Sunday, March 1, 2009

Oxford moves to freeze wind farms / The cost of upgrading the electrical transmission grid / Not on prime agricultural land

Oxford moves to freeze wind farms

Posted By Hugo Rodrigues, POLITICS REPORTER

(NOTE - This story is about Oxford County, Ontario - where I live and have been badly harmed by electrical pollution. Martin)

Oxford intends to put a freeze on all wind farm developments until the province provides more information on the health impacts of the developments on neighbouring residents and livestock.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, council directed community and strategic planning staff to bring an interim control bylaw before council on Feb. 25 that would place a freeze on any applications for wind energy developments within the county until it passes the related official plan amendments. In an earlier split vote, council defeated a recommendation to approve official plan amendments related to a whole swath of alternative and renewable energy developments.

"We're very satisfied with this decision. Council is obviously looking at the potential health issues associated with (wind) developments very seriously," Gunn's Hill Road resident Ruth Pugh said. "They're also not being swayed by the provincial government forcing them into something they're not sure of."

Until the interim control bylaw is passed, council's move leaves all alternative and renewable energy developments within Oxford in limbo. As it stands, there are no local guidelines for these developments and the provincial policy takes precedence. Given Ontario's frequently stated goal of encouraging as many of these types of developments - including wind energy developments - as possible, that would mean there is nothing guiding any potential developments.

"My concern is when we rely on (provincial policy) and that's an exclusive document, we would have a hard time saying no, in my opinion," Woodstock Coun. Michael Harding said. "The connecting of the dots puts us at a greater risk by referring these to (provincial and federal governments) exclusively."

After a break to formulate some options, council opted simply to exclude wind energy developments from moving ahead, directing staff members to bring back a new report to adopt policies related to other alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar and biogas. Together with the control bylaw, that means Oxford's official plan would remain silent on wind farm developments for the time being.

"The 2005 Provincial Policy Statement supports alternative and renewable energy, and we are bound to be consistent," corporate manager of community and strategic planning Marg Misek-Evans said. "If there's nothing in our local official plan, the Provincial Policy Statement prevails. Regardless of what's in our plan, the Provincial Policy Statement prevails."

Evans' comments are important in a province where Premier Dalton McGuinty told a London audience earlier this week that "not in my backyard" thinking won't stop the province from encouraging these sorts of developments.

"We need to keep pressure on provincial and federal governments for their expertise rather than duking it out here where we can simply combine our ignorance," Harding said. "How about stepping in, premier, and compelling ministerial staff to give us the help we need?"

The freeze, once it's passed, may still be challenged by a developer either before the Ontario Municipal Board or in civil court.


Study pinpoints the cost of upgrading the electrical transmission grid

Posted by Rebecca Mowbray, The Times-Picayune
February 14, 2009 8:24PM

Upgrading the electrical transmission grid east of the Rocky Mountains to accommodate expansions in wind power could cost $50 billion to $80 billion, according to a study released last week by regional transmission organizations.

The study is the first attempt to quantify the cost of building a transmission system to accommodate the nation's expanding renewable energy goals. Although the study was started in November 2007, its release comes at a time when the proposed stimulus package before Congress includes $4.5 billion to upgrade the nation's electricity grid.

"We're trying to get our hands around, hypothetically, what would the grid have to look like to accommodate renewable portfolio standards?" said Jay Caspary, director of transmission development at the Southwest Power Pool, which handles transmission issues for utilities in Louisiana and nearby states.

Twenty-eight states have mandatory renewable portfolio standards setting up schedules for when utilities are required to produce or purchase a certain portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Louisiana is considering whether to adopt a renewable portfolio standard. President Barack Obama has also floated the idea of a mandatory national standard for renewable energy.

Since one of the most promising sources of renewable energy is from wind power from the Plains states and Southwest, regional organizations that manage transmission lines east of the Rocky Mountains looked at what it would cost to build the electricity highways necessary to deliver wind power to population centers as a proxy for all other types of renewable energy.

The joint coordinated system plan looked at what transmission lines are necessary to serve the renewable portfolio standards that were in place in January 2008 so that 5 percent of electricity would be generated from renewable sources. It found that about 10,000 miles of new extra-high-voltage lines would be needed by 2024 at a cost of about $50 billion. That figure doesn't include the cost of investing $700 billion in facilities to generate renewable power.

At the urging of the federal Department of Energy, the regional transmission organizations also looked at what transmission investments would be necessary if the region increased its renewable power goals to 20 percent of electricity generated. They found that 15,000 miles of new extra-high-voltage lines costing $80 billion would be needed by 2024. Generating 20 percent of the electricity for the eastern power grid from renewable sources would require an additional $1.1 trillion in infrastructure investment.

While the transmission costs may sound expensive, Caspary said the transmission investment pales in comparison to investments in facilities to generate electricity. Investing in transmission is prudent, he said, because greater capacity in the system enables utilities to extend their range of where they can purchase the cheapest or most environmentally friendly electricity, stimulating competition.

"It's a lot of money for transmission, but you need to put it in perspective," Caspary said. "The transmission investment is very small compared with the generation investment, but it can benefit markets and competition."

Regardless of what happens to the notion of a renewable portfolio standard in Louisiana, Emily Pennel, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Power Pool, which is based in Arkansas, says wind power is coming. The Southwest Power Pool alone has proposals of wind farms that aim to produce 51 gigawatts of power, more than the maximum amount of power demand on the system in summer 2007 of 43 gigawatts.

Most of those wind projects for the Southwest Power Pool would be in western Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico. The group has not received any applications for wind projects interested in hooking up to the grid in Louisiana, Caspary said, but the state would gain by importing wind power from other states. The joint coordinated system plan, for example, sketches out lines for wind power to be transmitted from Oklahoma into Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Any potential for wind power in Louisiana is thought to be offshore, but how much potential exists is a matter of debate.

Entergy Corp. does not think offshore wind power is promising because turbines would require laying underwater transmission lines and the windmills could be destroyed by hurricanes.

Herman J. Schellstede, chief executive of the New Iberia company Wind Energy System Technologies LLC, which plans to open a wind farm in early 2011 on a 11,355-acre lease seven miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, says Entergy's concerns are "ridiculous."

After collecting 19 months of wind data, Schellstede said WEST will be ready to install its first turbine this spring. By the end of the year, he hopes to have orders for 62 platforms of turbines.

Schellstede, who was busy talking with investors at a wind conference in San Diego last week, said his company has filed two applications to build wind farms off the coast of Louisiana: one at Port Fouchon and one off of Venice. He hasn't yet heard back from the state.

"No action has been taken," he said. Caspary said the study didn't look at building transmission offshore as a variable, because the group didn't have good data for assessing that possibility.

Rebecca Mowbray can be reached at or 504.826.3417.


Not on prime agricultural land, say farmers Ontario Municipal Board sets March dates for solar park hearing

By Matthew Talbot
mtalbot (at)

ST-EUGENE –Controversy over a proposed solar power park in East Hawkesbury continued this week as opposing parties met to dispute a by-law preventing the project from moving forward.

The interim control by-law (ICB) is the focus of an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing between the Township of East Hawkesbury and Ottawa's Solaris Energy Partners.

At a drawn out pre-hearing conference on January 27, OMB adjudicator Marc Charles Denhez established two days in March when he would attempt to determine if the ICB was a fair move by the township.

At issue, according to Solaris Energy Partners legal counsel Harold Elston, is whether or not the ICB is consistent with Ontario's Provincial Policy Statement. If it isn't, he challenged, then it should be rescinded.

Elston is asking Denhez to determine if the policy statement permits solar energy systems on prime agricultural land.

Elston also called into question the rationale behind East Hawkesbury establishing the ICB. In a list of issues for the appeal, Elston asked, "Has the ICB been passed to appease angry ratepayers and to delay development of the site?"

East Hawkesbury legal counsel Marc Labrosse called that statement inflammatory and questioned its validity.

"The municipality objects to those issues being worded in that fashion," he said. Two other matters at issue – a zoning change and a site-plan agreement – could be handled in June during a second hearing.

However, if East Hawkesbury is successful in defending its ICB during the initial hearing, then a second hearing won't be necessary.

As of now, farmers have no direct role in proceedings unless they are called to be witnesses since the township is currently defending its ICB. However, critic of the solar park Shawn Wylie said if the OMB calls the ICB into question, farmers are likely to participate.

OMB regulations state that for the farmers to get involved in the hearing, they would have to either commit to being a participant and having their concerns heard or being a party and becoming legally involved.

Wylie said he was surprised farmers would be asked to commit on January 27 to becoming involved in a second hearing, without even knowing if a second hearing is to take place.

Dates for a second hearing are tentatively scheduled for June 22, 23 and 24. Dates for the initial hearing, after more than an hour of private deliberation between Labrosse and Elston, were moved from March 12 and 13 to March 23 and 24.

East Hawkesbury farmers have been fighting the proposed solar power facility since it was first pitched to council in January of last year.

They have expressed concern about issues like stray voltage and the concept that the facility would be on what they consider prime agricultural land.

Farmers like Wylie, whose farm sits adjacent to the proposed site of Solaris' project, have repeatedly maintained they aren't against a solar power facility, just against having it on prime agricultural land.

Phil Arber, who was at the OMB pre-hearing, said he questions whether or not the word "prime" is included in the province's policy statement when it comes to sites for solar power facilities. He said the policy statement is vague in its terminology and said if prime isn't included then it is up to the OMB to decide what matters more: the production of energy or the production of food.