Feb 24, 2011

DeepCwind Report misses the boat

Today's announcement by the public affairs staff of the University of Maine's DeepCwind Consortium  of the release of its report is raising a few eyebrows.

"Not so fast!" I cautioned, being  a critic of DeepCwind's controversial proposal to site its windpower research site in the middle of  one of the world's most painted, most beloved, most fecund ocean places 

I was speaking with a TV producer, whose only crew was, alas, nearing Augusta whilst he himself was enroute to Orono, to cover Dr Dagher's latest Dog & Pony show, DeepCwind's report the   "The Offshore Wind Report just issued by DeepCwind raises as many questions as it answers."

"Not only is Judge Jeffrey Hjelm of Knox Superior Court yet to rule on a lawsuit challenging the state's decision to allow the DeepCwind project to be sited off Monhegan," I said,  "the Department of Energy is dragging its feet on deciding whether to fund the DeepCwind project with the tens of millions of bucks the Consortium expects and needs to get moving."

I read to him (and later emailed him) an email I'd gotten from the Department of Energy on why they were already a month late issuing their draft environmental Assessment. Showing how confused things are in fed land, the Dept of Energy's NEPA coordinator wrote that the "DeepCWind project is still going through internal DOE reviews and revisions. I would not be able to give you an exact date but we anticipate posting it for public review and comment in the next 3-8 weeks." 
Three to eight weeks away from releasing even the first draft of the necessary Environmental Assessment that must be reviewed and commented on the promised multi-millions of dollars in federal funding become available. And it was supposed to come out in early February. DeepCwind's cash burn rate is one that has eaten up the last million dollars; the next millions may not come quite as quickly as they'd hoped.

I don't see why Dr Dagher and friends are celebrating: the Fat Lady hasn't even cleared her throat yet, let alone sung.

"While the Consortium's  report is hefty, it does not address some of the most critical issues that now the Federal energy regulators are being faced with," I told the newsguy.  "Is one of the other 2 sites along the Maine coast a better location, after all?"

Topping that list of concerns is a need to discover to what extent ocean windmills placed in the path of migrating lobster larvae will divert some of those young lobsters away from Penobscot Bay and out into the deep Gulf of Maine where survival is less likely.

University of Maine Marine scientist Pete Jumars  acknowledges quite candidly in the report that the "upwelling" effects that extracting  wind energy with an ocean windmill are now known to cause will make changes in the Gulf of Maine's water column. in the area beneath the windfarm and 'downstream in the passing currents. 

Where are those locations?   The state has picked four sites right smack in the  midst of the critical Maine Coastal Current, including one the most easterly site, athwart a junction point where a large piece of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current diverts in to Penobscot Bay.
But inexplicably, beyond that acknowledgement, is action suggested? Poor Pete Jumars! Caught between the Scylla of scientific rigor and the Charybdis of Cianbro and the rest of the impatiently waiting companies and University of Maine's administrators . In a section of the report apparently written by him,  Jumars accepts Brostrom's 2008 predictions of forced upwellings beneath operating ocean windmills - at 1 meter per day over large area (pg 5-47);  notes that the effects would be noticeable "several kilometers" away (page 5-70); and recommends using upstream and downstream buoys, along with gliders to measure how powerful the upwelling force is, to help them address "potential concerns about increased phytodetrital fluxes to the seabed." (page 5-74 of the report.).  

Bravo Dr! I mean it!

So is it time  to prepare an EIS?  While such a possibility probably leads to sleepless nights for Jumars, Dr. Dagher and the rest of the  deepwater offshore windpower extraction crew, it may be necesssary, unless DeepCwind agrees to a few small but important additional improvements to their research plan. Calling Bob Steneck!

Because while an artificial upwelling is a good thing at the right season, if and when a floating  wind farm is anchored within  in the Eastern Maine Coastal Current, (as  State Planning Office proposes), the oasis of nutrients may confuse and divert passing lobster larvae into perceiving they've reached a good home. A lethal error: given the lack of possibilities for burrowing on a submerged windmill shaft, the lobsters cannot hide, to the great joy of predaceous fishes and seals attracted to the floating poles.

Worse, the natural predators of freeswimming lobster larvae could soon be exploiting the floating windmills' submerged habitats, using them as  bases from which to prey on the passing baby lobsters, which travel  in great numbers every year to Penobscot Bay and points south from Canadian waters of the northern Gulf of Maine.

Finally, the endless plume of water  brought up from the seafloor beneath the anchored  ocean windfarm is dense and cold.  It may form a kind of blockage to the passing  warmer surface current  water and could divert some of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current away from the coast, baby lobsters and all, to an uncertain fate.

But DeepCwind Consortium  doesn’t want to deal with the upwelling issues beyond hoping for the best and hoping on dealing with whatever problems crop up after the fact.

I think the US Department of Energy will have to take on that question, if the court doesn't first. 

Stay tuned!"


1. EMAIL from Dept of Energy on delaying decision

From: Margason, Laura <laura.margason@go.doe.gov>
Date: Wed, Feb 16, 2011 at 9:48 AM
Subject: RE: DOE/EA-1792 draft env assessment UMaine DeepCwind - update?
To: Ron Huber <coastwatch@gmail.com>

Mr. Huber,

At this time, the draft Environmental Assessment for the University of
Maine's DeepCWind project is still going through internal DOE reviews
and revisions. I would not be able to give you an exact date but we
anticipate posting it for public review and comment in the next 3-8
weeks. I do have you and your organization on our mailing list for this
project and you will receive a postcard Notice of Availability when it
is out for public review. All our documents are put onto the Golden
Field Office Public Reading Room web site for the public to access.
The web site is http://www.eere.energy.gov/golden/NEPA_DEA.aspx

Thank you,
Laura Margason,  NEPA Specialist, 720.356.1322

Go to page 13 of Pete Jumar's pdf file of his recent presentation; it is the Brostrom paper, with Dr. Jumar's side notes on it

Feb 3, 2011

While Judge Hjelm considers Huber v BPL, a Federal agency's release of a draft EA on financing DeepCWind's start-up project off Monhegan could be a game changer.

All sides in the question of what standards ocean windmills will have to meet off Maine await two big decisions:

1. Knox County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hjelm's upcoming decision in Huber v Bureau of Parks & Lands over the sufficiency of the state agency's review of the probable scenic impacts and impacts to migrating seabirds, if the University of Maine's planned  deepwater wind test center two miles off the southern tip of  Monhegan Island goes forward.

2.  This month's release by the US Department of Energy of  a draft environmental assessment of the environmental impact of its proposal to give twenty million dollars to the University of Maine for a pair of  deepwater wind projects. See earlier DOE notice. The plans include::

(A) One or more prototype 1/3 sized  floating windmills (plus  undersea test structures), off Monhegan, &  
(B) A single full scale operational 5 megawatt deepwater floating windmill, to be towed to an as-yet only dimly defined location, either off Monhegan or "20 to 50 miles" offshore, according to the University

The agency's assessment must be carried out according the National Environmental Policy Act and the agency's own strict NEPA guidelines (11pg pdf file; ignore the "SUN" references). According to the guidelines, the two DOE officials involved:  Kurt Rautenstrauch and Laura Margason must:

*"Identify any adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided should this proposed  action be implemented."
* "Evaluate viable alternatives to the proposed action, including a no action alternative."
* "Describe the relationship between local short-term uses of the environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity."
* "Characterize any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved should this proposed action be implemented."

Link to the information and issues supplied by Penobscot Bay Watch to the DOE. 

If Judge Hjelm  takes an approach similar to the one he took in Huber v MDOT, he will wait to see  the Department of Energy's draft  EA: Will the agency agree with Penobscot Bay Watch that more needs to be considered bird-wise, beauty-wise, lobster larvae-wise, currents-impact-wise? If so, then he may rule in in Huber's favor. If not, not.   

Stay tuned. 

Penobscot Bay Watch needs help burning the past.

Though it is in the end a dishonorable and unhealthy burning of our distant ancestors, operating a petrol-powered  personal vehicle is one of those things that one must do to travel regionally in the absence of a regional public transit system, such as is largely the regrettable case of the towns around Penobscot Bay.

Your BayBlogger is looking for a recently-stickered beater for of $2,000 US or less that would ferry the Watch to meetings, hearings, expeditions and investigations around Penobscot Bay and  along with the occasional jaunt to state agency offices in Augusta and Bangor.  Or donate it outright and take a state tax deduction for that value.

Contact the Penobscot Bay Blog at coastwatch@gmail.com or tel 207-593-2744, if you have or know of such a machine.