Last week Friends of Maine’s Mountains, whose mission is educational, sent Chris O’Neil on an educational mission.
A Texas company that wants to build Maine’s largest industrial wind site in Aroostook County, just 30 miles from Baxter State Park, held a public meeting in Mars Hill. O’Neil is a government relations consultant to Friends, and we wanted him to ask some tough questions. EDP Renewables held its Number Nine Mountain Wind Project Public Informational Meeting (PIM) at the high school gym in Mars Hill. The red lights of the giant turbines on the mountain were flashing just behind the parking lot.
The PIM is required of the developer prior to its application submission, and a summary of the PIM must accompany the application. EDP says it will submit its application by year-end. About 50 people attended, many of them homeowners and camp owners in the Number Nine Lake - Presque Isle Lake area. Some attendees came from towns further south toward Houlton, because they are concerned about new transmission from the project.
We've learned from previous PIMs that the wind developer likes to set it up "science fair" style, with easels and tables displaying maps, renderings, and other information about the project. Their casually-dressed project managers and PR people mill about the crowd, responding to questions, explaining things, etc. In addition to the EDP people, a Stantec engineer was there to handle technical matters. Nobody on the developer team appeared to be even 40 years old. It wasn't clear whether he was there to answer questions, but a gentleman from Maine Drilling and Blasting had driven up from his home in the Bangor area.
That "science fair" format allows the developer to provide adequate opportunity for public questions and responses from the applicant. That bold line is straight from DEP Rule Chapter 2, Section 13, which dictates how the PIM must be conducted. Of course, we sent O’Neil to the meeting with questions, some of them provided by our allies.
During the approximately 30 minute "science fair" portion of the program, O’Neil met several of the concerned citizens as they looked anxiously at maps and pointed out their camp's proximity to turbines. He informed several people that they have the right to ask questions -- but not make statements -- per the DEP Rule. He told them to not fall into the trap of asking questions 1 on 1. After about 30 minutes, the company’s PR lady announced that she would show a brief slide show, and everybody sat in the bleachers on one side of the gym. O’Neil remained standing, in plain view. The PR person’s slide show was informational, as required by the DEP Rule. As she concluded the trade show, she said, "So that's the presentation. The Team is here and we'll make ourselves available around the room to answer questions if anyone has them."
One gentleman with whom O’Neil had earlier talked raised his hand in the bleachers and yelled: "I have a question."
The PR lady stuttered and looked nervously back at her team and said into the microphone: "We will all be here for you to ask us questions."
Another man: "I wanna hear his question. And the answer." Crowd: A murmur of approving "yeahs." PR lady: "We really want to answer your questions and we'll be here to--"
That’s when O’Neil interrupted, "You are required by the rules to 'provide adequate opportunity for public questions.' That is not discretionary. This is that 'opportunity’ and these people deserve to have their questions aired for all to hear."
That resulted in lots of nervous "Who is that jerk in the suit?" looks on the faces of the EDP Team, and lots more "yeahs" from the crowd.
The gentleman in the crowd asked his question, and the PR person answered it. Then she attempted to thank everyone, with the sort of body language one uses when one is wrapping up. That’s when O’Neil jumped in again.
“I have a few questions."
Gentleman in the crowd, to PR lady: "Give him the mic so we can all hear." The PR lady, looking like she had acid indigestion, handed O’Neil the microphone, and he proceeded to very politely ask the questions. (The questions are listed at the end of this post.)
After O’Neil’s second question, one member of EDP Team said, "OK Chris, it's clear that you know the rules but we are not here to take testimony."
O’Neil looked at her sternly and said: "Ma'am, I represent a statewide group and thousands of people who have concerns about this project. I drove 300 miles to ask their questions so that you wouldn't have a thousand people here. You came to Maine proposing the biggest wind project in the northeast and it is serious business. Beginning tonight, you are no longer just delivering doughnuts to the snowmobile club. The application process effectively starts here, and we have questions and answers that will be part of the record. I assume you want to be a good neighbor. Do not be dismissive and do not treat us with hostility. You're in Maine and the game is on. Now play ball."
O’Neil proceeded with his questions. The EDP team did not answer any of the questions, although they tried and fumbled on a couple. When O’Neil finished he politely thanked the PR person and handed the microphone back to her. Then several other attendees asked questions.
O’Neil lingered after the formal conclusion of the session and connected with many of the local folks who will necessarily be the local opposition group. He handed out business cards and encouraged them to organize, offering to facilitate if necessary. EDP was clearly not happy that Friends of Maine’s Mountains crashed their party, but O’Neil did his job. For the record, here are the questions he asked:
November 12, 2014
Questions for Applicant - Number Nine Wind Project
1. Maine DEP Rule Chapter 2, Section 13 dictates the requirements for tonight’s Public Information Meeting: At the meeting, the applicant or its designee shall present a summary of the project; provide clear and concise written information that details the expected environmental impacts of the project and lists the state, local and federal licenses necessary for the project; and provide adequate opportunity for public questions and responses from the applicant.
I thank you for the opportunity to ask a few questions, and in the interest of time, I would be pleased to allow you to defer responses to any question that might not be readily answered this evening. Will EDP provide written replies for the record if any question tonight remains unanswered?
2. Maine DEP Rule Chapter 2, Section 13 further dictates: The applicant must submit a signed certification attesting that a public informational meeting was noticed and held in accordance with this section. The submission must include an estimate of the number of attendees and a narrative responsive to any significant issues relevant to the licensing criteria that are raised at the meeting. The certification must be submitted with any application that requires a pre-application meeting pursuant to section 10(B) of this rule.
To the extent that you must submit sworn certification to DEP with your application, and to the extent one or more of my questions might be technical or misinterpreted, I request that you share your draft certification and narrative prior to your submission, so that we can be on the same page before it goes into the record. Will EDP agree to such collaboration?
3. According to the NREL wind resource map, the proposed project area has poor to marginal wind quality. The Stetson and Stetson II wind projects 50 miles south are on similarly low hills with weak wind resources. The Stetsons in 2012 achieved capacity factors of 21.4% and 18.4% respectively, but they were the beneficiaries of considerable government grant funding. Maine people want assurance that your LLC has a sustainable business plan, including full decommissioning of a potential massive blight, in the event of failure, abandonment, or insolvency. DEP now requires full pre-funding of decommissioning, but the applicant is allowed to estimate the cost, which is always ridiculously low. Are you willing to bond and guaranty full decommissioning at the actual eventual cost?
4. You have secured leases for +50,000 acres. So that the public will benefit from disclosure as the public participation process moves forward, can you please tell us now who are the lessors and what are their various subsidiaries and affiliated entities?
5. An aggrieved party in Connecticut has a pending law suit against the Connecticut department that ordered your controversial Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The State has filed a motion to dismiss. If the motion is denied, the court could take considerable time before we know the outcome of the litigation. Given the tenuous status of the Production Tax Credit, and given the increased viability of large-scale hydro and New York wind to satisfy state mandates, thereby diminishing the likelihood of a lucrative PPA, and given the probability that regional natural gas deficiencies will soon be fixed, what assurances will you give Maine that this project is a viable business concern, discussing each of the above factors.
6. Transmission and generator lead lines for wind projects are expensive. The proposed project is separated from the ISO-New England by a considerable transmission gap, which is exacerbated by the Orrington bottleneck. Emera Maine and other utilities have devoted considerable resources to maintaining regional reliability at minimal cost to ratepayers. According to an Emera Maine report dated 12-18-13, Emera Maine might be required to purchase that portion of the lead line necessary to connect to ISO-NE, with socialization implications. Please explain all the implications for ratepayers in the various systems, based on all the possible T&D configurations that might occur relating to this wind project.
7. Last year a representative of your company named Jeff Bishop testified before the Maine legislature on LD 1750, a bill brought by the wind lobby. Mr. Bishop explained
EDP’s support for the bill because it “clarifies that wind developers do not have to prove the energy and emissions benefits of their project…” He further said “this seems appropriate.” As Mainers have become increasingly educated on wind energy’s true impacts & benefits, we have come to know that wind energy’s “energy and emissions” benefits are theoretical at best, and in many cases are fictional. Given that we are being asked to absorb massive environmental and economic impacts from this sprawling and costly project, including encroachment on “forever wild” Baxter State Park, will you please be a good neighbor and delineate said benefits for us, subject to expert review and cross examination during the permitting process?
8. The Connecticut Legislature has repeatedly upheld their law essentially forbidding industrial wind energy in the Nutmeg State. Congratulations to you in winning the still disputed (see #5) competition for Connecticut Renewable PPAs, topping a field of 47 bidders, many of which were in Connecticut. DEEP Commissioner Dan Esty awarded EDP for 250 megawatts of capacity, and a CT solar firm for 20 Megawatts of capacity. Given that Connecticut lawmakers refuse to site wind complexes in their own state, and given the sacrifices Mainers will be asked to make, would EDP support a Friends of Maine’s Mountains initiative that seeks Connecticut land for the relocation of Maine’s nuclear waste to Connecticut?
9. If you took that question as somewhat facetious, this one is not. We have had too many bad experiences with wind developers and we do not trust them. How many EDP employees were ever employees of Enron or its affiliates and subsidiaries? Please list all, and their current positions at EDP.
10. For about a year EDP has stationed a pair of young public relations staffers indowntown Presque Isle. For several years EDP and the former Horizon have conducted PR activities in the area. Surely your activity is more than buying coffee and donuts for the snowmobile club. Please save Maine taxpayers the expense of Freedom of InformationAccess compliance, and provide for the record all correspondence with public officialsregarding the project.
11. Roughly 10,000 square miles of Northern Maine have been designated as lynx critical habitat by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. What has been done to determine that a sprawling project involving extensive blasting and clear-cutting will not disturb this endangered species and comply with the federal Endangered Species Act?
12. Stakeholders in Aroostook are now grappling with several serious issues in the MEPCO-Emera-NB Power-Van Buren-Houlton-NMISA region. The system here has serious issues, from reliability to potential base load shortages. We have two biomass plants with 70 megawatts of base load capacity. Those ostensibly could provide load following to balance the zero capacity generation that you propose, which is unlikely to perform more than 15 minutes per hour on average. Those dispatchable biomass generators with firm capacity will certainly be harmed by grid disruption as a direct result of your project, and they will need to find higher revenues through rates and capacity payments, or they may very well go under, putting hundreds of local people out of work, including forest products professionals who provide some $40 million worth of fuel annually. Then Aroostook will need to get its base load and load following power elsewhere, perhaps from oil plants in New Brunswick. In short, irrespective of whether it is useful or necessary, your project could cause calamity.
12A. When you submit your tangible benefits/community benefit package in your application next month, will you provide a true “net” benefits assessment, deducting the negative impacts, including those named above, or will you merely report half the equation, which is to count the money that you sprinkle around the County?
12B. Given the pending negative impacts on system reliability and ratepayers, will you agree to an additional criterion in your permit process: a PUC Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity?
Thank you for your apparent willingness to be a good neighbor. Your proposal has lots of people concerned, so your ability to adequately answer our questions here will go a long way in determining that EDP and the project will be good for us. We look forward to your replies.