Northwest Renewable News

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Mont. to get $13M for energy efficiency improvements March 27, 2009

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Montana — nwrenewablenews @ 5:00 pm

More than $13 million is headed to Montana for energy efficiency improvements.

The $13,971,000 is in addition to $52,398,777 already granted to the state by the Obama administration for weatherization and energy funding. The additional funding, which will filter $3.2 billion to U.S. cities, counties, states, territories and Native American tribes, was announced Thursday by Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“These investments will save taxpayer dollars and create jobs in communities around the country,” Biden said. “Local leaders will have the flexibility in how they put these resources to work, but we will hold them accountable for making the investments quickly and wisely to spur the local economy and cut energy use.”

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, funded by Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will provide formula grants for projects that reduce total energy use and fossil fuel emissions and improve energy efficiency.

The funding will support energy audits and energy efficiency retrofits in residential and commercial buildings, the development and implementation of advanced building codes and inspections, and the creation of financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements.  Other activities eligible for use of grant funds include transportation programs that conserve energy, projects to reduce and capture methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, renewable energy installations on government buildings, energy efficient traffic signals and street lights, deployment of Combined Heat and Power and district heating and cooling systems, and others.

“The Block Grants are a major investment in energy solutions that will strengthen America’s economy and create jobs at the local level,” Chu said. “The funding will be used for the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable energy technologies we have – energy efficiency and conservation – which can be deployed immediately.  The grants also empower local communities to make strategic investments to meet the nation’s long term clean energy and climate goals.”

A local breakdown of the funds includes $50,000 for Anaconda-Deer Lodge, $175,500 for Bozeman, $138,700 for Butte-Silver Bow and $198,700 for Gallatin County.

Montana’  –


Oregon wind farms whip up noise, health concerns?

Filed under: Legal/Courts,Oregon,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 3:49 pm
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Dozens of wind turbines west of Boardman are so noisy, nearby homeowners say they’re keeping them awake at night and even making them ill.

“It’s not healthy for us,” Dan Williams said of the 240-foot-tall turbines he can see from his hilltop home. “It’s like a freight train that’s not coming or going.”

Williams is among neighbors along Oregon 74 demanding that Morrow County enforce state noise regulations on the Willow Creek Wind Energy Project or revoke its land-use permit.

More than that, they’re part of an emerging backlash to an alternative-energy technology that most revere as clean, green and essential to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. As turbines sprout across Oregon, people who live near the sweeping blades are raising their voices about noise, spoiled views, lowered home values and health risks.

In January, a Massachusetts company yanked plans for a wind farm outside The Dalles after opponents complained that it would be too close to homes, ruin spectacular Columbia River Gorge vistas and put wildlife at risk.

Other critics, including some in Oregon, cite work by a New York physician who coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” to describe effects — such as headaches, dizziness and memory loss — of living near the machines.

“This thing is not rare,” Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, N.Y., said of the syndrome, “but it doesn’t affect everybody.”

Industry representatives dismiss such talk. Shawna Seldon, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., said her group is unaware of any peer-reviewed research linking wind turbines and negative health effects.

Likewise, Mike Logsdon of Invenergy, the 6-year-old Chicago company that built the Willow Creek farm, said of neighbors’ complaints: “We don’t believe there is anything to it.”

With Oregon on track to triple its wind-energy production in coming years, the clash is sure to intensify.

Oregon wind farms generate 1,000 megawatts, said Lou Torres, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Energy, enough to power as many as 300,000 homes. Farms to produce an additional 2,000 megawatts are in the works, he said, giving the state a total of about 2,000 turbines, many taller than the Statue of Liberty when blades are pointed up.

“When that (work) is completed in the next couple of years, we will probably be fourth or fifth in the country on wind energy,” Torres said. “Oregon is moving very quickly.”

The new farms — 90 percent on the wide-open Columbia Plateau in Morrow, Sherman, Gilliam, Wasco and Umatilla counties — include what may become the largest on Earth: the 305-turbine Shepherds Flat Wind Farm on 32,000 acres straddling Gilliam and Morrow counties. The Oregon Facilities Siting Council approved the 909-megawatt farm, being developed by Caithness Energy of Chicago, on July 25.

Williams, a 40-year-old construction contractor, said the Willow Creek turbines’ swish-swish and thump-bang often wake him up. His live-in girlfriend, Heidi Hartman, 34, said she’s “starting to notice internal effects, jitters” from the vibration and noise.

Wind-energy companies downplay the noise, Williams said. “They said this is going to be about as loud as your refrigerator in your house, which is a crock.”

Neighbor Mike Eaton, who also lives within a half-mile of a Willow Creek turbine, said the spinning blades are noisier than people realize. He’s measured 67 decibels with a handheld monitor beside his home, he said, much higher than the 36 decibels allowed by state law.

Not only that, the retired furniture maker said, “I can hear windmills at my house from Arlington, 12 miles away.”

Eaton, 61, said the turbines give him nausea by aggravating inner-ear and balance problems he’s had since a 1966-67 tour in Vietnam subjected him to the constant pounding of an Army 155 mm artillery piece.

“I cannot live where I’m living now with these decibels and vibrations,” he said.

Carla McLane, Morrow County planning director, said health issues never came up during planning for the 72-megawatt Willow Creek project. The county approved the farm in 2005, and turbines began operating this past December.

But Ryan Swinburnson, an attorney for Morrow County, said officials take the neighbors’ complaints seriously.

“The county’s position is if there is a violation, the violating party needs to correct it,” he said.

With elimination of an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality noise-control program in 1991, the counties are on their own, said the DEQ’s Frank Messina in Bend.

Torres, the state Department of Energy spokesman, also doesn’t dismiss the complaints. Officials “still don’t know enough about the noise factor” because little research has been done, he said.

“We know more about the effects on birds and bats,” he said.

Invenergy has hired a company to gauge noise from the Willow Creek farm’s 48 turbines, said Logsdon, the spokesman, which should fulfill a county demand for independent monitoring. Invenergy expects results in about a month, he said.

Ultimately, the company could buy noise easements from the nearby homeowners or possibly buy the properties or close turbines close to homes. Or the homeowners, if they aren’t satisfied with the county’s response, could pursue their complaints in court.

Pierpont, the doctor, who has an upcoming book about the dangers of wind farms, says turbines should never be built within two miles of homes. The low-frequency sound affects the inner ear, she said, causing problems such as sleep and learning disorders, headaches, dizziness, anger, irritability, depression, memory loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), mood swings and panic attacks.

As wind machines proliferate near where people gather, she said, “wind turbine syndrome will likely become an industrial plague.”

Money is another factor, straining relationships among usually friendly rural neighbors. While the machines bother some landowners, they’re a revenue bonanza for others. Seldon, the industry spokeswoman, said landowners typically get lease payments of $2,000 to $4,000 a year per megawatt.

In Oregon, Sherman County farmer John Hildebrand, 82, for example, earns about $30,000 in annual lease payments for the 11 turbines operating on about three acres of his land. He knows of other farmers, he said, who get much more.

That has Logsdon suspecting sour grapes.

“Where people don’t have turbines on their property and aren’t being paid for them, they don’t want to look at them on their neighbors’ property,” he said.

But Williams thinks energy companies should compensate not only the landowners but other affected homeowners as well. He wants Oregon and its rural counties to enact setbacks that would place turbines farther from homes.

“If the setbacks were done properly,” he said, “none of this … would have happened.”

by Richard Cockle, The Oregonian –


Cook County, Ore to get regions first wind farm

A $220 million commercial wind farm that would be the first in the region and could bring 100 jobs to Crook County has received the initial go-ahead from Crook County planning commissioners.

“We’re excited and proud to be the first renewable energy wind project in Central Oregon,” said Sarah Rankin, the project coordinator for the developers of the West Butte Wind Power Project. “It looks like things are going forward, and I think this project will be a source of pride for the whole community.”

Planning commissioners voted 6-0 on Wednesday evening to approve the application. A document will be prepared by the Crook County Planning Department within the next two weeks that will be considered the official stamp of approval. Because the project will generate fewer than 105 megawatts of power, it only requires an OK from the county.

Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife expressed concern at earlier public hearings that the project, which would sit on a 10,000-acre private ranch in southern Crook County, could damage a sage grouse population.

ODFW officials suggested the developers keep wind turbines three miles away from a nearby sage grouse lek, an area the birds use for their mating rituals. But the developers said that would wipe out their project. Planning commissioners agreed, mandating only a quarter-mile setback from the lek.

Worries about wildlife

Commissioner Arleen Curths said the $1 million annually in property taxes the county could receive from the wind farm outweighed the argument about protecting the birds.

“There is no data on how windmills will impact the sage grouse. There just is no data yet,” Curths said. “We thought it was a good idea to use this small group of birds to collect that data. … We had to look at 27 birds or a ($220) million project. We elected to go with the project.”

ODFW Sage Grouse Conservation Coordinator Christian Hagen was in the field Thursday and said he had yet to review the proposal.

The sage grouse is being considered for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. In an earlier interview, Hagen said little is known about the effects of wind turbines on sage grouse populations.

The West Butte Wind Power Project would be the area’s first. But, he said, data from gas and oil exploration studies show that development near the birds negatively impacts their mating productivity.

Heidi Bauer, with the Crook County Planning Department, said the commission created a technical advisory committee to monitor wildlife. The group will include officials from ODFW, the Oregon State University Extension Office, the Oregon Natural Desert Association and the project developers, among others.

Participants are being asked to consider the impact not only on sage grouse, but deer, bats and other wildlife. At a later date, the committee will present its findings to the planning commission.

‘We want to set a precedent’

Rankin, with West Butte Wind Power, said the developers have wanted the application process to be collaborative.

“We want to set a precedent of this being a good environmental green project with minimal environmental impact,” Rankin said.

Still in the early stages, the project could have anywhere from 34 to 52 wind turbines, standing approximately 400 to 574 feet tall. Sitting atop West Butte, the turbines would be on a ranch in a southern section of Crook County. The project, however, would only occupy about 20 acres.

“I’ve been up there, and the project will not be visible on any public highway unless you really know where to look for those windmills,” Curths said.

Rankin said the project could generate enough energy to power about 50,000 homes. The power would be fed into an existing transmission line, and, she said, it’s possible the developers will eventually sell the project, or simply the power, to another company.

The project would need 80 to 100 people during the construction period, and 10 to 12 full-time employees after completion.

Rankin said the project could still need permission from the Bureau of Land Management for access to a road, and, she added, the project could always be appealed.

“If things go well and proceed as we would like them to, we would like to start construction during the spring of 2010,” she said.

By Lauren Dake, The Bulletin-


Echo Wind Farm’s SIP funds prove problematic in Ore.

Filed under: Legal/Courts,Oregon,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 12:29 pm
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The five taxing districts and Umatilla County just can’t seem to agree on what to do with $750,000 from the community service fee in the Echo wind farm’s strategic investment program know as SIP.

The deadline to decide, April 16, is looming, but sides seem to be digging deeper into their oppositions and don’t have an exact plan on when to meet to figure it all out.

The dividing line pits the West Umatilla Vector Control District and the Umatilla County Special Library District against the county, the Echo Fire District, the Echo Cemetery District and the Port of Umatilla.

To have an agreement, 75 percent of the taxing districts need to vote for a proposal. The county does not have voting rights in this matter, even though it stands to receive 55 percent of the community service fee funds.

The fire district, cemetery district and port – which amount to about 68 percent of the vote – have signed an agreement the county proposed. They agreed to hand over the funds that amount to $750,000 over a 15-year time span – starting with $76,773 in the first year and ramping down to $23,032 in the 15th year – to a community benefit fund for the city of Echo.

The vector control district and the library district have refused to sign off on this plan, offering a “hybrid” proposal.

“We feel that a creative formula can be found that meets the needs of the districts and the citizens of the community,” said Ron Montgomery, manager of the West Umatilla Vector Control District. He also emphasized his district isn’t against a community fund for Echo.

But vector control and the library district have an alternative, and it takes a cue from Morrow County. The Echo wind farm sits in both Umatilla and Morrow Counties, so both are dividing up the community service fee portion of the SIP. Morrow county divided its take in January, at which time taxing districts voted for the community service fee to be divided among the special districts, which meant all except the county and the school district.

The proposed hybrid model for Umatilla County asks the county to do the same thing, essentially give up its portion, and then for each taxing district to contribute a percentage to the Echo community fund. That percentage hasn’t been determined.

“We would like to share in an equitable portion and it’s on the small side,” said Ken Reading, Umatilla County Special Library District coordinator. “We could support this one because it allows each of the special districts … to keep or put into the Echo community foundation something they think is reasonable.”

He added that his district would like to contribute to the Echo fund but still keep some independence.

Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens said he saw this as the vector control and library district asking the county to donate its portion of the community service fee without asking the same of the taxing districts.

Merle Gherke, with the Echo Fire District, said he doesn’t understand where the vector control district and library district are coming from. He would like to see more details, such as specific percentages to go to the Echo community fund. He also wanted to make sure that if, for instance, the library district received funds from the Echo area, that a similar portion of the district’s funds would be seen contributing to the Echo library.

“This isn’t a lot of money to either the vector control or the library district,” Gherke said. He said his district still agrees with the proposal to send the money to the Echo community fund. “I’m still hoping they’ll see the light and go with it.”

Janie Enright, with the Echo Cemetery District, said as far as she knows her district still supports the plan to give the funds to Echo.

Kim Puzey, director of the Port of Umatilla, said his board also supports the funds going to Echo, but that move also supports the part of the port’s general mission, which may not be the case for the other districts.

“The port, as a part of its mission, includes economic and community development,” Puzey said. “Community development is in alignment with having these funds go to the (Echo) community. … So we’re directing these funds to the community, which is something that makes perfect sense for my commission.”

Givens said he thinks much of this dispute comes down to trust on the part of the vector control and the library district.

“They felt like they didn’t have a voice,” he said. “They have to give it all and not decide how to spend it.”

The vector control and library district would need to put a large amount of trust into the Echo community benefit fund and its council to be willing to put in its portion of the SIP community service fee, Givens speculated.

“People look at the money and think of what they could do with the money and not want to give it up,” he said. “There’s a huge trust factor that has to work for these things to be developed.”

“I think it’s just a matter of vision and interests and each of the special districts in the county want to do the best for their interests,” Reading said.

On March 18, all five taxing districts sat in a room together for the first time at a county commissioner’s meeting.

“That represents a huge leap forward,” Montgomery said.

But, because no agreement was reached, more meetings are necessary. Yet, over the course of the last week, the East Oregonian asked each district if it was a aware of any plans for the five to meet again. No one was aware of any specific plans, though each said they thought something would come together.

The commissioners scheduled another meeting on April 1, hoping an agreement would be reached by then. The special districts have until April 16 to come to a decision. If they don’t, the county will forward the issue on to the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department, which will settle it.

The OECDD hasn’t had to decide on a SIP community service fee agreement yet, so this is new ground, officials said.

Commissioner Bill Hansell said OECDD could do several things, including agreeing with either of the proposals, refuse the idea of an Echo community fund, divide the money amongst the taxing districts or come up with its own program.

Samantha Bates, East Oregonian –


Click the links below for more history on the Echo Wind Farm and its strategic investment project, which provides millions into the local revenue stream directly from the wind farm:


OSU hosts biomass energy workshop in La Grande, Ore

Filed under: Biomass,Farm/Ranch,Oregon,Wood Products — nwrenewablenews @ 12:18 pm

Union County’s Oregon State University extension service will host a forestry and agriculture biomass renewable energy workshop Thursday, April 9, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Agriculture Service Center conference room, 10507 N. McAlister Road in Island City. Participants will learn practical approaches and solutions regarding biomass incentives and current knowledge of the environmental effects of biomass removal.

To register and for more information, contact the Union County Extension Office at 963-1010.


Wind Farm Drama Continues in Bingham County, Idaho March 26, 2009

Filed under: Idaho,Legal/Courts,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 6:46 pm
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Opposition continues over the prospect of a wind farm project in Bingham County.

Permission was granted to opponents of the Goshen South Wind Power Project in Wolverine Canyon to conduct discovery and present additional evidence at a later date.  Permission was granted by Magistrate Judge Richard St. Clair Thursday at the Bingham County Courthouse.

The hearing saw arguments on motions filed by the Natural Guardian Limited Partnership, along with Stan and Linn Hawkins, Louise and Susan Morales and Lavar and Jeanette Grover.

Together, they believe the permission to put up a wind farm was granted by the county based on an older ordinance that had since been changed.

Another argument by the opposition is that there needs to be adequate postings on the land if it is to be developed into a wind farm.

The discovery process will continue through the next three months.

Both sides will then bring everything back to court for more argument on July 28th.

By Aman Chabra, Local News 8


Ore. Cities/Counties get $33M for energy efficiency

Filed under: Energy Efficiency,Oregon — nwrenewablenews @ 4:46 pm

Millions in federal funds will be heading to Oregon for energy efficiency projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

“Our dependence on foreign fossil fuel drains wealth from our families and our nation while contributing to global climate change,” said Merkley.  “Efforts to reduce energy use are critical to break this dependence while improving our environment.  Equally important, improving energy efficiency will create jobs all across Oregon and reduce energy bills paid by Oregonians.  With our unemployment rate now in the double digits, these jobs are vitally important for our communities.”

“No economic recovery is going to be complete until we do something about making the United States more energy efficient while at the same time creating jobs in the alternative energy industry,” Wyden said. “The $33 million coming to Oregon for energy efficiency will jumpstart Oregon’s goal of becoming an alternative energy leader and will help put Oregonians back to work.”

The White House announced plans today to invest $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation projects in U.S. cities, counties, states, territories, and on Native American tribal lands.  The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will provide funding for projects that reduce total energy use and fossil fuel emissions, as well as improve energy efficiency nationwide.

Oregon state, county, and city governments will receive over $33 million through the program:

  • Oregon State Energy Office – $9,593,500
  • Albany – $201,500
  • Beaverton – $914,900
  • Bend – $745,500
  • Corvallis – $511,600
  • Eugene – $1,485,800
  • Gresham – $901,500
  • Hillsboro – $924,700
  • Keizer – $138,500
  • Lake Oswego – $157,900
  • Medford – $729,700
  • Portland – $5,626,100
  • Salem – $1,521,200
  • Springfield – $539,400
  • Tigard – $230,500
  • Clackamas – $3,159,500
  • Deschutes County – $325,700
  • Douglas County – $442,900
  • Jackson County – $524,800
  • Josephine County – $343,200
  • Lane County – $561,200
  • Marion County – $609,000
  • Umatilla County – $312,900
  • Washington County – $2,596,900
  • Yamhill County – $403,100

Tribal governments in Oregon will also receive funds for energy efficiency upgrades on tribal lands (Please note that if a Tribe spans more than one state, the amounts below reflect the entire amount the Tribe will receive):

  • Burns Paiute Tribe of the Burns Paiute Indian Colony of Oregon – $29,000
  • Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians of Oregon – $63,500
  • Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon – $301,100
  • Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation, Oregon – $305,500
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon – $68,900
  • Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon – $129,300
  • Coquille Tribe of Oregon – $64,400
  • Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon – $96,800
  • Klamath Tribes, Oregon (formerly the Klamath Indian Tribe of Oregon) – $91,500
  • Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes of the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation, Nevada and Oregon – $25,800