Public Service Board OK’s wind measuring towers for Seneca Mountain Wind

One of the Kingdom Community Wind project turbines in Lowell. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger
One of the Kingdom Community Wind project turbines in Lowell. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

The Public Service Board last week gave the Seneca Mountain Wind project the go-ahead to build four temporary meteorological (MET) towers in the Northeast Kingdom, despite local opposition.

The quasi-judicial board permitted two MET towers in Brighton, one in Ferdinand and one in Newark. The board’s approval of the measurement towers flies in the face of Newark’s town plan, which was altered to oppose wind projects after Seneca Mountain was proposed. Since Newark voted to rewrite the plan after the initial application of the MET towers, the board used the unchanged plan that was in existence at the time.

Standing no more than 200 feet tall, the towers will measure wind potential for a possible ridgeline wind development, which developers say would not exceed 60 megawatts. New Hampshire-based developer Eolian Renewable Energy LLC and the European-based turbine manufacturer Nordex USA Inc. submitted the MET tower application more than a year ago.

That was before Green Mountain Power’s 64.5-megawatt Lowell Mountain Wind project was completed. Over the past six months, the New England grid operator has regularly curtailed power output from the 21-turbine project due — in large part — to a weak northern Vermont grid that is flooded with intermittent renewable electricity.

A Seneca Mountain project would hook into this part of the grid.

For the past two legislative sessions, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, has pushed for a moratorium on utility-scale wind developments. At the outset of the 2013 session, he warned that large wind projects were pushing the capacity of the northern Vermont grid.

Benning represents the towns where the MET towers will be built.

Tuesday, the senator wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has staunchly supported the proliferation of large wind projects in Vermont.

“As you know, permission to install MET towers is the traditional first step in a two step process that (more often than not) leads to construction of an industrial wind generating facility,” Benning wrote.

“Your office guides the policy decisions that underlie this State’s energy plans,” the minority leader continued. “I implore you to use your efforts to cease further construction of industrial-sized generating facilities in the Northeast Kingdom until actual need can be demonstrated and infrastructure limitations can be addressed.”

The permit, called a certificate of public good, has a long list of conditions. Eolian must inventory rare plants in the area prior to construction of the towers and obtain a range of state permits. The developer cannot begin construction at the Newark site during winter, and none of the towers are allowed lighting. The MET towers must be removed and the site must be restored within five years of the permit.

John Soininen, Eolian project manager for Seneca Mountain, said that the company is still sifting through the 80-plus-page order.

“It’s unfortunate the timing,” he said. “This has been a very lengthy process and there are seasonal restrictions on several of the MET tower sites, so the reality is that several of the MET towers are not really practical to be able to install until sometime next summer.”

Despite the seasonal regulations, Soininen said he is pleased with the board’s decision.

“We believe this decision is reasonable and appropriate given the laws regulating this type of activity and that the decision is consistent with prior decisions by the board,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work towards a defined project plan for a wind farm that can bring substantial clean energy and economic development benefits to Vermonters.”

Laura “Tommy” Rodgers, chair of the Newark Selectboard, said she wasn’t notified of the approval until she picked up her morning paper.

“I read it this morning in the Caledonian-Record, and that’s the first I knew of it,” she said.

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Andrew Stein

About Andrew

Andrew Stein is the energy and health care reporter for VTDigger. He is a 2012 fellow at the First Amendment Institute and previously worked as a reporter and assistant online editor at the Addison County Independent, where he helped the publication win top state and New England awards for its website. Andrew is a former China Fulbright Research Fellow and a graduate of Kenyon College. As a Fulbright fellow, he researched the junction of Chinese economic, agricultural and environmental policymaking through an analysis of China’s modern tea industry. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and has been awarded research grants from Middlebury College and the Freeman Foundation to investigate Chinese environmental policies. A member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, his work has also appeared in publications such as the Math Association of America’s quarterly journal Math Horizons and When Andrew isn’t writing stories, he can likely be found playing Boggle with his wife, fly fishing or brewing beer.

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  • Kathy Nelson

    A permit, given under the guise of the public good, for meteorological test towers, whose data is denied to the public, under the guise of a trade secret, is an act of betrayal of the public trust. What the Public, or Corporate if you will, Service Board has done has served the interests of a private company to the detriment of the citizens being abused by that company. I believe a charge of malfeasance is honestly justified in this instance. These three men on the PSB have taken it upon themselves to serve the interests of corporations and political cronies over the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of Vermont and the precious natural resources that those citizens have sought to protect for decades. I certainly hope that 2014 sees them standing in line for a food handout in another state.

  • Mark Whitworth

    The area that Seneca has targeted for industrial wind turbines includes ecologically sensitive ridgelines that are home to endangered species. There is widespread community opposition to Seneca and it’s growing. The turbines at neighboring Sheffield and Lowell are already being curtailed by ISO New England and VELCO says that the grid in this part of the Kingdom cannot accommodate another utility-scale generator.

    This project doesn’t make environmental, economic, or technical sense.

    It is one thing for Seneca to squander its investors’ money on a nonsensical project. It is quite another thing for them to impose a financial burden on the towns they’ve targeted and on the State of Vermont.

    During the past session the legislature couldn’t find the funding for a thermal efficiency program—-a program that would save Vermonters money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the meantime, the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this foolish Seneca project that is technically infeasible.

    Our legislators should demand an accounting of the money that’s been spent by the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Public Service, and the Public Service Board on Seneca. Vermont statute already enables agencies, like ANR, to seek reimbursement from developers like Seneca. The state should make use of this statutory authority immediately.

    • Frank Seawright

      I know exactly how you feel. Windham had in place a town plan that prohibits industrial wind and the PSD recommended to the PSB that the CPG for met towers should not be granted. They did anyway. And sent the notification of that decision to the town office on a Friday. My wife and I acted all week end as if one of us had just been diagnosed with some terminal disease.

      Just now I read on the VTDigger that “Three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals decided Wednesday that the Vermont Legislature is federally preempted from shutting down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant”
      It really does seem that Vermont does not own Vermont any more. I hear some people in Windham County say that they’ll support wind turbines because they want Vermont Yankee to close. Well, looks like we’ll have both.

  • Rob Pforzheimer

    The PSB approved the Eolian/SMW met towers, despite the fact that there is no transmission line in place and even if built, at prohibitive cost, would connect to an already constrained grid.
    Furthermore, this is one of, if not the most critical habitat in VT for many endangered and threatened species, including, lynx, bicknell thrush, and peregrine falcons (active nesting site on Hawk Rock). The area is adjacent to Conserved land, and the towns of Newark and Island Pond have voted overwhelmingly against a wind project and their town plans prohibit this type of development.
    The PSB rubber stamping approval of any and all useless wind projects, to sell power to Mass and Conn, is insane and of absolutely no benefit to Vt’ers.

  • Laura,

    “Laura “Tommy” Rodgers, chair of the Newark Selectboard, said she wasn’t notified of the approval until she picked up her morning paper.

    “I read it this morning in the Caledonian-Record, and that’s the first I knew of it,” she said.

    So much for input from the public. Montpelier rules the state.

    Vermonters learn about life-altering planning/construction in their towns by reading the morning papers ex post facto.

    The only way this can be remedied is by voting the culprits out of office.

    Here are the results of the Eden, VT MET studies:

    BNE Energy, West Hartford*, CT, wants to put up 6 Vestas, 3 MW-V112 wind turbines, 459-ft tall, 373-ft dia rotors on an Eden, VT, ridge line, right next to the Lowell plant.

    GMP, Lowell owner, provided a fantasy capacity factor of 0.3587 to the PSB, but BNE tops it with a super-fantasy CF of 0.391 (MET results at 100 m).

    On ridge lines, the air entering the rotors has many velocities and directions. As a result, the performance of the rotor in not anywhere near its design value; similar to a plane flying through turbulent air.

    A MET tower uses about three 8-inch dia. wind velocity/direction meters, anemometers, and the measured values are “adjusted” by a “surface roughness factor” which appears to be grossly underestimated to yield the super-fantasy CFs; testing companies typically report high CF values, because they want projects to succeed and get more business.

    It would be imprudent for the PSB to approve MORE wind turbine plants, as the Lowell plant (and others in the NEK) is frequently curtailed because the NEK grid (as almost all other grids) is not designed to absorb the variable energy of wind turbines.

    As a result, the actual 2013 Lowell CFs are about 50% less than claimed by GMP:

    Month,   Days,   MWh,      CF

    Jan,        31,     8437,   0.180
    Feb,        28,     9229,   0.218
    Mar,        31,     7828,   0.167
    Apr,        30,     7348,   0.162
    May,        31,   10452,   0.223
    Jun,         30,    8392,   0.185
    Total,     181,   51686,  0.189

    If such wind testing took place in flat, very windy Kansas, turbulence of air entering the rotors would be minimal, surface roughness would be minimal (few trees, buildings, etc.), and predicted CFs would be 0.38-0.40, which were proven correct by actual production results.

    * West Hartford, CT, is an upscale town with many multi-millionaires looking for wind energy tax shelters. BNE, the developer, rounds up some of them, creates an LLC to invest in wind turbine plants on Vermont ridge lines.

  • Bob Orleck

    Senator Benning is so right on this. Why is the Shumlin administration so intent on doing things that hurt Vermont and Vermonters? For the sake of the people and our land we need to put the brakes on and do honest need and impact evaluations openly and above board, consistent with local citizen sentiment and not sneak this in by autorizing these MET towers. For most busy Vermonters they will not hear of this and even if they do will not see the red flags. By the time we all wake up it will be too late. The camel’s head is in the tent and we know what will happen next.

  • The Shumlin Administration’s propensity to hurt Vermont and Vermonters is tied directly to the Governor’s “Ready, Fire, Aim” management style. It seems to be a management style characterized by shooting from the hip and asking questions later.

    A perfect example is the Governor’s recent letter to ISO-NE regarding curtailment of Lowell Mountain operations during a period of peak power demand. The Governor fired off a letter to ISO-NE that prompted a response that made the Governor look as if he had no idea of what is going on with gird capabilities and limitations. Did the Governor check with his Department of Public Service Commissioner before sending this letter? If he did the problem goes deeper than only the Governor’s office.

    Go back over the past couple of years and one will find a myriad of examples of this Governor acting before carefully thinking things through. We have everything from Jerry Dodge to spending $427 million of tax payer money to create a health care exchange with a very questionable usable life and utility, to hiring a restaurateur to oversee reforming our $6 billion health care system. On the other hand, health care is so important that Anya Rader is the only person on the planet qualified to oversee the expenditure of a mere $45 millions in healthcare related funds, at least in the Governor’s mind. So the state must pay her $200 per hour without putting the job for a competitive bid. It seems that the Governor believes that overseeing the expenditure of $45 million is more important that reforming the entire $6 billion health care system based on his hiring choices.

    When a state has a “Ready, Fire, Aim” governor, it is incumbent on the legislature to more aggressively exercise its oversight responsibilities. This week we have seen Senator Benning do just that on the Seneca Mountain testing towers. Now its time for the rest of our legislators to follow suit and demand that the actions of our state government be more clearly thought through before action is taken. A good place to start is the state’s energy policy, which is proving to be build on a foundation of “Ready, Fire, Aim” knee jerk thinking.

    • Bob Orleck

      Peter, that same propensity surfaced when Governor Shumlin signed physician assisted suicide legislation into law (Act 39). He failed to do a careful analysis of the compromise that did radical surgery to the original legislation that was passed into law in the closing minutes of the legislature. It was bad enough that the legislature failed to do proper analysis in their rush to get anything passed but for the Governor to sign it is shameful carelessness. Regardless of which side of the matter you are on, there will soon be general appreciation and understanding that what was passed was an exercise in legislative malpractice followed by an executive stamp of approval done without clear thinking and analysis.

      Time and history are not going to be kind to this Governor.

  • Phyllis North

    Gov. Shumlin and the other elites in Montpelier have convinced themselves that building ridgeline wind farms will prevent Irene-type flooding in the valleys. Unfortunately, the change in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere due to a few more wind farms in Vermont would be negligible. A more meaningful step would be to put a big tax on carbon.

  • Stan Shapiro

    The federal govt has provided astronomical monies .The state knows this. The politicians and their supporters are keenly aware of how to benefit from this. Not to take advantage of this windfall would betray the whole purpose of their of their relationships. The PSB always says they are doing the bidding of the legislature. .This will have to come down to the ballot box. The anger will never go away when it comes to the hurt IWT’s cause to their victims.

  • Dennis Liddy

    I am not surprised that the PSB approved the met towers. They will tell you that they are only following a legislative mandate and that those opposed to their actions should look to the legislature to make changes to that mandate.This is why a moratorium on industrial wind is needed and if their is any hope of that happening the voters in Vermont need to vote the pro-industrial wind legislators out.
    This needs to be done in the next election. Vermonters, stand up to these legislators and demand the protection our mountains deserve.

  • Wayne Andrews

    What do you all think the PSB was going to rule? Allow the test towers in Winhall Vermont (southern Vt) and not in the Northeast Kingdom? That would be double talk.

  • Pete Novick

    We are building a website to gain supporters to make the 400′ wind tower the Vermont state flower.

    Also, I called a friend of mine who works pretty high up in the largest maker of jigsaw puzzles in the US and suggested the company market a jigsaw puzzle showing GMP’s Lowell Mountain wind farm.

    Hopefully they will, and leave out a few pieces.

  • jordan brener

    Is everyone watching both Eolian wind’s monitoring experiment on Seneca Mtn. and Colchester’s NG Advantage’s agreement to purchase and truck the equivalent of 10-million gallons of gasoline in compressed natural gas?
    If Jay Peak investors of the horrific energy-wasting water park and other so-far-unnamed entities are into both these deals, what kind of profit do they expect to make and upon whose back does responsibility lie if something goes awry (like not being able to transmit energy where it’s needed)? Is Yale U. in on this deal, too, along with other wind deals and taking over doctors’ private practices for profit? Specifically who and which investment groups stand to profit from tax breaks and how? Shouldn’t this be a matter of public record? We need a list of names of the profiteers. Public good should be a matter of public record and we should know who’s got their fingers in the pie. The business of investing IS a business and it is preying on individuals. (Investors took over the prison system over 30-yrs. ago and just look at it today.)