Wind Power Meets Opposition

December 7, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

wind-turbine-close-energy-manageBusinesses – especially big ones – are adopting renewable energy at a rapid rate. Many of the installations are on the buyers’ property or grounds In many cases, however, the renewable power is generated by third parties and not on their premises.

Though few people have objections to renewable energy, plenty have misgivings about having it generated on or near their property for use by others. Wind power seems to be generating as many objections as megawatts. These objections include sullied sightlines, noise, perceived health risks and the misuse of eminent domain to route power lines.

Companies entering into these agreements need to be aware of the objections, since they potentially could lead to situations in which energy companies have trouble fulfilling marketing hype or even meeting contractual agreements.

The opposition is strong at the grass roots. For instance, Renewable Energy System Canada is proposing the building of seven wind turbines near Fort St. John, which is in northwestern British Columbia, according to Business Vancouver.

A public meeting on the project appears to have been heated. Residents’ complaints ran the gamut. They thought the towers would mar their view and feared health impact. There also were concerns that low frequency noise generated by the turbines would annoy people with high frequency hearing impairments. These people, the story says, tend to develop more sensitivity in the low ranges.

Attention is getting paid to the objections. Last week, Blake Hurst, a farmer and President of the Missouri Farm Bureau, posted a column in The Wall Street Journal on power lines. He began by comparing the situation today to that of generations ago, when his grandfather, also a farmer, welcomed towers for lines that first brought electricity to his area. In that case, Hurst wrote, the sacrifice of having to farm the towers and the danger of having a high voltage line near farm equipment was worth it because of the benefits electricity brought to the community at large.

Now, he wrote, the benefits are far from clear. The overall gains made by clean energy in the U.S. are minimal in the context of the world’s use of carbon-based products. He wrote that in 2014, a company that wanted to cross the state with a power line applied to be designated as a utility, which would give it the right to use eminent domain laws and potentially act without the consent of property owners. Farmers and rural residents successfully lobbied and this summer for the Missouri Public Service Commission denied the application.

Hurst, in response to questions submitted by Energy Manager Today, said through his assistant that there is a way forward for wind projects, but that they should not be based on eminent domain. He said that he is unaware of negotiations between wind companies and farmers in the state.

Swanton, Vermont, provided another example of local resistance to wind power. The community voted overwhelmingly in a nonbinding ballot to oppose a project by Swanton Wind to build seven 500-foot tall turbines, according to WPTZ. Two questions were asked in the voting: Whether the project itself should be allowed to move forward and whether residents are in favor of towns having the right under state law to oppose such projects. They can’t today. The main objections to the towers voiced by a resident are potential health issues, noise and the shadow flicker created by sun moving through the rotating blades.

There also is opposition to a project in New York. Apex Clean Energy wants to build as many as 70 turbines in the upstate communities of Somerset and Yates. Opposition, according to the Buffalo News, has been particularly strong in Somerset, which is near Lake Ontario in Niagara County. The county has asked the state for a full environmental review, though it is possible that the issue will be handled by the state siting board.

The clock began ticking on November 23 when Apex filed a preliminary scoping document with the state Public Service Commission. It also has signed leases with several landowners, who will be paid $15,000 annually per turbine on their property. The story points to potential health impacts as the driver of the opposition.

Technology may eventually come to the rescue. The Guardian reported that Vortex Bladeless, a Spanish company, is introducing technology that reduces noise and operates in a smaller footprint:

Using the scientific principles of natural frequency and vorticity, the turbine oscillates in swirling air caused by the wind bypassing the mast, and then builds exponentially as it reaches the structure’s natural resonance.

The concept is about four years away from realization, however.

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