Archive | May 2013

King Island’s wind turbine syndrome

It seems that the residents of King Island are being presented with what appears to be the most invidious choice – hosting a multi-billion dollar, 200 turbine wind farm, or preparing for an influx of up to 45,000 swingers (golfers, that is) in plus-fours and other doubtful clothing choices. Or they could choose both.

Each will have impacts on visual amenity and the local economy.  But there is growing concern that they won’t get the opportunity to get their facts rights because it seems that Tasmania’s main electricity company is being outmanoeuvred by a small, but well-resourced group of anti-wind campaigners.

Hydro Tasmania was forced on Tuesday to make a public intervention in the debate over the mooted $2 billion wind farm – which is getting increasing national media and industry attention – after a local committee released what it claimed to be a thorough economic analysis of the impact of the project.

The analysis, prepared by CH2MHill, a large global consultancy group, suggested that the 200 turbine, 600MW wind farm would deliver less economic benefit than two mooted luxury golf courses over a 20-year period. The extent of that extra benefit depended on the “growth scenarios” of golfer numbers.

Hydro Tasmania rushed out a statement damning the report, including the fact that the study did not even entertain the possibility that a wind farm and the golf courses could go hand in hand. Hydro CEO Roy Adair accused the report of “crystal ball-gazing” and labeled some of the assumptions, such as the projections of up to 20,000 annual visitors at one golf course and 25,000 at the other, to be over optimistic.

“In our opinion the latest report includes figures that don’t appear to stack up. It also has some incorrect assumptions about TasWind and some very optimistic forecasts,” he said. The study, which can be found here, was also criticised for not considering the economic benefits of port upgrades and NBN access that would go with the wind farm, and for downplaying the numbers of full-time employees at the wind farm, once operating, and where they would live.

Adair’s intervention, however,  betrays a growing concern that the TasWind proposal will not even get to first base – which was to be approval from the 1,500 or so islanders to go ahead with a $30 million feasibility study. A vote on that proposal will be held next week.

Hydro had hoped that a full-scale feasibility study would give careful analysis of the potential economic impacts and benefits, a study of where the wind farm could be located, and the potential impacts and benefits of that on the local community and businesses, including the mooted golf courses.

And, crucially, it would give time for careful reflection. As it is, emotions on the island are running hot. Pro-wind campaigners concede that the anti-wind faction has proven to be extremely resourceful, importing several noted anti-wind activists, hiring a Sydney PR firm well known for its support of controversial issues, and even taking control of social media (the King Island Facebook page is said to be administered by the anti-wind side).

It is clear that the tactics of the anti-wind group is to avoid further analysis and reflection, relying instead on a fear campaign about wind turbine syndrome. (The island has hosted several small turbines for many years and has had no documented complaints, until one mainland anti-wind campaigner arrived and complained on his first night of being overwhelmed by symptoms caused by a turbine 4kms away.)

The prospect of the islanders rejecting even a fact-finding mission and not looking at some of the options is exasperating some of the less-partisan members of the community, frustrated that decisions and positions were being taken on the first bits of information given to the islanders.

Read the full story at scfwindturbine web.


Private school raising sustainable classroom

A private school for students with special needs is developing what it hopes will be one of the greenest buildings in the world.

On its 11-acre campus in Spring Branch, the Monarch School has started construction on a 1,120-square-foot stand-alone classroom designed to get its power from the sun and wind; its heat and cool air from the earth; and water to nourish its vegetable garden from harvested rain.

The small building, which is expected to cost more than $400,000, will serve as an environmental laboratory, with students controlling its daily energy use. For example, they will determine when the sun’s rays are strong enough to light the building, or when the wind turbine is needed to supplement power.

Other natural elements can be found throughout the campus, which houses about 127 students with autism, attention deficit disorder and other neurological differences.

There’s a working beehive, vegetable and flower gardens, and an outdoor plaza where butterflies congregate.

“The students have a lot to learn about their neurology, and we wanted to provide them an environmentally safe atmosphere to do that learning,” said Debrah Hall, head of the K-12 school near Kempwood and Gessner.

The school received numerous donations for the classroom building and has been raising additional cash to pay for the systems that will make the structure self-sufficient when it comes to water and energy use.

It is nearing the end of a $100,000 campaign through Kickstarter, a fundraising website. The campaign ends Saturday.

The classroom is being built to achieve certification through the Living Building Challenge, a program that requires structures to meet seven ambitious performance areas, including water and energy usage.

That program is administered by the International Living Future Institute, a nongovernmental organization that promotes environmentally friendly architecture. Less than a handful of buildings have been certified since 2010.

Living Buildings have stringent material requirements, eliminating anything toxic. Wood must be sustainably and regionally forested.

The Monarch project will include siding made of beams salvaged from an old building.

Used materials, said Shannon Bryant, co-owner of general contractor Tend Building, is one of the best ways to be green. They also come with a story. “It’s way more fun than drywall,” she said.

The construction budget for the base building is estimated at $315,000 with another $35,000 in architectural, engineering and related fees, according to architect Shelly Pottorf, who is leading the project. GreenNexus Consulting is also involved.

That $281 per square foot cost doesn’t include the solar panels and some other features required for Living Building certification. While the total cost will be relatively expensive, it will be less than the $500 per square foot cost of some other Living Building projects.

Pottorf, principal of Architend, said the goal was to find ways to more affordably meet the standards so people “don’t dismiss the Living Building Challenge as being financially unattainable.”

“While we haven’t achieved that goal yet,” she said, “through this effort we are making significant progress.”

Solar panel glut likely to persist

Evidence from the larger listed manufacturers suggests that leading companies at present are split on strategy, with some continuing to ramp up loss-making capacity, while others have shelved expansion plans, but only a small minority have mothballed or closed factories.

That may not bode well for the wider, global industry, where leaner capacity will be the main route to a return to profitability, and suggests more value destruction to come as companies continue to take provisions on inventory, close factories or file for bankruptcy.

The stratospheric growth of the solar industry is illustrated by the recent expansion of seven of the top 10 producers by shipments which publish relevant data.

The seven had combined module production capacity of 13,650 megawatts as of December, their financial reports show, compared with actual global demand (as recorded in installed capacity) last year of 31,095 MW, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

Regarding their manufacturing strategy, two of the seven cut capacity in 2012, one left capacity unchanged, and the remaining four expanded.

Three companies provided forecasts for manufacturing capacity expectations in 2013, two expecting this to remain unchanged (Jinko and JA Solar) and one possibly to expand slightly (by 4.2%, Trina Solar).

The leading companies are not a representative sample: they are the firms with the most resources and clout to ride out the solar shakeout, and so may be expected to contract less.

There have been plenty of bankruptcies among weaker players and no doubt capacity destruction is proceeding.

Two opposing strategies now for surviving the shakeout and becoming a leader in a subsequent, consolidated industry might be: first, to build a leaner, more sustainable business, or, second, to continue ramp up in the hope of a revival in prices soon after more companies have gone to the wall.

An example of the latter, “keep expanding” approach might be Yingli, as suggested by the trajectory of its continued rapid growth in factory capacity and supported by statements in its 2012 annual report.

“The size of manufacturing capacity has a significant bearing on the profitability and competitive position of PV product manufacturers. Achieving economies of scale from expanded manufacturing capacity is critical to maintaining our competitive position,” it said.

Danish wind turbine maker Vestas might be an exponent of the more cautious, “focus on profit” approach in its latest annual report.

The wind industry has dealt with similar problems to solar, including coping with falling power demand and subsidy cuts in key markets plus global over-capacity.

“We should not aim for higher revenue at any cost. Vestas will only embark on projects that are profitable to our customers and our business,” it said in a report which announced cost cuts following a drop in new orders.

One alternative to expensive capacity expansions is to outsource more of the supply chain, an approach adopted by Vestas.

Leading module maker Canadian Solar appears to be an example in the solar industry, recently announcing that it would achieve a ten-fold increase in its production capacity of wafers (an intermediary product in module manufacture) over the next two years partly through external relationships.

Of the near-2,000 MW expected expansion, 300 MW would be made internally, 600 MW through a joint venture with GCL Poly Energy Holdings, and a further 1,000 MW through long-term supply contracts, it said in its March 2013 presentation.

That could be a safe, half-way house, retaining the flexibility to ramp up when prices settle and in the meantime focusing on profitability.

Planning ahead with location intelligence

Given the many factors involved in planning a wind turbine, developers and installers could be forgiven for thinking good quality mapping is not that important.

Yet when it comes to submitting a planning application, national planning policy dictates a set of requirements on formats and scales with the full expectation that the maps involved are both up to date and legally licensed.

Norwich-headquartered Windcrop, which has installed more than 450 small-scale wind turbine, recognises the benefits of a managed approach to maps.

“We submit approximately 50 planning applications a month on average,” said Senior Planning Simon Henry. To have these validated under national planning guidance, we are required to submit maps and plans at pre-defined scales and in prescribed formats. Such is the volume of work, we needed a solution to make the production of these maps as quick and cost effective as possible.”

Crucially for Windcrop, they need to be able to generate Ordnance Survey map data at all the scales required by local authority planning departments across the country. These include 1:200, 1:500, 1:1 000 and 1:1 250 scale.

Simon explained: “Different local authorities have different requirements and because we work in so many areas we needed a flexible solution. If we couldn’t supply to the required scales and formats we simply wouldn’t be able to have our applications validated.”

Now equipped with the online Plans Ahead platform, Windcrop can generate three different kinds of mapping. The first is a large-scale block plan at 1: 500. This is ideal for showing the distances between the proposed turbine and existing buildings and natural features on site.

The second is a site location plan at 1: 2 500 scale showing the extent of the client’s land ownership and its relationship with neighbouring properties.

Simon added: “We can annotate any of these data outputs very easily and quickly. For example on the block plan, some authorities require us to show a proposed turbine as a circle while others need a triangle. We simply add the relevant details on top of the map. In the same way, we can show detail such as the width of an access route and how a cable will run from the turbine to the grid connection.”

Plans Ahead offers an easy to use online interface that requires no specialist GIS knowledge. As it is hosted, there are also no data storage worries and users can make changes to their plans online at no additional cost. This provides visibility of the planning process and an excellent means of managing and tracking the development lifecycle of a project.

In addition, the operating rules simplify licensing and guarantee copyright of map data for use in the relevant planning application.

Summarising the benefits, Simon concluded: “Plans Ahead has helped us reduce the time it takes to put applications together, in some cases by as much as half.”

Traip students bring lessons to life

A Traip Academy team of budding engineers learned some lessons in physics and teamwork, and along the way, garnered honors at a recent statewide wind turbine competition.

Two teams from Traip participated in the University of Maine annual Windstorm and Wind Blade Challenge, and one of the teams walked away with second place overall for its floating turbine platform design.

The competition was sponsored by the Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) at UMaine, with more than 40 middle schools and high schools participating.

According to Traip Academy physics teacher Ed Disy, the goal was very precise: Build a wind turbine platform with a blade connection no more than four inches off the water, using no more than $100 for materials. Submitted with each design was a business plan detailing how they spent their funds.

Disy said the competition has practical applications. The ASCC this month completed the country’s first floating wind turbine, which is expected to be placed in the water by 2016. The competition is intended to spur interest in the turbine program. Disy said they were told the winning prototypes may be used as a model for future turbines.

Teams could choose to either build a prototype turbine or a prototype floating platform for the turbine. Both Traip teams chose to build a platform.

The teams began meeting in December, first creating plans on paper and then transforming those plans into the actual model.

“I do a lot with the sciences, and I do pretty well,” said senior Josh Wiswell, who will attend University of Southern Maine this fall as an electrical engineering student. “But I haven’t done the engineering part.”

Creating a model from plans was key to his interest, he said, “although we learned the real world is not as perfect as the calculations.”

Disy agreed it was the learning experience that mattered most. “What we talked about is learning by failing,” he said. “It doesn’t always have to come out right.”

For instance, one team created a platform out of plastic plumbing tubing, only to realize after it was built that it sat too high in the water. The solution was to use bricks to add weight.

The other team created a platform using a weighted-down gallon milk jug and a plastic pail. To get the correct buoyancy, they drilled holes in the pail so it would fill with water. When it was 4 inches off the water, they used duct tape to plug the remaining holes.

That model was the one that won second overall, likely in part because the team only spent $8 to build it.

“The best thing is applying it to real life,” said team member Teancum Keele. “In math and science, you learn equations, but how does it apply to actual situations?”

Keele’s team included Taidgh Robinson and Nathanial Thomas. Wiswell’s team included Enya Childs and Talia Dennis.

Great Gabbard offshore wind turbine dispute settled

The wrangle saw the energy providers’ joint venture company Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Ltd caught up in a long-running stand-off with Fluor of Texas over the quality of turbine construction at the windfarm off the Suffolk coast.

GGOWL had complained about the standard of build relating to 52 upper and 35 lower foundations at the 140-turbine array, while Fluor had sought compensation for schedule and cost impacts arising from delays, disruption and productivity issues it attributed to its client and other third parties.

The situation was taken to an arbitration panel last year which found against Fluor. At that time, Fluor warned shareholders it expected to be hit with a pre-tax charge of $400 million as a result of the arbitration panel’s decision.

However, negotiations have since continued and both parties yesterday said the dispute had now been resolved.
No financial information relating to the final resolution has been disclosed publicly.

In a statement to the markets yesterday, SSE said GGOWL was now confident about the long-term structural integrity of the disputed wind turbine foundations at the 504MW capacity windfarm.

“The agreement between GGOWL and Fluor is a positive development, bringing to an end the contractual dispute between the two parties,” GGOWL general manager Iwan Tukalo said.

“It is also encouraging that the windfarm has performed well since it was energised and our focus remains on ensuring it is a safe, efficient asset that makes a significant contribution to achieving the UK’s targets for renewable energy.”

All 140 turbines at the array have been operational since September, and in the six months to March the windfarm managed to generate electricity for 87% of the time. It is forecast that figure will rise to in excess of 90% in this financial year.

Fluor chairman and chief executive officer David Seaton said the resolution of the dispute brought an end to Fluor’s involvement with the project, adding that there was no “material financial impact” to the company as a result of the settlement.

Mr Seaton said: “Fluor designed and built a safe, fit-for-purpose facility, and we are pleased that the operating windfarm is meeting the owner’s operating expectations.”

The Obama administration is perpetuating a pernicious legal double standard with regard to federal wildlife laws. It prosecutes industries that produce “dirty” energy and exempts those that claim to produce “clean” energy. Furthermore, it’s giving the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card so that if it kills some of our most-endangered species, such as the California condor, it will not face prosecution.

The wind industry is further expanding its operations onto public land in both California and Wyoming. And the American Wind Energy Association has recently said that its main goal is to obtain a multi-year extension of the production tax credit, the lucrative subsidy that was extended for one year back in January. In other words, despite some two decades of subsidies, the wind lobby claims it still needs public money to be viable.

Thus, the wind industry wants to use more public land — and of course, more public money — so that it can continue killing the public’s wildlife with impunity. But since the wind industry can claim that it is doing something — no matter how insignificant — with regard to carbon dioxide emissions, the Obama administration is willing to go along, and even help the industry hide the extent of its bird kills.

Clifton wind farm project sent back

A Superior Court judge affirmed most of the Clifton planning board’s October 2011 decision to approve a $25 million wind farm on Pisgah Mountain, but also remanded the matter back to planners to review tower heights and sound levels.

“It’s a real victory — the first victory — for us,” Peter Beckford, who opposes the project, said Tuesday.

Beckford and his wife, Julie, owners of Rebel Hill Farm, filed an appeal in Penobscot County Superior Court in March 2012 to stop the permitted five-turbine Pisgah Mountain wind farm proposed by Bangor residents Paul and Sandy Fuller and partners.

Fuller said the judge’s decision is just another bump in the road for the project, which has been in the works for more than three years.

During the oral arguments, the Beckfords’ attorney argued preconstruction sound level figures and isocontour maps were not submitted, that sound levels submitted exceeded permitted levels, that the land use code is vague regarding wind turbine heights and that two cabins put up on the Beckfords’ land are within the 4,000-foot wind tower setbacks.

They also questioned the financial capacity of the developers, whether enough decommissioning money had been set aside and the environmental impacts of the 450-foot tall turbines.

“He affirmed the planning board’s decisions on the setbacks of the cabins and he also affirmed their decisions on the environmental impacts, financial capability and decommissioning,” David Szewczyk, the town’s attorney, said. “Basically, all the issues except for two. The one thing the planning board has to do is provide additional findings of fact.”

The town, the Beckfords and the developer all hired their own sound consultants to test and review sound levels, and Horton determined that it is not clear how the planning board made their decision.

The town’s 28-page wind turbine ordinance is very specific and has very strict sound levels that are even lower than those set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and Horton agreed with the Beckfords “that the low frequency levels exceeded the [Clifton Land Use Ordinance] limits.”

“The arithmetic is on the Beckfords’ side,” Peter Beckford said.

The judge also added that, “The Town and Pisgah contend that the estimates [used] were ‘generated from highly conservative assumptions that drastically, and deliberately, overstated the actual amount of sound that would be generated, including low frequency.’ This response in effect suggests that the results should be ignored. It does not suffice.”

The sound study used by the town also “did not include the narratives, did not include the iso-maps, and applied the MDEP tonal penalty rather than the [Clifton Land Use Ordinance] tonal penalty,” the judge said.

For those reasons, Horton remanded the project back to planners.

“It certainly isn’t bad news,” said Fuller’s attorney, Bill Devoe of Eaton Peabody in Bangor. “The two issues left at this point are [turbine] height and low frequency sound data, and [they] are both easily answered in the confines of the ordinance.

“It’s a project of significant scope and complexity,” he said. “It’s not surprising that the court needs more from the planning board.”

Fuller said he is already on the June planning board agenda to address the court’s concerns.“Besides that, we’re shovel ready,” he said.