction prices and higher project output, tax equity now averages over 50 percent of project capital costs, making the industry immune to market signals. Developers are targeting Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa (et al.) because these states offer the cheapest, quickest path to getting turbines in the ground and maximizing tax credits during the PTC phase-out.” (But it didn’t work out so well for AEP!) “Sixty-six percent of the total wind megawatts installed since 2014 were located in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa, four states where renewable energy mandates were either already met or where none were in effect. “
- The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) will hold a hearing on December 4th at 6:00 pm at the Ohio State University Extension Building to allow the public to express their views about EDP’s proposal to build Timber Road IV.
- On September 5th, the Paulding County Commissioners heard from CMS Energy Enterprises which purchased the Starwood Wind Farm. CMS stated its plans to grow its portfolio. They noted that the name of the project has not changed and it remains NW Ohio Wind. County Commissioner Roy Klopfenstein “explained that we are pushing state legislatures on set-back rules. We have a real uphill battle.”
- The State of Ohio certified Seneca Wind as eligible to receive PILOT under the County’s designation as an Alternative Energy Zone.
STATE ENERGY POLICY
- Ohio hosted the Midwest Governor’s Association to their annual conference. An Energy Panel was moderated by the PUCO Chairman Moderated by Public Utilities Chairman Asim Haque. “Panelist Jake Oster, head of energy policy for Amazon, urged Ohio lawmakers to grant utilities the flexibility they need to more quickly partner with employers. At the end of the day, our energy procurement priorities are sourcing reliable, cost competitive clean energy and we want policies that facilitate those items,” Mr. Oster said. “Sometimes you wish the utility had the regulatory room to operate just a little bit faster.” Amazon has three fulfillment centers, two prime hubs, a computing hub and several other projects in the state, but investments like that may dwindle if additional uncertainty is injected into the energy sector, Mr. Oster said. “We also want policymakers to use caution when they create unnecessary barriers around the development of renewable energy projects,” he said. “Policy needs to be made with an eye toward innovation.” (Could this be a reference to wind setbacks?)
- Mr. Oster called the energy sector “dynamic, moving and exciting.” The company has a long-term goal of obtain 100% of its energy from renewable sources. “We want to work with utilities to increase renewable energy on the local grid,” he said.”
- Concurrently, Ted Ford, President of Advanced Energy Economy, timed an opinion piece for the media. He wrote that “Ohio has artificially created barriers that slowed the growth of this industry, hindering the jobs and investment that once poured into our state. If Ohio lawmakers really want to capitalize on this growth, they need to adopt policies that encourage clean energy. Regulators understand the potential of these innovative technologies for Ohio’s consumers and businesses. The PUCO recently released the results of a yearlong analysis of Ohio’s electricity system that outlines a path to the future. The PowerForward report and recommendations, if fully implemented, will secure the state as a leader on grid modernization, smart meters, distributed energy and electric vehicles, all while creating good-paying jobs across the state. But more work is needed — most notably with the state’s onerous restrictions on wind-energy development. Those restrictions have virtually shut down wind-energy development in Ohio and the tax revenue paid by private companies that trickles into the Ohio’s communities, schools, hospitals and fire stations. Legislation that could pass the Senate immediately, if brought to the floor for a vote, would create 13,000 new jobs and $4.2 billion in economic investment.”
- In Illinois, a federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a 2016 Illinois law that provides subsidies to nuclear power plants and also supports clean energy programs in the state. It’s the latest of several federal rulings to uphold the right of states to regulate electricity prices within their borders, giving states latitude to subsidize certain energy sources. “The decision is a big win for states’ authority over energy policy. That’s important because states have been the big driver for clean energy in the U.S.,” said Miles Farmer, staff attorney for the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
- In Ford County, Illinois wind turbine setbacks are under review. “Three wind energy development firms that brought representatives to the meeting asked for a 1,500-foot setback from primary structures, or three times a turbine’s tip height, whichever is greater. Some said the 2,250-foot setback would be too restrictive for owners of small parcels of land to lease their property for use by a wind farm, and such a setback would also not guarantee “better safety” of the non-participating residents. Many of the yellow shirt-wearing rural residents in attendance also agreed that a 2,250-foot setback would not guarantee their safety, and they pushed for a 3,250-foot setback instead — and from property lines, not homes. They presented evidence showing that anything less than that distance could leave them at risk of the adverse health effects from the noise and shadow flicker wind turbines can create, as well as prevent them from using all of their land without fear of ice throws or blade throws from failed turbines.
- Ted Hartke, a licensed engineer and professional land surveyor who said he evacuated his Vermilion County home as a result of the noise caused by a wind turbine nearby, presented documented evidence that showed anything less than a 3,250-foot setback would put residents at risk. Ann Ihrke testified “It is not your job to find revenue for the county. It is not your job to support wind turbine companies. It is your job — and your only job — to make sure that you are following the purposes of the planning commission.”