Jul 21, 2010

Ocean Energy Institute opens as debate grows on ocean windfarms' climate-changing impacts.

Rockland. To the skirling strains of a bagpiper in regalia, a cheerful crowd tramped in and out of the refurbished 4th floor of the Van Baalen building on Tuesday afternoon, where a grand opening and open house offered by the new Ocean Energy Institute resounded with lively discussions of how many kilowatts, megawatts and even terawatts of energy might be stripped from the Gulf of Maine's ocean winds. Ocean Energy Institute managing director Robert West and  founder Matt Simmons were on hand fielding questions.  Listen to a six minute interview with West.

But even as the volume rose to a dull roar, and black-clad staff efficiently guided and catered to the wants of the many guests, something was conspicuously missing from the discourse.

 For there was scarcely  a word spoken on the effect that the 24/7 removal of all those billions of watts of energy from the Gulf of Maine's energy environment by offshore wind mills would have on the marine ecology and thus the fishing & tourism economy of the Gulf. 

An invitation-only reception Tuesday morning had brought 120 people together with Institute founder Matt Simmons, Governor Baldacci, Speaker Hannah Pingree, and staffers from Maine's congressional delegation. Here again, jobs, power and prestige were the topics of discussion; the Gulf of Maine itself was again reduced to a magic cornucopia whose energy could be exploited without concern for the natural ecosystems being de-energized.

In the race by energy companies to cash on  lavish grants and  subsidies being offered to ocean wind startups by American and Canadian governments, some fear the negative effects of this newest extractive industry are being swept under the rug.

This despite the potential  risks to Maine's lobster and herring industries and to  coastal trouism that could stem from the powerful impacts of large ocean windfarms on the winds and currents of the Gulf of Maine. A tiny slowing of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current, for example, could delay larval lobsters from being transported to their juvenile nurseries off Penobscot Bay at the same time as their plankton prey species hatch there leading to local year class failures of the important crustacean. As lobsters are captured in these waters, they would not be replaced, leading to a steady decline. The constant upwelling of cold water in summer and warm water in winter by the pressure differential ocean windfarms could blanket the coast and nearshore waters with year-round  tourist-repelling fog banks.

Yet while American and Canadian wind energy researchers and entrepreneurs  seem to discount their industrial's own increasingly discernible  role in climate change, across the Atlantic  increasingly loud alarms are being sounded by their European counterparts, who for the past decade have  documented first hand the effect of ocean windfarms on the environment off their shores. They don't like what they are seeing. 

Chief among scientists raising concerns is  Dr. Goran  Brostrøm , senior researcher at the  Norwegian Meteorological Institute.  In " Windmills at sea will affect the climate"  Brostrøm  warned : 
"The atmosphere does not contain an unlimited amount of wind energy. Windmills tap the atmosphere's energy, and this may have consequences for climate and ocean circulation. These  issues are not taken sufficiently into account in the current discussion about the placement of wind farms offshore....It is also likely that many windfarms combined would provide a stronger effect on climate and marine environment than wind farms will provide if they are studied separately."  

"These studies must be done now," Brostrøm wrote, "before wind farms are built. It must be considered what are positive and negative effects on the environment, and we need to describe these effects as detailed as we are able to today."  

He said that ocean windmills have "a powerful impact on the local ocean currents, and probably on the amount of phytoplankton that can grow in the ocean. Windmill parks will affect the wind field over an area much larger than the parks themselves, and the effects on the ocean will also apply to an area much larger than the size of the park."

See Brostrøm 's research paper "On the influence of large wind farms on the upper ocean circulation." (pdf)  for more details. Brostrøm 's findings were echoed by Dutch researchers Gustave Corten and Arno J. Brand  of  ECN Wind Energy.  In a recent report, "Resource Decrease by Large Scale Wind Farming", Corten and Brand similarly note that  when windfarms add  "roughness" to the otherwise smooth sea surface, a significant fraction of wind energy is lost by the natural environment: 

"Wind resource estimates, especially offshore, are based on the situation without the presence of the planned  farms. We show that the wind resource will drop by 5-14% when we account for roughness increase that will occur when large farms are installed offshore."

Penobscot Bay Watch director Ron Huber, who  monitors midcoast Maine nearshore and offshore wind industry efforts, said he is disappointed that the head of the US offshore windfarming R&D effort, University of Maine's professor Habib Dagher, has opted to ignore the European wind researchers warnings. At the May 20th Maine Windpower Forum in Rockport Maine, Dagher brushed off questions on this topic, stating: "The scientific community doesn't take that very seriously."  

"Matt Simmons's Ocean Energy Institute and Dr Dagher's  DeepCwind Consortium both need to keep a brake on their ambitions," Huber said,  "Honest, open public calculation of  the possible negatives of offshore windfarms needs to be presented concurrently with the positives. To do otherwise risks imperiling Maine's fisheries and coastal communities through failed communication."

Huber has unsure if the Ocean Energy Institute will do so - Simmons' business plan for his Institute includes budding off a for-profit holding company to acquire and consolidate existing renewable energy companies; an entity that would tend to accelerate the pace of offshore wind exploitation here by sheer political power, not slow it down. 

But, "having met briefly with OEI's managing director Robert West, I am cautiously optimistic they will be open to full disclosure of potential impacts of projects the Ocean Energy Institute takes on." Huber said.  Huber is also hopeful that  DeepCwind's Habib Dagher will accept the solidifying scientific consensus that ocean wind energy extraction affects the weather of the surrounding environment.  "Dr. Dagher is an intelligent man, too" Huber said.  "I think he'll come around."

"In any event, my lawsuit contesting DeepCWind's license to operate off Monhgan Island has, I think, focused his attention. 

"When carrots don't work, sometimes you must use a stick." he said.

Jul 17, 2010

Listen: Fox Island Wind, polluting the Vinalhaven soundscape.

Wonder what the windmills on Vinalhaven sound like for local residents? Click here for an hour long unedited recording of these windmills' endless warbling howl, as if jets are constantly flying past in the middle distance.

Listen carefully: you can also hear the wind through the branches of nearby trees. The windmills noise was measured by sound meter as 48 to 49 dBA during this recording. The recording was made at midnight, January 1, 2010, on a residential porch one half mile from the nearest of the three wind turbines.

At 13 ½ minutes into the recording, wind chimes eight feet from the microphone are rung by a soft puff of wind. Their sound level is a useful reference point for finding the right volume to listen to this recording. Then try to  experience this as your 24/7 ambient home audio environment, instead of ambient island Nature.

Most people cannot bear to hear this recording more than 5 minutes. Can you? Imagine it as the background to your life!

For more information on this recording on on wind issues, contact Ron Huber at Penobscot Bay Watch at ron.huber@penbay.org or visit Fox Island Wind Neighbors at www.fiwn.org/

Jul 14, 2010

Kennebec dam owners sued to protect Maine salmon & shad

On Tuesday, July 13, 2010, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay (FOMB), Ed Friedman of Bowdoinham and Douglas Watts of Augusta filed a Notice of Intent to sue under the U.S. Clean Water Act, the owners of four Kennebec River hydro-electric dams.  
Listen to July 17, 2010 WRFR interview of Ed Friedman on this legal action. 25 minute podcast. [Read MPBN coverage here  Read Morning Sentinel Coverage here]

The Weston Dam, Shawmut Dam , Hydro Kennebec Dam and Lockwood Dam  indiscriminately kill endangered Atlantic salmon and protected American shad as they pass through turbine blades of dams in Waterville, Fairfield and Skowhegan, according to the complaint.  In June 2009, Kennebec River Atlantic salmon were declared an endangered species by the U.S. government under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

Until it was dammed in the early 19th century, the Kennebec River had a population of 100,000 Atlantic salmon. In sharp contrast, this year only four Atlantic salmon have been trapped at Lockwood, the downstream-most dam on the river, in Waterville. 

 "We are watching the final extinction of Kennebec River Atlantic salmon," said Douglas Watts, founder of Friends of the Kennebec Salmon in Augusta.  Under Section 1365 of the U.S. Clean Water Act, following 60 days written notice, citizens may sue dam owners in federal court if they are violating federal and state dam licenses.  

In their Notice of Intent to Sue, filed July 13, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Friedman and Watts assert Kennebec River dam owners are in violation of state and federal requirements which state Atlantic salmon and American shad must not be allowed to enter the turbines of the four dams, where they will be killed. 

Because dams impede upward migration of salmon the state of Maine traps the fish which are then transported upstream to spawn in the Sandy River. After spawning, following eons of genetic programming, these few surviving fish are left to run a gauntlet of four dams with unprotected turbines as they attempt to return to the ocean. Shad have recently been transported two dams upriver and will face the same fate.   

“This is insane”, said Ed Friedman who also chairs Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, “we are seeing the only remaining reproducing salmon left in the Kennebec forced into a high stakes reverse game of Russian Roulette where there is only one empty chamber or sluiceway through a dam and multiple chambers loaded with unscreened turbines.” 

The federal lawsuit by FOMB, Watts and Friedman asks a federal judge to require NextEra  (formerly Florida Power & Light Energy(FPLE), Myllykoski North America and Madison Paper Industries, the owners of the four lowermost dams on the Kennebec River, to immediately install protective screening over their turbine intakes to prevent Atlantic salmon and American shad from being killed in the turbines as they migrate downstream to the Atlantic Ocean.

Update:: At least one of the companies are disputing it still owns oen of the dams.

 "The turbine screening we are asking NextEra and the other dam owners to install, costs about what these corporations earn in one hour, said Watts and surely less than they pay in legal fees to keep from having to protect these species.”  * * * 

Jul 11, 2010

Maine DeepCwind enthusiasts: will they face up to the climate-altering impacts of their energy extraction plans.

Or must they be pushed?
The verdict is in
Extraction of wind energy from the lower atmosphere via large ocean windfarm projects 
does indeed alter the climate.

Resource Decrease by Large Scale Wind Farming dr.ir. G.P. Corten (corten@ecn.nl), dr.ir. A.J. Brand (brand@ecn.nl) ECN Wind Energy - Wind Farm Design - The Netherlands

Goram Brostrom, senior scientist Nowegian Meteorological Agency

Windmills at sea will affect the climate (autotranslated by Google, so some funny words) Goram Brostrom, senior scientist Nowegian Meteorological Agency

Given the broadness and reasoned  concern that has arisen about wind energy extraction's effect on climate, it was deeply disappointing when earlier this year University of Maine's Dr. Habib Dagher blithely, nay, bluntly brushed aside the Norwegian metrological agency's exhaustive review. Not an issue. 

This  may be mostly true as regards the scale model experimental R&D windmills he will lead work on, somewhere off the coast of Maine,  but since the point of those is to pave the way for utility-scale deepwater offshore windmilling, dismissing the work of Goram Brostrom, senior scientist Nowegian Meteorological agency, and others, as not-credible leaves the American plan for the Gulf of Maine with no consideration  of this important issue at all.

For DeepCwind to fail to include sober examination of the likely climatic impacts of ocean windfarming within their deliberations from the start suggests that those seeking financial gain from the  R&D effort  fear the results of such an examination.

Regrettably, when  prudence and precaution are cast to the winds,  those concerned about the climate changing effects of wind energy extraction have little recourse but to seek  to see such precaution enforced by the gavel of the judiciary.

It is a shame that DeepCwind's effort to pool myriad talents to discover how best to harvest wind offshore must be taken to the judicial woodshed, but doing offshore wind right is much more important than doing it in a needless hurry.

Jul 6, 2010

Earth First! Blockades Maine's Kibby Mountain Wind Turbine wannabes

Earth First! Blockades Giant Industrial Wind Turbines in Pristine Wilderness

Stratton, Maine.  At about 8 a.m., Tuesday July 6, at least fifty Earth First! activists blockaded Goldbrook Rd,  the access point to the Kibby Mountain wind project  outside the town of Stratton, halting the construction of 22 industrial wind turbines on the delicate Alpine ecosystems of Maine’s western boundary mountains.

The action comes just before the Land Use Regulation Commission’s (LURC) meeting July 7 to  consider a proposal for a similar project on neighboring Sisk Mountain, and on the heels  of the
national Earth First! Round River Rendezvous, hosted this year by Maine Earth First!

TransCanada, the transnational corporation responsible for the devastating practice of tar sands oil extraction in Alberta, Canada, has already built 24 mammoth turbines on Kibby Mountain, and has begun construction of an additional 22 turbines, a process that includes significant road building and wide transmission line corridors.

These projects are part of a trend that shifts from forest management to development in Maine,
which threatens to permanently change the face of Maine’s North Woods, the largest undeveloped wilderness east of the Mississippi river. Both Sisk and Kibby Mountain projects will reap huge benefits for TransCanada and the landowner Plum Creek.

In the face of the Gulf Oil Disaster, and massively destructive coal mining, we  recognize the value of developing alternative energy systems,” said Meg Gilmartin of Earth First! “But these projects are a perfect example of how corporations and  investors are taking advantage of the climate and energy crises to make profits while  avoiding accountability. We don’t view projects on this industrial scale as being the solution to our problems.”

“If we really want to look at how the North Woods can mitigate climate change, we should restore our forest and protect sensitive ecosystems, like those on Sisk  and Kibby Mountain,” said Ryan Clark of Earth First! “These unique high altitude areas are breeding grounds for the endangered Bicknell Thrush, nesting sites for the federally protected Golden Eagle and critical habitat for endangered Canadian  Lynx.”

The project is also being protested for moving forward without public hearings.

Earth First is a network of activists that focuses on grassroots organizing and direct  actions in defense of the earth’s natural systems, and maintains a no-compromise stance.

Jul 2, 2010

Camden Maine mini-reenacts BP turtle toasting in harbor, Saturday July 3rd 3pm

Camden Maine re-enacts the BP oil spill mediationists' turtle toasting in miniature in its harbor on July 3rd

 Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce has hired Central Maine Pyrotechnics to fire "in-the-water" fireworks into the salty plankton-rich surface biofilm off Curtis Island in Camden Harbor at its Festival of Independence.

Company spokester Steve Marson sez: "..the water comes to life. They'll see plumes of water that are gold, silver and green."

Um, Steve, the water's not 'coming to life' when you torpedo bomb it. Rather the opposite: a series of instant Lilliputian lobster(larvae) bakes. 

For late June - early July is peak volume for phytoplankton and zooplankton in Penobscot Bay. Winter flounder larvae, too, nocturnally gambol about at the harbor surface, nipping at marine amoebas and diatoms, blissfully ignorant of incendiaries that will shortly be loosed upon them.
(Photo from WW2 Battle of Truk)