Eau Claire Wind Farm Community Questions & Answers
Q: Eau Claire has endorsed using 100% renewable energy by 2050. However, when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, what will be the sources of electrical energy?
A: Carbon neutrality and 100% renewable energy are two different targets. Carbon neutrality is reached when all the emission sources net to zero in the proposed area and effectively means reducing emissions as much as possible and then offsetting any remaining amount. Alternatively,100% renewable energy means that the amount of renewable energy procured is equal to or more than the amount that is consumed. Still, this pledge shows that there is a strong appetite in this county for moving to sustainable sources of energy, like wind power.
Just like other sources of generation, this project will bid into a competitive, open market and produce energy. If the project doesn’t generate energy for maintenance or resource reasons, then the balance of load will be produced by other market participants.
Renewable energy has reliably been incorporated onto the grid with incredibly high percentages of the overall mix. For example, SPP, which is another market similar to MISO, recently set a new renewable penetration record of 73.67%, meaning that at that moment, nearly three-quarters of all electrical needs across the SPP market were met with clean, sustainable forms of energy. This is becoming the norm and demonstrates with real world conditions the value brought by renewable energy.
SITE SELECTION / TURBINE LOCATIONS
Q: Is there a key to the locations of the wind turbine? Is there a reason, for example, that the towns of Clear Creek and Pleasant Valley were chosen instead of the town of Bridge Creek or Lake Wissota?
A: The townships of Lincoln and Washington were chosen because of their proximity to transmission lines, sufficient wind speeds, and open agricultural fields.
Q: Where are we looking to put the turbines?
A: Since the project is in the early stages of development, turbine locations have not been chosen. Turbine locations will depend on the land signed within the project and the results of optimization studies. We could expect to have a turbine layout in 2022.
Q: Will a map of the project area be shared?
A: Roughly speaking, the project is between Brackett and the southern county line and between highways 93 and 94.
Q: According to the land owner contract, the wind developer has the right to drill one or more wells on the owner’s property when compensated. Are these wells utilized in any way other than their water output? Are these Department of Natural Resources permitted use?
A: These wells would not be used in any other way other than their water output. Furthermore, any wells constructed would abide by all pertinent and applicable laws and regulations, including the filing of any necessary permits.
Q: What is the effect on wildlife? Bats? Bald Eagles? What will RWE being doing to mitigate wildlife concerns?
A: Wind power is far less harmful to wildlife than traditional energy sources – this includes birds and their critical habitats. It is one of the only energy sources without population-level impacts, such as climate change-related habitat loss.
For every project, RWE conducts rigorous environmental studies as required by federal, state, and local laws. We work with federal and state wildlife agencies to ensure our projects minimize potential harm to birds or bats and make changes to placement and layout design, if necessary.
Wind energy is significantly less harmful to birds and bats than buildings, traditional generation resources, vehicles, power lines, communication towers, and even house cats.(https://www.aweablog.org/the-truth-about-wind-power/)
Still, the wind industry is doing more than any other known mortality source to find ways to reduce its comparatively small impact—and even find ways offset others’ impacts.
Because of the thorough precautions and extensive studies completed in siting turbines in a responsible manner, and because of the overall positive impact of renewable energy on wildlife, the National Audubon Society – the premier, most respectable organization advocating for birds – has endorsed the use of properly sited wind turbines! (https://www.audubon.org/conservation/audubons-position-windpower)
Q: How will turbines affect groundwater?
A: Unlike most other generation technologies, wind turbines do not use water to generate electricity. There are also substantial geotechnical studies completed that analyze certain water qualities, extensive surveying and engineering completed, and thorough environmental permitting completed before turbines are erected. Because of these extensive efforts, the risk of contamination of ground water is virtually zero.
Q: Do we have the equipment to handle turbine fires?
A: Turbine fires are incredibly rare. Even so, we develop close working relationships with fire departments and emergency response personnel in the communities which host our projects and we discuss potential risks and hazards during Emergency Response Drills with these local first responders. In the rare instance that a turbine or substation fire occurs, the RWE Emergency Operations Plan, which includes procedures for staff and facilities, is activated to ensure that the situation comes to a safe and speedy resolution.
Q: Can the developers use existing easements or power companies and power distributors’ systems? In other words, will Xcel Energy, Dairyland Power Cooperative, and Eau Claire Energy Cooperative easements as well as municipal roadway easements be used for this project?
A: RWE is not able and does not seek to use easements owned by municipalities for the use of roads or by existing utility companies to install infrastructure except for the specific location of the interconnection point, which requires the physical connection of cables to the electrical grid. Importantly, RWE will work with transportation officials to identify and limit construction activity to predetermined routes and will result in many miles of road upgrades – at no cost to the taxpayer – to facilitate deliveries.
Q: Will the Eau Claire County Forest land furnish easements for interconnecting energy lines from the substation to the wind turbines and how will this affect public usage?
A: RWE is not seeking easements on county owned property and generally prefers to site facilities away from publicly owned lands. Also, all energy collection cables are planned to be buried several feet underground, further minimizing any impact on land use.
Q: How long is the wind farm easement agreement?
A: The easement agreement includes a development period of up to seven years, which may be followed by an operational term of up to 30 years.
Q: Can your easement be sold to another company?
A: The easement agreement can be transferred to another company. This is done usually to transfer the project from RWE Renewables Americas LLC as a parent company to the project-specific holding company once it’s created. RWE is distinct from other companies because our business model is to own and operate all of our projects for their entire lifetime and this has led to our current success as the owner and operator of 27 wind farms across the United States. However, if the easement were transferred to another company, the new owner would nevertheless have to abide by the very same easement agreement, including all payments, covenants and the full array of obligations.
Q: Does the developer have eminent domain through existing easements to obtain an interconnected way from the substation to the wind turbines?
A: RWE does not have the right to use eminent domain. All of our easements will be voluntary with land owners. To this point, RWE cannot and will not construct any facilities on any property if the land owner has not given permission through an easement or similar agreement.
Q: Does the wind developer have adjoining land owners’ contracts?
A: RWE only has contracts with landowners who choose to participate in the project. The project is 100% voluntary and we do not have eminent domain authority.
IMPACT ON LOCAL POWER / COSTS
Q: Will the wind farm lower our electric bills, or will the rates increase because of the cost of the turbine investment?
A: Renewable energy resources are consistently among the cheapest available generation sources, one of the reasons so many utilities and large corporate buyers are procuring growing amounts of renewable energy. However, generation is only one part of the electric bill customers see each month. RWE does not control the retail electricity prices that utilities and electrical coops charge their customers, and those utilities and electrical coops may not be the customer for this project. Nevertheless, we expect the project to be very competitive and attractive to both utilities and businesses to contract with, as a long-term contract with the project will allow them to flatten and accurately predict their energy costs over the lifetime of the project. But, until we bring the project to the open market, we will not know who the ultimate customer will be.
Rates which utilities charge their customers are regulated by state utility commissions, which are charged with ensuring both grid reliability and energy affordability for customers in their state.
Increasing amounts of renewable energy are being procured by utilities and approved by commissions across the country, in part because they are often the lowest-cost form of energy available – and it makes sense when you think about it: our fuel is essentially “free.” One example of this is the independent system operator SPP, which has seen renewables reach as high as 73.67% of electricity demand and dramatic decreases in prices simultaneously to achieve the lowest average wholesale electricity prices in 2018.
Q: How do the wind turbines affect rural property values?
A: Numerous comprehensive studies have shown that wind turbines do not negatively affect property values in the long term. If anything, the presence of wind turbines has a positive impact on property values and some have even shown that wind farms actually increase property values – which makes sense as adding a wind farm is really adding a stable, long-term income generator for the community. Wind farms provide funding to strengthen schools, libraries, first responders, infrastructure and more,at no additional cost to residents. A comprehensive study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used data collected from the sale of more than 50,000 homes in 27 counties, located in nine different states and found no statistical evidence that home prices near wind turbines were affected in either the post-construction or post-announcement / pre-construction periods. (https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2013/08/27/no-evidence-of-residential-property-value-impacts-near-u-s-wind-turbines-a-new-berkeley-lab-study-finds/)
Results were affirmed by similar studies done by the University of Rhode Island and University of Connecticut in conjunction with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Intuitively, this makes sense, as the strict value of the land increases now that there is a known and guaranteed revenue source attached to the land in the project area and the entire community has benefitted from the significant increase in county and town revenues that the projects provide.
Q: How will it affect our community? Will it divide our community?
A: We cannot control to what degree people interact with each other in a civil manner. However, RWE is committed to being an honest and engaged community partner and we interact with every community member in a respectful and courteous manner. We’ve seen many people throughout the community that have also adopted this commitment to be respectful and courteous. Regardless if someone is in support or in opposition to the project, our door is always open.
As with almost all major infrastructure projects and the prospect of change, there will be some who are adamantly opposed to the project. We encourage these individuals and everybody who interacts with them to be respectful and courteous. It’s possible to have different opinions and still be civil. We also welcome opponents and proponents to have a fact-based conversation about the reality of what it means to have a wind farm in a community, and will offer whatever information and help we can provide.
Despite those small number of opponents, the vast majority of communities we work in are very welcoming to wind and have had great experiences with it. Research into the attitudes of residents living in and around wind turbines finds that people are generally very supportive and positive. In fact, residents within five miles of U.S. turbines are seven times more likely to be positive about wind energy than negative.
What we do know, unequivocally, is that communities which host wind farms are affected quite positively. Millions of dollars in additional tax revenue from the projects have helped communities with our projects to provide new computers and tablets for their schools; buy new vehicles and upgrade equipment for local police, fire, and first responders; and avoid having to raise taxes on residents to pay for road, bridge, and other infrastructure projects. Wind farms help keep schools open, taxes low, and services high-quality.
Q: How will the community benefit from this project?
A: The project would benefit the community in many ways. First and foremost, the direct landowner easement payments would be substantial, estimated at more than $1,000,000 every year. This stable, yearly income can be reinvested into family farms to reinforce farmers’ bottom lines, providing dependable income in the face of crop price fluctuations, adverse weather impacting yields, as well as the numerous other unforeseen expenses and risks that farmers take every day.
It’s also not just limited to farmers, as this income has helped make retirement for thousands of landowners a reality and cushioned economic blows for working families across the U.S. Additionally, landowners often spend much of that money in the community, boosting the area’s economy by buying goods and services from local businesses, providing a secondary boost to the community.
This project represents a $200+ million investment for RWE. It will require at least 150 jobs during construction and those workers would frequent hotels, restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, recreational shops, and more. RWE is also committed to using local vendors and local labor whenever possible to further stimulate the local economy.
The townships and counties will also be empowered by additional tax revenues from the project, receiving an estimated $26,000,000+ over the life of the project. That can be used for top community priorities, whether that’s new EMS and police vehicles, schools, facility upgrades, or additional services. It also means less reliance on new taxes to fund these important services.
Businesses that are expanding or starting up are increasingly conscious about how they use energy, both in terms of their environmental impact and in an effort to hedge their energy costs. Wind – as a power source with no fuel price volatility – has been able to deliver on that demand to keep costs low and stable while providing pollution-free power generation. That’s why business expansions and procurement of renewable energy has skyrocketed in the last few years. All of this would make the greater Eau Claire County area more attractive for investment, not just by RWE, but by many other businesses as well.
There are many other benefits such as utilizing renewable energy to help reduce air, water and other pollutants to improve environmental quality and the upgrade of many miles of roads used in the project area to meet logistical needs for construction and operation of the wind farm. This homegrown energy will mean better public health and cleaner air for all of us to breathe.
Q: What is the production tax credit and is this project eligible for it?
A: The PTC was originally authored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and former Representative Phil Sharp (D-IN) in a bipartisan effort as part of energy legislation in 1992. The PTC provides a tax credit for every megawatt-hour generated and was designed to help bring wind costs down and increase wind energy deployment across the country. And it worked; wind prices have decreases significantly since –
as much as 69% since 2009. (https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-and-levelized-cost-of-storage-2018/)
As a result, in December 2015, with strong bipartisan support, Congress agreed to a stable phase-out of the PTC to be completed by 2019. This long-term policy certainty created a business environment primed for growth, which benefits American families and businesses. Because of this, over 114,000 Americans across all 50 states work in wind today.
It is unknown if the Eau Claire Wind Project will be eligible for part of the Production Tax Credit as eligibility depends on the start of operations. However, RWE expects to continue developing the project regardless of its status with the PTC, as we see a project poised to be very competitive in the open markets.
FIREARMS & HUNTING PROTOCOLS
Q: What is the firearm and hunting protocols during construction and operation?
A: During the height of construction, when there will be a large number of crews working on installing turbines, RWE will develop a safety program for all employees, contractors, and subcontractors, and this may contain provisions related to hunting. However, given that the usual timeframe for construction of wind farms happens from the spring to the autumn and is substantially complete by the November time frame, we do not expect to see much interaction between construction crews and hunters.
During operations, hunting will continue as usual with hunters alerting wind farm personnel if they will be in proximity to wind farm facilities to ensure a safe working environment.
COST OF TURBINE REMOVAL AFTER 30 YEARS
Q: Does the wind developer post a bond for total clean-up when it finishes a project and who does it post the bond with if so?
A: Each state, county or township has different requirements for decommissioning of a wind farm. Our company will post a bond, letter of credit, escrow account, or similar instrument that will cover the full cost of decommissioning and ensures the public won’t be left with any financial burden. Furthermore, all of our easement agreements include specific decommissioning provisions to ensure proper removal, salvage of the components, and restoration of the land when the project reaches the end of its useful life.
TURBINE EFFICIENCY +
Q: What is the efficiency of a wind turbine? Capacity Factor?
A: The capacity factor of a wind turbine is its actual generation output divided by its maximum theoretical generation output over a given period of time. Onshore wind turbines capacity factors have realized a median capacity factor of 0.43 and as high as 0.52, depending on turbine model, wind speed, and location. It is important to note, though, as research & development and advanced engineering design has progressed, the latest turbine models have experienced capacity factors higher than this on a regular basis.(https://openei.org/apps/TCDB/).
Q: What is the overall carbon footprint of a wind turbine?
A: An analysis of a 2MW Vestas turbine found that the entire lifecycle energy consumption is approximately 3,295 megawatt-hours. A 2MW machine can offset that amount of energy with zero-carbon generation in less than six months and has an operational life of thirty years. (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5394a3cbe4b032d797fe179c/t/569902661f4039a738f34984/1452868200531/Vestas+v80+2MW+brochure.pdf)
Q: How do wind turbines affect electromagnetic fields and TV reception?
A: Wind turbines can produce electromagnetic fields, just like other types of machinery. However, before construction, RWE conducts an electromagnetic and telecommunications study to access any known signal paths within the project area. This study will highlight any potential impacts and potential mitigation techniques. These mitigation techniques can include removing or relocating turbines out of signal beam paths or upgrading homes to new digital systems that are considerably more robust than the analog television systems at no cost to the homeowner. As a result, the analog switch-off to digital standards is considerably reducing the impact of wind farms on television broadcasting.