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Biologist, Green Energy Proponent Blasts Wind Energy Producers For Golden Eagle Deaths

in News/wind
20191

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Despite his love of green energy, a Wyoming biologist tracking golden eagle deaths is calling for Carbon and Albany Counties to put the brakes on wind energy expansion.  

“In my opinion, existing wind projects are already causing a chronic population decline of resident eagles,” Mike Lockhart, a biologist with 33 years of experience, told Cowboy State Daily last week.

Lockhart’s comments referenced his years-long eagle tracking project, which attributed multiple golden eagle deaths to wind turbine strikes.  

Lockhart said that so many new wind projects are in the works the golden eagle population will continue to decline. 

“The extent of proposed wind projects will vastly increase and accelerate those (turbine) impacts to a point where current population levels are impossible to maintain,” he said.

Bald eagles, Lockhart said during a presentation to the Carbon County Commission earlier this month, seem more accepting of changes in their landscape than the stubborn golden eagles.  

He added that the windy lands near Interstate 80 in Carbon and Albany counties, especially the Shirley and Laramie Basins, are prime golden eagle habitat – perhaps the finest in the nation.  

For northern-based golden eagles that swing from Canada to Mexico with the seasons, the area is a prime corridor; and for Wyoming homebody eagles, or “residents,” the area is a key habitat. 

Lockhart has captured 176 eagles for temporary study since 2014, fitting 113 of them with satellite tags for further tracking. Of the 113 tagged, 80 were on or next to existing and proposed wind project areas, and were tracked for specific wind impact studies. The group includes breeders and “floaters,” or bachelors lurking for a good breeding habitat.  

One lamentable facet of raptor study, noted Lockhart in his presentation to commissioners, is that wind energy development tends to move faster than the life-cycle studies, leaving biologists to play catch-up to discover the effects of wind turbines already built or proposed on eagles living out their long and seasonally patterned lives.  

Death Trends 

Of the 113 eagles tagged, Lockhart logged 20 golden eagle deaths with known causes: 17 of were killed by human-related activity and three died of natural causes, such as disease or conflicts with other eagles.  

Here’s how the 17 golden eagles killed by human activity died: 

One by collision with wire; 

One, by lead poisoning, specifically, ingesting bullet fragments; 

Two were shot; 

Four died of vehicle collisions; 

Four died of wind turbine strikes, and 

Five were electrocuted – including one killed by a power line designed with an insulator developed to protect raptors.  

Some bald eagles were also tagged, but fewer of their deaths were related to human activity.

Federal Transparency 

Lockhart’s concerns were twofold: that wind expansion in the Shirley Basin area, especially, should be halted for further study and mitigation and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should air its conversations with wind developers publicly.  

“They’re not transparent enough,” Lockhart said, “and they need to be a lot more rigorous in terms of what’s happening on the ground and actually monitoring that and not having third parties do it.”  

Lockhart clarified that there are fine biologists working for and with the Fish and Wildlife Service, but he fears they may be “run over” by a current federal climate of green-energy frenzy.  

“I’m a green energy proponent myself,” Lockhart said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife Service should focus more on protecting at-risk species than promoting wind power interests.  

Rigorous Habitat Study 

Nearly all the wind projects in the Shirley Basin belong to Rocky Mountain Power.  

Rocky Mountain Power did not respond by midday Friday to a voicemail requesting comment.  

Kara Choquette, communications director of Power Company of Wyoming, countered Lockhart in an interview last week with Cowboy State Daily.

Choquette said her company’s wind farm, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, undertook a lengthy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service process of habitat review before the wind structures could be built. 

Unlike the Rocky Mountain Power projects, the Chokecherry is not in the Shirley Basin but is farther south than the area Lockhart is most concerned about, Choquette said, adding the process for establishing turbine routes around eagles has been rigorous nonetheless.  

Six years of “many biologists” studying habitats, she said, preceded construction, and the studies are still ongoing even as the turbines cycle on.    

“It’s a pretty high standard of conservation before you can get an incidental take permit for eagles,” she said. 

The “incidental take” is the number of eagles a wind project is allowed to kill or disturb, accidentally, under Fish and Wildlife Service protocols. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2016 the Chokecherry farm may be allowed to “take” one to two bald eagles and 10 to 14 golden eagles per year. 

Choquette said because “take” is also defined as “disturb,” the actual number of golden eagle fatalities is likely below that threshold of 10 to 14. 

Chokecherry planners also were required to place insulators on power poles and establish other environmental measures which, she said, could provide a “net benefit” to eagles, resulting in an overall population increase.

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Wind Project Developer Charged In Deaths Of Golden And Bald Eagles

in News/wind
Photo by Michael Smith/Newsmakers
18516

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A wind power development company whose windmills across the country have been blamed for the deaths of 150 golden and bald eagles over the past decade has been cited in the deaths of nine of the birds in Wyoming and New Mexico.

The federal government on Friday filed three misdemeanor charges against ESI Energy over the deaths of birds at the Cedar Springs wind development in Converse County, the Roundhouse development in Laramie County and the New Mexico Wind project in New Mexico.

In exchange for being charged in the deaths of nine of the birds rather than all 150, ESI has agreed to extensive changes costing up to $27 million at its wind farms in Wyoming, New Mexico, Florida, California, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Oregon, North Dakota, Illinois and Kansas.

In court documents, federal prosecutors said ESI consistently disregarded the advice of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in building the Cedar Springs, Roundhouse and New Mexico Wind projects. 

The company was aware that golden and bald eagles were reported in the areas the project were built, the documents said, but proceeded with the construction regardless. The company also refused to obtain “eagle taking permits,” a permit granted when an activity — such as the operation of wind turbines — is expected to result in the deaths of some of the birds.

“ESI adopted a nationwide posture of not applying for eagle take permits; at no time did ESI or any of its subsidiaries or affiliated companies or their personnel or agents apply for or obtain any eagle taking permit authorizing the killing or wounding of any eagles relating to any of its wind power facilities,” the documents said.

However, ESI has recently changed its position on the bird deaths and has agreed to take steps in the future to minimize the impact of its windmills on the animals,  the documents said.

“The (Department of Justice) believes, based on interactions with ESI counsel and management in recent months … that (ESI) has undergone a beneficial change in its approach to safeguarding public wildlife resources in the development and operation of its wind facilities,” it said.

The department is recommending a plea agreement that involves ESI reviewing the operations of 50 of its wind energy facilities, monitoring them for eagle deaths and working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize threats to the birds.

The company has also agreed to work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether some of its windmills should be periodically stopped to avoid injuring or killing eagles and has agreed to remove all dead animals from around their windmills so the bodies will not lure the eagles into the area of the windmills.

The company agreed to spent up to $27 million on the effort, which will include the cost of revenue lost when windmills are shut down, over five years.

Such deaths among bird populations are an example of why windmills need to be better regulated in Wyoming, according to Lynn Montoya, a Laramie resident who with her husband has worked to block the development of an Albany County wind project.

“The killing of protected birds is just another example of why Wyoming needs to review its open door policies regarding industrial wind turbines,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “Wind energy companies have the technology available to reduce bird kill and eagle deaths by up to 82% … but choose not to purchase due to high expense.”

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Paul Montoya: The Differences Between Wind Power and Solar Power

in Column/Paul Montoya
8023

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By Paul Montoya, guest columnist

Full disclosure: I live near the proposed Rail Tie wind project. The Rail Tie Wind project is an Industrial Wind Turbine Plant extending from Vedauwoo and Ames Monument on the east, through Tie Siding and Hwy 287 extending to Boulder Ridge on the West in Albany County.

I found out about the proposed project at a public meeting held in January of this year. Up until this point I really had not thought much about turbine farms except seeing them along the highway when driving.

My background includes over 45 years in engineering, so I felt some real research into wind and solar generation was in order.

My first experience with renewable energy goes back to when I was 12 years old and my parents buying me a “100 in 1 electronics kit”. This kit included a tiny 2” x 2” solar cell. I was fascinated that I could light the small flashlight bulb with this solar cell just by illuminating it with sunlight.

In 2008, while building the house we currently live in, I was committed to generating at least part of our power by wind or solar energy. The Wyoming Business Council at that time had homeowner grants for wind energy. I was able to reserve two $5000 grants so I began my research.

The best quality turbines had a one-year warranty and I soon found out that they began to apply the brakes at winds of just 30 MPH. Return on investment even with the grant money was about 9 years. And this did not include maintenance. I decided to pass on wind turbines and just stick to solar.

One thing I have learned in engineering is the more moving parts you have in equipment the more chance of breakdown. Have you ever noticed that the two things that typically go wrong most often in a computer are the fans and the hard drives? Traditionally the two items with moving parts in any computer.

So, let’s examine wind and solar on an industrial scale. The company that is proposing the Rail Tie project is ConnectGen. They are a relatively new company out of Houston Texas that are involved in both Wind and Solar.

Let us compare two of their projects from the ConnectGen website. One solar and one wind. For the wind project we can use the Rail Tie project planned for the Vedauwoo area. For the solar project we will use ConnectGen’s South Ripley project in New York state.

The Rail Tie project will generate 504 megawatts of power on 26,600 acres of land. The South Ripley project will generate 270 megawatts on 2000 acres. Now some calculations.

By using these figures supplied by a wind and solar generation company you could generate 504 megawatts of power on 3733 acres with solar rather than using over almost 27,000 acres for a wind plant to generate the same amount of power. That is quite a difference in land efficiency.

Let us look at other factors. Wind turbines now days are well over 500 feet tall. This is the equivalent of a 45-story building.

To protect aircraft safety the Federal Aviation Administration says that towers over 198 feet in height are required to have flashing lights atop them. The Rail Tie project could have over 150 towers.

That is 150 flashing lights. Solar structures are typically no more than 15 feet off the ground. No lights.

The rotating blades of wind turbines can gather ice during the winter. As the sun comes out or temperatures rise the ice will shed off the blades throwing ice up to 2500 feet. Solar cells just shed ice to the ground. No moving parts.

What does the carbon footprint look like during construction? Each wind turbine requires three extended semi-trucks for the blades, two semis for the tower sections, and one for the turbine.

Each semi is an over-sized load by highway standards so 12 pilot vehicles are also required. That a lot of diesel fuel. Solar would require a few standard semi-trucks for the support structures and the panels.

One item that comes up quite a bit is the impacts and small birds and raptors. While there is a varied opinion as to the impact turbines have on the bird population, most agree that turbines (again having moving parts) do kill birds. Solar does not have this same problem.

Wind turbines while they appear silent, do put out low frequency noise called infrasound. Since the turbines are moving due to the air flow passing through them, this can cause these low frequency noise affects.

This would be the same as to going to a rock concert and feeling the bass as much as hearing the bass. Solar again does not have this issue.

I think we can all agree that we will be moving toward renewable energy in the future.

However, when doing the engineering, some renewable energy development is more practical and less impactable that other energy generation.

I have not even touched on small modular nuclear. This has must potential for continuous generation which both wind and solar do not.

When looking at our future of power generation in Wyoming, let’s not just consider short term gains but let’s plan for a long-term strategy that makes Wyoming an attractive place to generate power.

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Laramie Wind Project Protestors Concerned About Turbine Blades Breaking

in Energy/News
6990

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Critics of an Albany County wind farm are pointing to reports of wind turbine blade failures in Iowa as proof that additional state and local regulations on the turbines need to be considered.

In Iowa, two blades have broken off of turbines in the span of two months, something Paul and Lynn Montoya and Jennifer Kirchhoffer have taken notice of.

The Montoyas and Kirchhoffer are members of Albany County for Smart Energy Development, an organization looking to change Albany County’s current wind energy regulations.

The group feels existing rules do not adequately protect the area’s natural resources or ensure the health, safety and quality of life of residents, businesses and recreational users in proximity of energy facilities.

According to the Des Moines Register, MidAmerican Energy (which is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, billionaire Warren Buffet’s company) has said the blades broke somewhere along their length, not at the base.

However, the company has paused 46 wind turbines that have blades like the ones that have broken in the last two months.

“Looking at the abnormally close distance of the turbines of the new Roundhouse turbine plant west of Cheyenne, I worry for our Wyoming residents said,” Paul Montoya told Cowboy State Daily in referrence to the Iowa blade problems.

“This [story] only highlights the fact that setback distances in many counties in Wyoming are obsolete based on the new, much larger turbines being installed,” he said.

The broken blades in Iowa were more than 170 feet long and weighed around 18,000 pounds.

Last week, a technician found that a blade had fallen into a field in Greene County, Iowa. Another blade broke off a turbine and fell into a cornfield in Adair County, Iowa in September.

The company also had other problems with blades breaking, including one incident in April and another in October 2019, also in Adair County, but at a different MidAmerican wind farm than the incident in September.

A statement to the Des Moines Register this week assigned the blame for the failure to Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas, the largest wind turbine company in the world.

PacifiCorp, which is developing wind projects in various areas of Wyoming, including Carbon and Laramie counties, is using Vestas to manufacture the turbines for its wind farms.

In July, the ACSED delivered a petition to the Albany County board of commissioners in regards to the wind project being developed near Tie Siding.

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1,200+ Signatures Gathered In Laramie Wind Energy Protest

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6332

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An ongoing protest against Albany County wind energy rules continued on Monday when a petition critical of current rules and carrying more than 1,200 signatures was delivered to the county’s board of commissioners.

Paul Montoya and other members of the group Albany County for Smart Energy Development delivered their petition Monday morning to the Albany County Commissioners.

The petition charged that the county’s current wind energy regulations don’t adequately protect the area’s natural resources or ensure the health, safety and quality of life of Albany County residents, businesses and recreational users in proximity of energy facilities.

Many of the group’s concerns stem from outdated regulations that were put in place before taller and more powerful wind turbines were designed and put into use.

The group has been particularly critical of a wind project near Tie Siding.

Montoya and two other members held a livestreamed news conference on Facebook following the delivery of the petition to explain what the petition was about and their intent for bringing it to the commissioners.

He explained that a few weeks ago, the county commissioners began discussing potential changes to wind energy regulations and asked for public comment.

This was a perfect time for the ACSED to gather a petition and show the commissioners that residents strongly believe the regulations should be changed, Montoya said.

“This petition is not a referendum,” Montoya said. “We only use it to demonstrate to the county the desire of its residents, to add protection for its residents and natural resources for this and future generations through properly locating industrial wind turbines in this county.”

Montoya and others are opposing the proposed Rail Tie Wind Project, which is to be built around Highway 287 near Tie Siding.

In July, Montoya told Cowboy State Daily that certain wind projects have “engulfed neighboring counties such as Laramie County and Carbon County.”

The group held a peaceful protest regarding the regulations back in July. Montoya said the Roundhouse project outside of Cheyenne was a major factor behind the rally, noting that it’s an eyesore that can be seen from as far away as Albany County.

Construction on the Roundhouse project, which will consist of up to 120 turbines, began in 2019 and is expected to be completed at the end of this year.

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Wyoming’s largest wind farm extends construction schedule

in Energy/News
Carbon County wind
2575

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

An approved change in the construction schedule of the largest wind farm in Wyoming doesn’t mean that the project south of Rawlins has been delayed.

Instead, it means the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project will take 11 years to complete rather than eight as originally believed, officials said.

The new construction schedule, approved in February by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, would see installation of 500 wind turbines, capable of generating a total of 1,500 megawatts of power, between 2022 and 2024. Another 396 turbines, with a generation capacity of another 1,500 megawatts, would be installed in 2025 and 2026, according to Kara Choquette, spokesperson for Power Company of Wyoming LLC (PCW) and TransWest Express LLC. Both companies are separate affiliates of The Anschutz Corporation, the Denver-based company.

A megawatt is a unit for measuring power that is equivalent to one million watts. One megawatt is equivalent to the energy produced by 10 automobile engines. A megawatt hour (Mwh) is equivalent to the amount of electricity used by about 330 homes during one hour.

The Carbon County Commission approved the construction schedule extension following a July 2 public hearing in Rawlins.

“It’s not unusual to request extensions or permits,” Choquette said. “Meeting all the rules and regulations at the county, state and federal levels is difficult, but it ensures protection of the resources. The State of Wyoming is very good at making sure energy development comes with environmental conservation.”

“We really appreciate the great support we have received for the project from the stakeholders of Carbon County and across Wyoming,” Choquette said.

The 2014 permit for the wind farm, issued by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s Industrial Siting Council, required communication about any construction scheduling changes. 

In a January 2019 letter to Wyoming DEQ, PCW stated it had completed 49 turbine pads and 60 miles of roadways for the wind farm. But the letter also stated that the construction schedule needed to be amended because of market demands, workforce schedules and availability of construction materials.

“PCW’s proposed changes to the construction schedule are due to prioritizing the completion of these infrastructure elements for the entire project, Phase 1 and Phase 2, before moving to installation of the turbine and transmission components and balance of plant,” PCW Vice President Roxane Perruso wrote in the company’s letter to Wyoming DEQ.

PCW’s request was approved by Wyoming DEQ Director Todd Parfait in February, and the Carbon County Commission finalized approval at the county level following its early July public hearing.

The wind farm will ultimately triple Wyoming’s entire wind power generation capacity, Choquette said.

“This wind power plant will provide at least 3,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity,” she said. “Currently, Wyoming has about 1,500 MW of wind energy capacity installed in six counties, including Albany, Laramie, Carbon, Converse, Natrona and Uinta counties.”

Choquette said the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project (CCSM Project) is an estimated $5 billion investment.

“The long-term surface disturbance of the CCSM project is less than 1,500 acres of a working cattle ranch that will remain a working cattle ranch,” Choquette said.

Much of the surface disturbance involves the turbine pads – the graded areas of land where the turbines themselves will be installed.

Choquette said up to 200 workers will be needed in the first few years of wind farm construction, growing to a peak of almost 850 with construction of the turbines.

“This will increase business opportunities for local hotels, motels, RV parks, restaurants and other local service providers,” she said. “During operations, the CCSM project will create 114 full-time operations and maintenance jobs, which would make the project one of the largest non-governmental employers in Carbon County.”

Choquette said the CCSM project will provide significant property tax and sales/use tax revenue for Wyoming, as well as electricity tax revenue, totaling an estimated $850 million during construction and through 20 years of operation.

Choquette, also the communications director for Transwest Express LLC, said Transwest is an independent transmission developer. 

Transwest, she said, is a separate company from PCW that is “exclusively focused on developing interregional transmission to connect Wyoming to new renewable energy markets in places like California, Arizona and Nevada, while also adding capacity for the West’s power grid that connects all western states.

“The TransWest Express Transmission Project, as well as Rocky Mountain Power’s Gateway West Transmission Project and their Gateway South Transmission Project, all go through the northern edge of the CCSM project site south of Rawlins/Sinclair,” Choquette said. “So, there are multiple transmission options for CCSM electricity, and similarly, the Transwest project will have the capacity to deliver energy westward from multiple Wyoming generation projects.”

The Wyoming DEQ’s Industrial Siting Council unanimously approved a permit May 29 to construct and operate the transmission project. The transmission line is scheduled to for construction between 2020 and 2023.

Wind turbine blades being disposed of in Casper landfill

in Energy/News
Decommissioned windmill blades
Windmill fan blades and motor housing components wait for disposal at the Casper Regional Landfill. Some 1,000 pieces from decommissioned wind turbines will be disposed of at the CRL by 2020, bringing an estimated $675,485 in new revenue to the landfill. (Photo courtesy of the Casper Regional Landfill staff)
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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily 

The Casper landfill will soon be the home of more than 1,000 decommissioned wind turbine blades and motor housing units. 

According to Cindie Langston, solid waste manager for the Casper Regional Landfill, the materials will be deposited in an area of the landfill designed to hold construction and demolition material. 

CRL is one of the few landfills with the proper permits and certifications to accept the decommissioned turbine materials. 

The turbine disposal project, which started this summer, is slated to continue until the spring of 2020, bringing the CRL estimated revenue of $675,485. Such “special waste projects” bring in about $800,000 a year, which helps keep CRL rates low, Langston said.

The wind turbine components are being delivered by InStream Environmental, a company that recycles and disposes of other companies’ waste streams. The company is retrieving the blades from two different wind farm locations.

Each turbine blade will need between 30 and 44.8 cubic yards of landfill space, using a total of 448,000 cubic yards of the 2.6 million yards set aside for construction and demolition material. The components are made of a fiberglass material that is one of the most inert, non-toxic materials accepted at CRL, Langston said. 

The average lifespan of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years, and wind farms repurpose and recycle 90 percent of the materials in a wind turbine unit. The only materials not recycled are the fiberglass blades and motor housings. Nationwide, there are nearly 50,000 wind turbines, with 2,700 being decommissioned since the energy boom of the 1970s. 

Researchers at Washington State University are looking for ways to reuse the fiberglass components of aged-out turbines, but no practical commercial applications have yet been found. There is some hope that ground up blades can be used to create building materials, among other things.

To prevent acres of abandoned and decaying wind farms, Wyoming laws require companies provide bonds to cover the cost of decommissioning and disposal of turbines once they are taken out of service or abandoned.

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