New wind power projects often face tough opposition

In what could be seen as yet another sign of wind power’s maturation into a major generating source, wind development is facing increased opposition in government license proceedings.

This was part of the message that New Hampshire-based environmental and energy attorney Barry Needleman shared during PennWell’s Power-Gen conference Nov. 13 in Orland, Fla. Needleman was part of a panel discussion sponsored by Renewable Energy World, which like GenerationHub, is a PennWell news organization.

“Stop thinking about these things as regular environmental permitting proceedings and start thinking of them as a trial … if for no other reason that your adversaries are doing that,” Needleman said.

“Adversaries are better organized and more sophisticated,” Needleman says. Wind projects have recently been denied in siting board decisions in Maine and New Hampshire, he said.

Wind power developers should select and prepare witnesses carefully. Specialists with deep technical knowledge might or might not be effective communicators, Needleman said.

“Professional anti-wind groups” will probe every weak link in an attempt to defeat the proposed generation project. “You’ve got to bat 1,000.”

Effective witnesses can bring the application to life and defend the developer’s evidence, Needleman said.

Aesthetics alone can sink a project. Defining the attractiveness of a wind power project, is much like defining pornography, Needleman said. People believe they can identify poor aesthetics when they see it.

When involved in siting cases, Needleman tries to establish if there are any applicable local, state or federal guidelines on aesthetics and argue that the project meets those.

Needleman is a partner with the law firm of McLane, Graf, and Raulerson & Middleton.

Some state siting boards offer a centralized review process that covers everything from proposed generation projects to power lines upgrades. Other states have more of a piecemeal approach, Needleman said. Both have pluses and minuses, the attorney said.

State board requirements can vary a lot. For example, Main and New Hampshire require applicants to show they have the financial capability to construct. Meanwhile, Oregon and Massachusetts want developers to show there is an actual need for the project.

‘Wind is main stream’

“Wind is main stream” now said OwnEnergy Origination Director Brianne Marinucci.

Own Energy is a national leader in community-scale wind development. For example, OwnEnergy helped develop the 60-MW Cowboy wind farm in Blackwell, Okla. The project, now owned by NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) provides power to Oklahoma State University.

The OSU athletic teams are the “Cowboys,” Marinucci and that’s the reason for the name. Marinucci said Oklahoma State is one of a growing number of universities and corporations look to limit their carbon development and promote sustainable development, she added.

One piece of legislation in Utah, Senate Bill 12, would clear the way for non-utility energy consumers to buy and transmit power directly from renewable energy developers. The bill is backed by eBay, Marinucci said.

AWS Truepower Team Leader Whitney Wilson discussed how her company helps wind power developers in organized competitive markets assess transmission access. “Just because there is a transmission line there does not mean there is space” available on it, she said.

Congestion cannot always be avoided, but it can be understood, Wilson added.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.