by Harvey Wrightman
As most of you already know, perception and reality are two different things in the land of wind development; and, Thursday’s ERT hearing was a perfect example. What’s so ironic in this case is that the conventionally dressed NextEra/Golder/MOE lawyers and functionaries are in contrast to the colorful attire of Bill, Dave, Bud and Lester. Societal conditioning tells you to ‘trust’ the men in suits. They have the education, the credential, and the groomed speech and manner. But sitting in the gallery and closing your eyes, pretending to be a blind person; listen to the questions and responses, and the contrast is even sharper than the visual, and, indeed, it is the opposite. Nothing is at it appears. It is Alice’s Wonderland.
Project manager for Summerhaven Wind, NextEra/FPL’s Ben Greenhouse, was led through a droning, painfully slow, bureaucratic exercise that decided what was going where and how the mandated reports would confirm confirm what was already planned for at the corporate level 5 year-plan level. When asked specific questions re: environmental or biological impacts, more often than not, his answers were repeatedly, “I don’t know”, or “…Mr. Trimble is better qualified to answer that.” Greenhouse’s job was easy, fob it off onto the Golder witness, who was next in-line. Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t been promoted in 5 years with FPL. He’s stuck in second gear.
He did allow that there have been problems with “stray voltage” in previous projects where wind power goes directly into local lines, assigning blame to the distribution system which is designed to carry electrical current “one-way” – from a central generator to the customer, and is less capable of carrying , dispersed generation away from a “remote”, rural area. Well yeah, that’s so you don’t have to over-build costly, high voltage infrastructure all over the place. If NextEra/FPL gets its way, that will be our future, and it ain’t pretty. Think 100’+ poles from here to hell and gone.
His response also said nothing about the surge problems experienced in the Talbot Wind project which inputs into a regional 230 KV line. No one talks about that.
Traditional Onkwehonwe, Lester Green, brought perspective and understanding to a number of issues:
How fast the turbine blades are turning – the tip speed at 16 rpm is 305 km/hr – “…that’s a pretty amazing and intense ride” if you sitting on the blade – This drew blank stares from the windie side. Score #1.
Lester also drew from Greenhouse that turbines must be spaced 400m-700m because of the “wake effect” of each turbine. So, birds can be affected by increased turbulence in that same wake? To which Mr. Greenhouse blurted, “I don’t know. It needs more research.” Score #2
He also made a point about the size of the turbines (they never get smaller), “…bigger turbines will kill more birds?” Mr.Greenhouse disagreed saying, “…siting becomes more critical …” – well yeah, you just made my point. Score #3
To Lester’s question about fragmentation of habitat, Greenhouse, knowing that a wind turbine development by nature is “fragmentary”, dove off the deck and quoted from reports – I can’t call them studies, they’re more like “product endorsements”- from the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservatory. These generalized statements basically made the assertion that climate change would kill more birds. The problem with this, whether valid or not, is it trades-off current, real threats for future threats. It is evasive action.
Well, if you thought that Greenhouse was a troll, Golder’s senior biologist, Kevin Trimble looked grayer and greener in the hue of the mercury lights – bad choice of clothing. Both men, however, displayed the same wary, shifting responses. Mr. Trimble first moved his lips in a silent fashion; I suppose he was fashioning his response, but his lip movements were riveting. And then, would spill forth whatever he could think of on the spot. Non-rehearsed speech was clearly not his forte. Sarcastic whispers of “Mr. Tremble” were heard.
Lester, in his calm, persistent manner, prodded Mr. Trimble with questions about bird mortality seeking more detailed explanations. Basically, Mr. Trimble said that, yes, there would be deaths of “individual” birds, but this harm was reversible at the population level. Individuals don’t matter (I wonder if the same philosophy is applied to the human victims of wind projects.)
Lester countered, that even …One is more than enough…Madame Chair, I don’t want to realize that this project (like infamous Altamount Pass wind project) …is not a good idea after 30 years…. you won’t need a report on Endangered Species… they will be extinct.” Score #5
This carried on into an odd discussion about how “mortality” and how it would be “monitored.” To account for “scavenger impact”, statistically,Mr. Trimble allowed that “fake carcuses” are put in the turbine area to see if they are “taken” by predator/scavengers. So, the skew factor of predators is calculated.
Lester innocently asked “…So, when you do these mock scavenger hunts, what sort of bait do you use? Is it cow meat or pig meat or…? Mr. Trimble’s lips quivered, searching for the answer, blurting out that he wasn’t really sure, “but bat carcuses had been used in some instances” – that’s what he said.
Clearly, these were not anticipated questions to which Mr.Trimble had rehearsed answers. Score #6
Are you still with me? The current poster-bird is the bob-o-link , dolichonyx oryzivorus.
To questions of how its survival would be affected, Mr. Trimble described how NextEra/FPL had created replacement habitat of some 7 acres for what would be lost in the project. One imagines that the bob-o-links will now have to share air traffic space with the turbines causing Lester to ask innocently, “…Would the bob-o-links like that?” (their new premises) – Mr. Trimble offered no speculation here. Score #7
A rather odd incident occurred where NextEra/FPL had an endangered species survey document distributed. Apparently, because it included specific locations it proved to be a “sensitive” document, the MOE immediately calling for its withdrawal or classification as “confidential.” This was the only case where I saw the MOE and the wind company not getting their story straight. All parties agreed to its withdrawal. The 4 Onkwehonwe got a chuckle out of this one – they know where everything is anyway – no secret to them.
The best question came at the end. Lester pointing out the disparity in the conclusions of the 2 EHA (environmental heritage) report. The first one written in Oct., 2010, admits that there will be harm to the environment. By May of 2011, this gets “wordsmithed “ and claims that the design of the project with modifications will not cause irreversible harm to the environment. Oh, really?!
As the Oct., 2010 report was not part of the package given to the Panel, Chair Ms. Gibbs pointedly requested the relevant pages from Lester. Mr. Trimble and the NextEra lawyers looked glumly at the floor in silence.