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April 2013 Issue

April 2013
Feature 1

"The Sounds
of Silence "

Feature 2

Power "Drones"

Editorial

EDITORIAL
"Taking the Heat"

Wisconsin Favorites
Wisconsin Favorites
"Race int Spring
at Flater's Resort"

 

 

The Sounds of Silence

A New Hurdle for Wind Farms?

 

Last spring, the Madison-based environmental group Clean Wisconsin set out to dispose of an issue raised wherever new wind-powered electric generation is planned—namely, noise emitted during turbine operation. By January, it was clear that in trying to remove the issue, Clean Wisconsin hit a tripwire and the result could be a whole new layer of regulatory review for wind development.

Ironically, what thwarted Public Service Commission (PSC) approval of Emerging Energies of Wisconsin’s Highland Wind project in St. Croix County was the relatively straightforward problem of audible turbine noise that can be alleviated by design, equipment, or operational changes. The peculiarities of “infrasound and low-frequency noise” (ILFN) didn’t figure in the PSC’s recent 2–1 denial of the application. But as the lump under the rug through Highland’s 20-month regulatory review, ILFN might have serious implications for future projects.

What You Can’t Hear Won’t Hurt You?

Both audible turbine noise and ILFN are frequently alleged to cause adverse health effects, but published research supports both sides of the argument. Current siting standards regulate audible noise because whether or not it harms anyone, it’s a recognizable irritant.

“Recognizable” is less descriptive of ILFN, which is largely below the threshold of detection by human ears. But people who say they recognize its effects aren’t scarce. Prime examples are the three Brown County families who’ve abandoned their homes in the Town of Glenmore since the Shirley Wind Farm began operations in December 2010. Nausea, headaches, and vertigo are on the long list of symptoms claimed by at least 50 Shirley Wind neighbors, according to documents filed last November with the PSC by the Brown County Department of Health.

Last spring, the PSC allowed Clean Wisconsin to intervene as an ally of the developers in its regulatory review of Highland Wind. In May, the organization asked the commission for $48,000 in intervenor compensation funds, provided by utility ratepayers, to measure background noise at the proposed Highland site and operational noise at a functioning wind farm, either Glacier Hills in Columbia County or Shirley Wind. According to documents Clean Wisconsin filed later with the PSC, Wisconsin Electric Power and Duke Energy, owners of the respective facilities, refused permission for on-site testing.

Ultimately, four acoustic consultants assembled from across the country settled for testing at the three abandoned homes near Shirley Wind. Not always owned by Duke Energy, the comparatively small wind farm was built by Emerging Energies of Wisconsin with eight turbines of a type considered for Highland Wind, which would use 41.

Last December the consultants—some of whom have worked predominantly for supporters of wind development, some predominantly for opponents—produced a report that became part of the PSC’s Highland Wind decision record. Inconclusive overall, it found enough unanswered questions about health consequences that all the consultants signed off on this statement:

“The four investigating firms are of the opinion that enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify LFN and infrasound as a serious issue, possibly affecting the future of the industry. It should be addressed beyond the present practice of showing that wind turbine levels are magnitudes below the threshold of hearing at low frequencies.”   

Study First, Regulate Maybe

The PSC rejected Highland Wind’s application in February because two of the three commissioners doubted the project as designed would meet nighttime standards for audible turbine noise. All three made clear that ILFN wasn’t a factor, since Wisconsin has no standard. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, all agreed that research potentially identifying a standard is desirable. Commissioners invited Emerging Energies to submit a new application.

Just before the February 14 vote denying approval of Highland Wind, Commissioner Ellen Nowak said, “I think future applicants are on notice here that [ILFN is] going to be a key issue…this is an industry-wide concern.” Nowak agreed with Commissioner Eric Callisto that they “wouldn’t put the burden directly on Highland” to advance ILFN research but advocated for more being done.

Chairman Phil Montgomery agreed, saying, “This is our shot at ILFN.”

Callisto cautioned that the Shirley study yielded insufficient information to create a regulatory standard. The others agreed. Callisto pondered further research.

“If we’re going to go down that road requiring [an] additional look at ILFN, it should be a broader look,” possibly involving the Wind Siting Council that devised the current standards, “perhaps seeking funding from the Legislature or from all of the entities that we regulate in this state,” Callisto said.

He added, “There was a lot of smoke but from my perspective I’m not sure there’s a fire yet.”

Pick a Paper

A cursory search last month revealed a 2011 New Zealand study saying audible turbine noise “can negatively impact facets of health-related quality of life,” and a 2012 paper by researchers in Maine, Ontario, and Britain citing arguments that adjusting turbine-noise measurements for human hearing capacities inappropriately omits “relatively high levels” of ILFN and “has led to an underestimation of the potential for adverse health effects.”

In a 2011 paper, Massachusetts consultants examined two varieties of industrial wind turbines and said, “There should be no adverse public health effects from infrasound or low frequency noise at distances greater than [1,000 feet].” Wisconsin usually requires a 1,250-foot separation between large turbines and occupied structures.

Nobody knows if ILFN rules affecting wind farm development are coming to Wisconsin; it depends on studies not yet begun. But it’s safe to say as little as six months ago, nobody saw rules or even studies coming.
Dave Hoopman, director of regulatory affairs, Electric Division, Cooperative Network

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Power “Drones”

Devices Could Help Reduce Outage Times

They’re called unmanned aerial systems (UAS), though we more commonly refer to them as “drones.” The concept of using the small, airborne, mechanical contraptions to perform surveillance and even carry out military strikes remotely has been much in the news lately, primarily associated with wartime use. A recent television report also told how easy it is for consumers to spend a few hundred dollars to purchase remote-controlled drones from hobby stores. In one instance, such a locally purchased device was flown to a height of 1,500 feet near an airport, disrupting airline traffic and raising security concerns.

Controversies notwithstanding, the technology has been usefully employed to take the risk of human safety out of a variety of hazardous tasks, and tests are underway to rate the possibilities for enlisting drones in the electric power industry.

Storm Damage Assessments

February test flights directed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Alabama of prototype UAS carrying payloads of video and other sensing equipment indicate that such drone technology could be deployed to assess damage to electric transmission and distribution systems following storms.

The flights tested two “rotary winged” devices and payloads that weighed less than 55 pounds and operated at altitudes under 100 feet. Payloads included high-resolution video and digital cameras that transmit in real-time information that utility system operators could use to assess the condition of power lines and related equipment.

Some promising preliminary results show the remote-controlled fliers could provide more timely and accurate powerline damage assessments in the wake of major storms. These evaluations could help to deploy crews more efficiently and to restore electric service more quickly.

“The test flight results are an important step in determining whether UAS technology can be deployed to improve the accuracy and timeliness of utility storm damage assessment,” said Matthew Olearczyk, program manager for distribution systems research at EPRI. “The images and videos from these flights clearly show the potential of these combined technologies. Continuing research will better determine which combinations of aircraft and payload could offer the best results.”

EPRI tested an Aeryon Scout and the Adaptive Flight Hornet Maxi, which are both rotary-wing systems. These UAS technologies performed visual inspection tasks including high-resolution imaging of electrical system components.

Study Continues

Olearczyk noted that beyond aircraft and payloads, significant work lies ahead in integrating the data and information generated by the UAS with utility operations. “There is some really important work ahead in creating seamless interfaces with utility information-technology systems, as well as the rapidly developing field-force technologies such as tablet computers that some utility work crews are now carrying into the field,” said Olearczyk.

EPRI directed the flights under a certificate of authorization granted to New Mexico State University by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the Southeastern Equipment and Technology Advancement Center. The research team plans to use findings from these first flights in a round of test flights tentatively scheduled for later this year, after receiving authorization from the FAA.

Representatives of two utilities and the FAA witnessed the testing, while the drones were flown by the university’s Technical Flight Team.— info courtesy of EPRI

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EDITORIAL
by Perry Baird

I guess my dog can’t help himself; when there’s a bag of garbage left in reach and unattended, his finely tuned sense of smell takes over and we end up with a strewn mess to clean up. No amount of scolding can seemingly override that beagle’s default setting for relentlessly following where his nose leads.

We’re beginning to think the federal Department of Energy (DOE) is similarly compulsive in its dogged pursuit of rules and standards that would abolish manufacturing of “large capacity” (meaning 55 gallons or larger, a common size for households) electric water heaters of conventional design. In late February, the DOE announced it would revisit establishing an energy-efficiency standard that would accomplish just that.

It was at least 15 years ago when we first heard DOE officials’ desire to move in this direction, and the matter has surfaced periodically ever since. We were hoping the initiative had been permanently beaten back late last fall after widespread concern voiced by electric cooperatives caused the agency to drop the notion from its recommended changes to an international energy efficiency code.

Load Management at Risk

In our December 2012 issue, we detailed why doing away with electric water heaters is a horrible idea and exhibits the agency’s stunning lack of understanding of what’s going on in rural parts of the country.

Being able to control the times that residential and commercial water heaters run is what forms the nucleus of load-management programs that power suppliers like Dairyland Power Cooperative employ to cut periods of highest (“peak”) electrical demand. Periodically sending signals at peak-load times to shut off water heaters forestalls the need for the utility to either buy more expensive wholesale power to satisfy demand or to build additional, costly generating facilities itself.

Dairyland Power and Wisconsin’s co-ops pioneered this successful load-shaving process more than 60 years ago, and today the Dairyland system has some 80,000 water heaters under control, most of them 55 gallons and above. Roughly one-third of the generating co-op’s load-controlling capability—or 20–40 megawatts worth of demand, depending on the season—is achieved with water heaters.

Limited Rural Options

The Department of Energy doesn’t like appliances that use a lot of electricity. They get in the way of officials’ varying agendas to cut carbon emissions nationwide in an effort to influence climate change.

We get that. But for rural areas without access to natural gas, consumers’ water-heating alternatives are severely limited. They include: burning propane to heat water; using smaller (or multiple?) electric water heaters that ultimately would use as many kilowatt-hours; or new and more expensive heat-pump water heaters, unproven in this northern climate and not likely to be good candidates for load control.

You’d think that forcing consumers to switch to a petroleum product for heating their water and eliminating load control as a tool to avoid constructing more electric power plants in this country would run contrary to DOE’s interests. As this is being written, co-op representatives from Wisconsin are in Washington, D.C., to tell the Department of Energy just that. Bad dog…

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If the longer days and warmer temperatures of spring have you itching to get outside and get moving, consider a visit to Flater’s Resort. With its location at the headwaters of Lake Holcombe, where the Chippewa and Flambeau Rivers enter the lake, Flater’s Resort is a great place to be when fishing season opens. However, the resort attracts other types of sports enthusiasts each spring as well with its annual Triple R Triathlon.

Held this year on May 11, the Triple R Triathlon is among the earliest outdoor triathlons scheduled in the state. But don’t let the early date dissuade you; this triathlon doesn’t require you to swim the still-chilly waters of Lake Holcombe. Instead, the Triple R trades in the swimming portion of a typical triathlon with canoing. Participants start with a 3-mile run, continue with a 15-mile bicycle ride on a paved surface, and conclude with a 6-mile canoe or kayak trek downriver.

Following the competition, participants and spectators gather at the resort’s bar/lounge overlooking the rivers for music, food, and fellowship.

The Triple R Triathlon is a longstanding tradition at Flater’s Resort. It began in 1987 with just 34 racers and grew steadily over the years. About four years ago, thanks to stepped-up marketing, participation began exploding; last year’s registration topped 400.The race attracts serious triathletes from as far away as the Twin Cities and Chicago as well area regulars who participate more for fun. Categories accommodate all types of participants; there’s even a relay option for folks who would rather split up the race, with one person biking, one running, and perhaps both paddling a canoe together. New this year is a team division for businesses or organizations that want to compete as a group.

This year’s Triple R Triathlon promises to be even more special because it’s part of a yearlong celebration of the 75th anniversary of Flater’s Resort. Established in 1938, the resort is in its third generation of owership by the Flater family. Current resort owners/ operators are Joe and Dawn Flater although Harold Flater, longtime director of Chippewa Valley Electric Cooperative, still runs the campground.

Over the past seven-plus decades, the Flater family has created an ideal vacation site for outdoor lovers. The resort includes five modern cabins that are available for rent year-round, offering amenities including full kitchens, satellite TV, wood decks with river views, and boat rental. The resort also has a trailer park and camping site. Game fish are plentiful in the rivers and lake. Flater’s Resort offers four different river canoe trips, with fishing guides available at reasonable rates. Facilities also include a swimming beach, playground, and softball diamond. In addition, the resort offers access to a number of trails for biking, walking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.

Flater’s Resort hosts two other special events each year that also draw big crowds. Each August, about 16 softball teams converge at the resort’s softball diamond for an annual tournament, and on the third Saturday of each September, guests climb aboard trailers filled with hay for a leisurely ride through the Chippewa County Forest to enjoy the fall colors.

So be forewarned: If you come to Flater’s Resort to celebrate spring, you just might find yourself making plans to celebrate summer, fall, and winter there as well.—Mary Erickson

The 26th Triple R Triathlon starts at noon on Saturday, May 11. Early registration is $25; after April 30, registration is $35. A limited number of canoes are available for rent for the race; call early to reserve one. Flater’s Resort is located an hour north of Eau Claire off I-94 in Holcombe. For more information,
call (715) 595-4771 or visit www.flatersresort.com.

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©2013 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News