Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Capital Power Tisch Mills Wind Farm Information

Since the Kewaunee Star-News printed the story about the Capital Power (capitalpower.com) hereinafter referred to as CP, I have received many emails and calls as to what the county might do in regard to this development.  There were additional questions concerning the impact on land values, impact on health, etc.  I will provide the best possible update here so everyone understands where Kewaunee County is at this moment regarding this development.  I apologize for the long read, but this is a convoluted story.

I want it understood from the beginning of this discussion that I am personally opposed to the construction of wind turbines for a lot of reasons primarily because they are an unreliable source of renewable energy.  When the wind blows you get results, otherwise nothing!  Even the power companies do not embrace this technology because they are required to provide a baseload of energy, and wind turbines do not provide a baseload.  These energy companies have had this rammed down their throat by Congress where the AWEA lobbyists have been working overtime.  So, if you are in love with wind turbines, you may not want to read the rest of this.  

This industry would not exist if it were not for both the Investment Credits and PTC (Production Tax Credits), of your tax dollars the industry is receiving.  The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) admits, it is unlikely there would be any growth in this sector if it weren’t for these subsidies.  Read more about that here -- https://cleantechnica.com/2015/10/23/us-wind-industry-installed-3600-mw-far-year-still-faces-policy-uncertainty/

To start, we might want to understand the history of wind turbines in Kewaunee County and the State in general.  The first wind turbines in the state of Wisconsin appeared in Lincoln Township in 1999.  Even back then these small turbines, 220 ft, compared to today’s turbines, 525 ft. caused a lot of controversy.  Shadow flicker, noise, TV interference, health issues, land values, etc., etc. caused neighbors problems and some decided to sell their properties and relocate.  In the end, two homes in that area were bulldozed after being purchased by the developer. 

After the wind turbines went online in Kewaunee County, the Lincoln Township Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on new turbine construction.  The purpose of the moratorium was to delay new construction of wind turbines for eighteen months, giving the township the opportunity to assess the impacts of the 22 turbines installed by Wisconsin Public Service Corporation (WPSC) and Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E), which went online in June, 1999.  You can read a recap of the concerns that prevailed at that time. Read the Excerpts from the Final Report of the Township of Lincoln Wind Turbine Moratorium Committee here.

Granted, this turbine farm was a first, and a lot needed to be learned by both the developers and the population affected by the installation of turbines.  A lot has been learned since the time that first installation occurred, but unfortunately, the wind developers and their strong lobbyists in Madison have the deck stacked in their favor while local government has very little to say.

On Oct 1, 2009, then Governor Doyle signed into law, Wisconsin Act 40 that created the framework to allow for limited and uniform regulation in regard to wind energy systems.  Through Act 40, the legislature directed the Public Service Commission (PSC) to promulgate rules that would specify maximum restrictions a municipality could impose on wind energy systems in the State of Wisconsin.

Subsequently, the PSC established a 15 person Wind Siting Council that ultimately devised the rules that were set forth in PSC 128.  The problem with that council is that 10 of the 15 member council had vested interest in wind development or were employed in the wind business.  Do you suppose there was a little bias in the ultimate rule development?

In December 2012, the PSC came out with their new ruling on the siting of wind turbines in the state of Wisconsin.  With this 12 page document ( PSC 128 PDF), the PSC took away all rights from the local government and transferred that power to the PSC which is comprised of three commissioners. Take the time to scan the PSC 128 PDF as it contains the rules as to how close a wind turbine can be to a home or property line.  I am sure for those folks who live in, and, or near this wind farm you will not be happy about it.

When you read the story in the Star-News, it sounded as though the majority of the CP Tisch Mills Wind Farm development would be in Manitowoc county.  That is true as more land is contracted in Manitowoc County than Kewaunee County.  But imagine, if you will, a corridor as follows: South City limits of Kewaunee, West on Highway 29 to Townhall Road, East to Highway 42 and South to the City limits of Two Rivers.  Those are kind-of the boundaries for this wind farm where the wind turbines will be sited.  In this corridor, there were 84 turbine siting locations.  I say were, because that is when Element Power, the original developer had already gone to the FAA and sited those turbines on the land they had leased, those leases now owned by CP.  Some time ago, I had gone on to the FAA site and pulled down all the GPS locations and plotted on a map.

I have spoken to both Matt Martin, a business development employee of CP based in Boston as well as a Mr. Barry Fladaboe, a field manager, who is employed by CP and is based in Minnesota about the Tisch Mills project.  Both confirmed CP will go forward with this development.  They are now looking at equipping this farm with 3.5 megawatt generators perched on top of towers that will give the entire turbine a combined height of 525 feet.  That would make these turbines nearly twice as high as the turbines we currently have in Lincoln Township and some 28 feet higher than the turbines in the Shirley Wind Farm located West of Denmark.

In the 2008/2009 time period, Element Power signed contracts with various landowners in West Kewaunee Township and Carlton Townships.  That land that is either on, or accessed through; Hospital Road, Krok Road, Angle Road, Hwy 42, Townline Road, Townhall Road, Woodside Road, Old Settlers, County Trunk G, Sandy Bay Road, Nuclear Road and County Trunk BB.  This land is under a 10 year contract and the landowners have received a check for $1,000 a year to keep these contracts in place.  These contracts cannot be cancelled and are quite ironclad, they are written all in favor of the developer.  I can only assume the people that signed these contracts had no idea what they were signing up for and/or received bad legal advice.

I am very familiar with these contracts as Element Power had come to me with a contract and wanted me to sign up.  Needless to say, I didn't sign, but I do have a copy of the contract.

So what options are open to Kewaunee County.  Not many.  Over and over again, two of the biggest impacts these turbines have on a community are; decreased land values and health issues.  For example, depending on how close a property is to a wind turbine, the value of that land will be diminished by up to 30%.  This has been proven over and over not only in the United States, but around the world.  To that point, Kewaunee County has issued a letter to the State Attorney General requesting an opinion as to whether or not our county could impose a PVG (Property Value Guarantee).

Why a PVG?  It has successfully been imposed in both Tennessee and North Carolina in the past.  Wind Farm developers continuously deny their turbines have any impact on land values. However, over and over again the overwhelming statistics support the claim of reduced property prices.  How would it work?  At the time a developer would begin developing, they would be required to have all land and homes within a certain distance of any wind turbine appraised.  That appraised value would be the base value of the land/home and if an owner decided to sell later, the wind developer would guarantee that original value plus or minus any increase or decrease due to market conditions.  A comparable home in a non-wind turbine area of the same value would be used to determine the sale price.  The wind developer would be required to put a large sum of money in an escrow fund controlled by a third party to ensure funds would be available at the time a home would be sold.

On the health side, in the Shirley wind farm, there have been three families that have vacated their homes and moved away from the wind farm because their health was impacted once the wind turbines were turned on.  The health problems have to do with the effect of the noise generated by wind turbines, specifically the infrasound that adversely affects people living in their vicinity.  People who are adversely affected cite sleep deprivation, severe headaches, increased blood pressure, equilibrium issues and increased level of stress as their symptoms.

The Brown County Health Department has had numerous hearings on the health of the folks living in and around the Shirley Wind Farm.  On December 15th, they will release their decision.  They could choose to do nothing, or they could shut down the Shirley Wind Farm as a result of the injuries this farm has caused the residents.  This will be a very important decision.  If the health board issues an order to shut down the wind farm, that would have an impact on any other developer who is thinking of building here, including CP.

If these wind generators are built, the townships affected and county would receive a utility tax of some type.  The problem once again though is loaded on the taxpayer's plate as they will bear the brunt of the negative issues of having turbines in their back yards.

As this issue moves forward, I will keep you informed as to any changes.  A friend of mine who is vehemently opposed to wind development and the taxpayer money being spent on this form of energy has had a number of T-shirts printed with this statement.  Somehow for me, it really sums it up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kewaunee County wells data, another way to look at it

As you may have followed, I have not been enthralled with the newspaper reporting of the status of our wells in Kewaunee County.  For example, we have read over and over “30% of the wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated.”  That is simply not true, and that myth needs to be corrected.  If 30% of the wells in our county were contaminated, we’d have a whopping 1,440 wells contaminated, when in fact, we have so far validated that 180 wells are contaminated and that translates to 3.79% of our county wells in the county with known contamination at this time.   Bit of a difference, isn’t it?  One would only hope that some of this data might be published.

I will also reiterate, I continue to believe we have a serious problem with both the surface and groundwater in the county and, I also will work with whomever to solve the problem.  This will not happen overnight though.  Although our goal should be to have 100% of our wells clean, I believe I can safely say, that no matter what this county does to correct the problem it will never achieve a 100% record.  Why?  Because there are too many sources of contaminates that can cause a well to go bad. 

In the following tables I have taken the cumulative percent of unsafe wells voluntarily tested by township for the period 2004 -2014.  This data has been amassed by Davina Bonness who is the Department Head of our Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation group.  That information in the following tables is highlighted in blue. 

Unfortunately, we do not have an accurate breakdown of the number or wells by each township.  We do however, have the rural address points, and by taking the number of rural address points and dividing it into the total number of wells in the county, we can closely estimate the number of wells in each township.  It is not perfect, but very close.  The reason it is not perfect is, some addresses have more than one operational well.  This data is highlighted in yellow on the tables.

When reviewing the data from this perspective, it reveals about 3.79% of the counties wells tested were found to be contaminated. This considers that we only have data on 13.05% of all county wells that have been tested.  It also clearly highlights that the vast majority of the problems are in the townships of Red River, Lincoln, Casco and Luxemburg where we have the Karst featured land.  These four townships represent 42.4% of the counties wells and 71.1% of the contaminated wells.

I happen to believe Agriculture can continue to grow and flourish in Kewaunee Co. but at the same time they will have to play a major role in contributing towards cleaning up our water problem.  This will take investment by all farms in the county because as I recall, all cows poo and pee, not just cows on the CAFOs.  Last December I presented a plan to the board on manure processing and how, with manure processing we could effectively reduce the amount of manure going to the fields by 70%.  Since that meeting I have been closely watching the advances being made in the manure treatment field. 

As you may recall, a company called Digested Organics was at that board meeting and answered some questions as to how their IMMS technology/system worked.  I had reviewed a number of systems and found them to have a fully integrated and modular manure treatment system that harvests energy and generates biogas, concentrates and captures nutrients for crops and reclaims clean water for farm use. 

Their first commercial installation of this system is being commissioned this month at Majestic Meadows dairy in Sheboygan Falls.  I have been keeping a very close eye on the results, and am extremely encouraged by what I am seeing so far.  It appears the performance metrics they were projecting are going to be achievable.  Simply stated, they are removing about 65% of the water from the manure and turning it into potable water for the cows to drink.  What does this mean?  A 2,000 cow dairy today produces about 9.8 M gallons of liquid manure when you consider the parlor water into that number.  By removing 65% of the water, 6.4 million gallons of that manure would be removed as reusable water for the animals or farm and would not have to go out on our roads in manure trucks or on the fields.  The remaining 35% would contain more concentrated amount of nutrients that is both separated and captured for more targeted delivery to the fields.


Another benefit is that all that water doesn’t have to be stored, therefore freeing up space in pits which would eliminate the emergency spreading situations we seem to find ourselves in almost every year.  Digested Organics is just one of the companies building and developing manure treatment facilities in Wisconsin. This technology is both commercially available and at our doorstep and it won’t be long before our farmers start having them constructed in Kewaunee. As I have said before, we need a proactive strategy that incorporates these kinds of treatment technologies to help improve our ground & surface water while continuing to support the important dairy industry and the hundreds of jobs that it employs.

I will continue to keep you apprised of developments as we advance our overall County strategy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It’s Budget Time at the County

We are in the midst of the budgeting process right now in the County and like every year, there are challenges and changes.  Emotions run high throughout the County organization as the budget sets the course the County will be pursuing.  And as emotions run high, sometimes issues are misinterpreted and misconstrued.  I would like to dispel one myth that is circulating, i.e., Kewaunee County is no longer going to fund KCEDC (Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation).  That is false.  Here is the history of KCEDC from the County Board minutes perspective.

First, KCEDC is a separate 501C organization that Kewaunee County does not control.  We are only a cash contributor to the organization.  They have their own board of directors and leadership.  Kewaunee County does not direct KCEDC, nor does KCEDC report to the County, but we do have a position on their board, currently is filled by Supervisor Gary Paape from Ahnapee Township. 

In 2004, the County passed a resolution that funded $50,000 to the KCEDC to get the organization started.  That initial funding was intended to be our total commitment.  No additional funding going forward, however, that is not what happened.  After the initial funding of $50K in 2004, the county continued to fund KCEDC.  Kewaunee County is the largest contributor to KCDEC and the balance of their operating budget is made up from donations from the municipalities and private corporations.

From 2005 through 2014, the County continued funding KCEDC at the rate of $40K per year.  For the budget year 2015, the County reduced the funding to $30K and for the 2016 fiscal year the County intends funding at $30K.  So all in, from 2004 through 2016 the County will have invested $510,000 into KCEDC.

So, the question is, why is the County reducing their spending on KCEDC?  Quite simply, in as much as the county will be taking direct control over the tourism marketing aspects for the county, KCEDC will be doing less work.  In the 2015 budget we took the $10K we had not provided to KCEDC and intended to spend that money on origination market advertising to drive business to Kewaunee County.  We asked KCEDC if they would place those ads and they chose not to do that.  KCEDC made it clear, that rather than focusing on tourism efforts, they would rather focus on the commercial aspects of the county which includes assisting existing businesses with their growth and working to retain businesses that are already operating. 

In the end, given our dismal financial projections, we did not spend that $10K and it remained in our general fund.  Now the KCEDC has submitted invoices to the county for a marketing study they chose to complete, a study the county never approved.  Going forward to 2016, the county will add a PIO/Tourism (Public Information Officer) person to our staff in order to focus on rebuilding our county image and pulling together our county tourism assets (see below for more details).

Why does our county image need repair?
Did you read the Star-News Saturday, October 3, 2015 issue?  If you did, you saw, one more time, the same negative coverage of our county (3 pages out of an 8 page section) that we have seen way too often.  Seems like every week we have the same reporter, reporting the same story about how CAFOs are fouling creeks, waterways and wells.

This continued negative coverage of our county is having an effect on all of us.  In that same Oct 3 article, an individual claimed they cannot sell their home because of its proximity to a CAFO.  Well, I received a call a few weeks ago from a real estate agent who lost two real estate sales as a result of the buyer having read the continuous barrage of these negative reports.  These negative stories not only negatively impact real estate values, but also have impact on visitation/tourism to our County’s restaurants, retail shops and other touristic venues.
Yes, the environmentalists have brought the issue to the forefront, no doubt about that.  Now we have to work to fix the problems without further damaging the community.  The esteemed Star-News reporter could have reported on the unprecedented cooperation Kewaunee County is getting from the DNR, DATCP, NRCS and USDA, but chose instead to continue to regurgitate the same story we have read over and over and over.  Is that really good reporting?   I believe it is not.  A news organization should be balanced in their reporting.  I’m not sure we are getting that from Gannett and Star-News.

Just Google “Kewaunee County” and, you will see that we are well-known for our polluted water.  These news stories are online, and are picked up across our state and beyond.  I recently attended a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin and no less than four other county board chairman approached me and said words to this effect: “I am sure glad I’m not in your shoes with all the bad publicity on your polluted water.”  

County Response on bad press
From the County’s perspective, we can do one of two things.  Continue to sit back and allow the image of our County to be further tarnished, or take a proactive approach in an attempt to change the tide of bad press.  We are encouraging our Board to do the latter by adding a person to the County Staff who will act as both PIO (Public Information Officer) and County Tourism Coordinator.

We have an opportunity to grow our tourism going forward, but it is not going to happen without a concentrated effort to pull all County tourism assets and activities together at some point.  Initially, the PIO/Tourism Coordinator will be charged with getting no less than two positive press releases out per week on Kewaunee County.  There are plenty of positive things going on in our county; they just aren’t being reported.

One other budget highlight
Our County now has 142 employees, down by 34 employees from 176 in April of 2013.  The reductions of employees came as a result of changes in the way the county is conducting business and through general restructuring.  For example, in Human Services, we were able to reduce our workforce by 7 employees as a result of a state regionalized Family Care initiative.  In the highway department we reduced the number of employees from 39 in 2013 to 27.5 in the 2016 budget.  This was achieved largely as a result of good resource management by our new Commissioner, Todd Every.  Additionally, we gained efficiencies in the administration and as several townships contracted with private companies for snow removal, we required fewer people.

We have, department by department, pushed for more efficiencies.  As a result of more focused management we are providing the same services with fewer employees. To that point, in our 2016 budget we have proposed a 1.5% one-time wage supplement for our employees.  We have asked a lot of our employees.  In 2013 and 2014 they had a 0% increase in salary.  In 2015 they received a 1% increase in salary.  But at the same time we have twice increased the employee cost of health insurance.  I am hopeful the full Board can get behind this initiative.