Tag Archive | solar industry

Public Eye

Opponents of a potential eastern Howard County wind turbine project packed the Howard County Commissioners meeting this past week. It was the fifth straight commissioners meeting dominated by the white-shirted opponents.

The opponents want county officialsto create larger setback requirements and to require wind turbines to obtain a special exception use permit from the Howard County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The irony here is that the opponents are appealing to two of the individuals responsible for the current setback requirements, and for the fact that in Howard County, you need a special exception permit to build a cell phone tower, but you don’t need one to build a much taller wind turbine.

On May 19, 2009, the Howard County Plan Commission met to consider a proposed wind turbine amendment to the Howard County Zoning Ordinance.

At the meeting, the plan commission voted to change key provisions of the proposed new wind turbine rules, jettisoning a proposal to require a special exception permit, and voting for shorter setback requirements.

Commissioner Tyler Moore, who was on the plan commission at the time, “said he felt he spoke for the Commissioners in saying they would like to see the 1,000 foot setback from residences reduced. He said seeing that reduction considered was a welcome surprise. He felt the process needed to be as smooth as possible. The Special Exception process was probably prohibitive for the land owner as well as the wind energy companies,” the minutes state.

Commissioner Paul Wyman was also at the meeting, to speak in favor of the changes.

According to the minutes, Wyman said “He would like to see the change of the 500 feet and the Special Exception as a requirement. He said Howard County needs to be in the most competitive position possible.”

Several representatives of wind energy companies, as well as individuals and attorneys representing landowners interested in leasing property to the wind companies, were also at the meeting to press for the last-minute changes, which passed unanimously.

Brian Oaks, who was acting as the plan commission’s attorney at the time, also recommended getting rid of the special exception permit requirement, telling the commission members he didn’t think it would hold up in court, if the BZA rejected a special use permit application.

Thursday, Wyman said he hasn’t changed his position on the issue, but is hopeful there may be room for compromise between wind developer E.On Climate & Renewables and the opponents, noting that E.On has proposed setbacks for recent projects which exceed the Howard County zoning requirements.

Wyman also said he was concerned about economic development in 2009, a year when Kokomo was beset by bankruptcies in the auto industry, and unemployment reached 20 percent.

“Our community was looking to diversify, and wind energy was an up-and-coming investment,” he said. Click on their website http://www.scfwindturbine.com for more information.

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No Wynne on wind

Premier Kathleen Wynne last week promised to give municipal governments a greater say in the location of industrial wind turbines (IWTs) in their communities, short of being able to veto them.

In other words, she’s promising residents across Ontario battling the imposition of industrial wind factories on their communities any and all assistance, short of help.

Given the Liberals’ appalling history on this issue, skepticism is justified about anything they say.

Indeed, the determination of Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, to ram IWTs down the throats of communities across Ontario is one of the most shameful episodes in the Liberals’ 10-year record of government.

People who objected to IWTs were mocked as suffering from NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard syndrome) by McGuinty.

His Green Energy Act took away the rights of local municipalities to any say in the location of these giant, industrial wind factories.

When people started complaining about adverse health effects from wind turbines, environment ministry officials lied to them.

They told them they were the only ones complaining — implying it was all in their heads — when in fact the ministry was receiving hundreds of complaints from across Ontario.

A 2011 CBC news investigation, which obtained 1,000 pages of internal government documents through a Freedom of Information request, revealed that even as the environment ministry was publicly downplaying the growing controversy, it was internally warning the government its noise limits and setbacks for wind turbines were flawed, inadequate, hard to monitor and difficult to enforce.

Meanwhile the Liberals publicly mouthed the same platitudes as the wind industry they were enriching by paying outrageous prices for unreliable electricity.

That fiasco was fully documented by then auditor general Jim McCarter in his devastating 2011 assessment of the Liberals’ renewable energy program. He concluded poor Liberal decision-making will cost Ontarians billions of dollars on their hydro bills for generations to come.

Meanwhile, back on the health front, the Liberals and the wind industry insisted scientific studies, often funded by the wind industry, showed turbines were safe.

They also cited a 2010 literature review by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health which found no “direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects.” At the same time, wind companies were buying out families driven from their homes by turbine noise, vibration and flickering, while making them sign confidentiality agreements, so they couldn’t talk about it.

More recently, however, there has been a growing pushback against the Liberals’ scurrilous suggestion anyone complaining about adverse health effects from wind turbines must be a NIMBY or nuts.

An article in the May issue of Canadian Family Physician — official journal of The College of Family Physicians of Canada — warns doctors to brace for increasing numbers of medical complaints from people living close to industrial wind turbines.

“Adverse health affects of industrial wind turbines”, by Dr. Roy D. Jeffery, Carmen Krough and Brett Horner notes, “people who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression and cognitive dysfunction. Some have also felt anger, grief or a sense of injustice. Suggested causes of symptoms include a combination of wind turbine noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current and shadow flicker.”

The article cited a 2011 Ontario environmental review tribunal which concluded: “This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.”

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.