“Write it down on a block of ice.” UPDATE

My dad liked that phrase … “Write it down on a block of ice!”  He used to tell me that when I’d do a chore and tell him I was going to send him a bill.

Sometimes, when I read articles about politician’s campaign promises or the latest “Billy Mays” product claim, I have to chuckle.  I can hear my dad saying, “write it down on a block of ice.”

Over the past year or so, I’ve become very interested in industrial wind and I read a lot of articles on the topic.  I’ve got my web reader searching for a few key words and folks occasionally send me an article of interest.  Obviously, I’m very interested in the articles concerning industrial wind in the Alleghenies.

This morning, a friend who happens to be a member of the Allegheny Highlands Alliance (Note 2), sent this article from the Somerset County Pennsylvania Daily American –New windfarm planned for Somerset.

The article announces plans for a new wind farm of some 60 turbines to be built in Somerset County.  According to the author, the 8,500 acre farmwill generate up to 150 MW“, “which is enough energy to power more than 40,000 homes.”  The article also states that the developer “will pay the townships $1,600 per megawatt,” from which four townships “are expected to share up to $240,000 a year.”

So, what does that really mean?  If you happen to notice the popular “up to,” you start to get a clue.

The wind energy’s trade association, AWEA, estimates that turbines actually produce between 25% to 40% of their nameplate capacity.  Actual operation reports have very often demonstrated much less, but for the sake of this argument, we’ll be generous and use the AWEA average of 33%.

If you discount the “generate up to” 150 MW to the 33% AWEA estimate, the actual generation would be around 51 MW.

The article says the townships will be paid $1,600 per MW.  If we use the AWEA figure  – 51 MW, we find the article perhaps should have stated the more realistic “up to” $81,600 for the four townships to share.  The $240,000 the article suggests would require the units to run at an unheard of 100% of nameplate capacity.  In fairness, the author might not have been provided this information for the article.  After all, it’s not exactly the headline at the AWEA home page.

As far as the 200 temporary construction jobs … unless the developer firmly commits to employing local contractors with the heavy lift cranes, earth movers and qualified trades required for construction, these resources will likely come from outside the immediate area.  It’s important to note that not all 200 workers touted will be on site working from the start to the finish.  You folks in Somerset county might want to ask how many “labor hours” will be generated by the construction that will include “guaranteed” local labor.  It’s a much better measure.  Good luck getting that, by the way!

As far as the other benefits, income and revenues to landowner’s, local business and governments in the form of direct payments and real estate taxes … make sure they write the commitment down on paper.  Often, the wind developers rely on computer generated economic models to provide the figures rattled off in the article and, when challenged under oath, the folks providing the estimates will tell you there is no way to go back later to prove what they were predicting would happen, actually did (Note 1).  Also, it’s not uncommon for wind developers to approach state level government for relief from the tax payment levels originally agreed to and, not at all unusual for the state level to grant relief.

Don’t get me wrong!  Just because I happen to believe industrial wind is a dismal energy producer and only serves as a tax shelter for large companies, doesn’t mean you need to accept my opinion.

But, if you residents of Somerset County believe, from reading this article, that the great financial benefits listed are “iced,” you might want to go back and make sure they didn’t simply “write it down on a block of ice.”

Allegheny Treasures Note 1:

Note 1:   From October 2009 Testimony before the WV PSC  (Original and complete testimony available at the WV PSC website)

Pinnacle Wind Force, LLC Case # 09-0360-E-CS

Pages 19 and 20

(WV PSC)COMMISSIONER ALBERT:

12 Is there any — are there any

13 empirical —? Other than correcting your data as you go

14 forward, do you do any empirical studies on each project

15 to determine whether your projection of that project

16 matches actuality or can that even be done? I’m not —

17 I —.

18 A. (Consultant Michael Jin) Yeah. It’s hard to be done like this because,

19 you know, in reality we really don’t know, you know. The

20 economic impact would be realized in a certain way, you

21 know, I mean, unless you talk to the state, talk to the

22 county people, you know, to see if they do see those —

23 for example, the tax revenues and those type of things we

24 have to, you know, do — have to talk to the people in

25 the field. Then you can know if it’s severe or not.

COMMISSIONER 1 ALBERT:

2 All right.

3 A. But this is an estimate.

UPDATE:  Readers requested the source of Mr. Jin’s testimony so we provide the following Scribd document for your review.  For the original source, please visit the WV PSC web page.

Allegheny Treasures Note 2:

The Allegheny Highlands Alliance (AHA) is a consortium of citizen/environment organizations with membership in five states along the Allegheny Front.  The AHA is in the process of discovering the facts about industrial wind, its potential to reduce green house gases, its economics and the impact of industrial wind energy project installations on the ecology and human health.

The purposes of AHA shall include but not be limited to the following:

(A) To advance public knowledge and understanding of the cultural, biological, environmental diversity, uniqueness, and sensitivity of the major ridgelines that comprise the Allegany Highlands;

(B) To preserve and protect areas of particular scenic, geologic, biologic, historic, wilderness, and/or recreational importance in the Allegheny Highlands;

(C) To aid in the establishment of responsible policies to protect scientific, educational or aesthetic values;

(D) To conduct regional and resource studies as a basis for the wise use of the various resources of the Allegheny Highlands; to develop programs in energy conservation and wise production; and to serve local communities, the region,  the people of the Allegheny Highlands as an agency for popular enlightenment, for cultural improvement, and for scientific advancement;

(E) To advocate governmental policies for the conservation and wise management of energy and natural resources of the Allegheny Highlands.

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