The holiday season is almost here. It’s nearly time for the 100 year old fruit cake to make it’s trip to the next victim of re-gifting. To use a joke I heard some time ago, there is suspicion that all the fruit cakes ever made were baked in 1913 and have just been passed around ever since.
That got me thinking about the Pinnacle wind plant in Mineral County WV and if, considering the suggestion made in recent news, the troubled local project might be well on it’s way to becoming one of industrial wind’s fruit cakes.
Granted, Pinnacle is only a couple of years old, but that’s kind of the point. In it’s early stage I thought US WindForce LLC, headed by folks who wanted to be our forever and best neighbors, would be with us … well … forever. It was only in testimony from the WV PSC approval hearings that I learned there was probably another party who would actually take over the actual building and operation of the project and that, contrary to my belief that USWFLLC were the “go to” folks, they were simply permit seekers.
While David Friend, leader of USWFLLC was confused during testimony about identity of the new entity, we later learned that it was Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International would take over responsibility to build and operate Pinnacle.
This seemed like a good outcome at the time because one of the cleary stated visions of the West Virginia Public Service Commission is to insure, as demanded in statement #5, “That consumers receive the best value in utility service from financially viable and technically competent companies.” The name Edison certainly seemed to satisfy the “financially viable” part and, after all, the list of names Mr. Friend bumbled his way through in his testimony all seemed to carry the name Edison.
As for the “technically competent” part, who better than the Edison name to insure the turbines to be placed among its neighbors would be tried and true. Edison certainly wouldn’t be the kind of company to plop down some 23 untested behemoths and run the risk that they would negatively impact the quality of life of nearby residents. Why, what would old Thomas Alva think?
All was right with the world, right? Well, except for two minor issues:
- Just weeks after the first blade spin, Mother Edison warned junior that it had better get it’s financial act together or ELSE. Sadly, even though US taxpayers sent a thank you card to Edison with some $44,000,000 inside, Edison Mission filed for bankruptcy.
- Simultaneously, with the beginning of the first blade spin, neighbors began complaining about the horrible noise and vibrations coming from the turbines which we’ve since learned … wait for it … were never used this close to homes before. Of course, the noise issue also steps on the toe of Vision Statement #4 – “An improvement in the standard of living and quality of life for the people of West Virginia.”
Allow me the opportunity to commend the WV PSC for their superb review of the project, which led to the approval to construct. Just kidding, of course. Except for Vision #6, which insures the utility an opportunity to turn a “fair” profit, they, in my opinion of course, pretty much ignored their own Mission and Vision Statement.
Actually, my opinion of the WV PSC’s role in Pinnacle approval is that the outcome was preordained and the hearing was simply a required formality.
Ridiculous, you say? During the initial noise complaints at turbine start up, PSC Staff noted “Pinnacle, nor the commission, expected noise levels of this magnitude. If noise levels are actually as high as the complainant alleges, Pinnacle is exceeding the noise levels inside a person’s home that the U.S. EPA believes is safe in the areas outside a person’s home,” the memorandum said. “Had the commission had this information before it when deciding whether to issue this certificate or not, the commission very well may have placed further conditions on this certificate to avoid exceeding the EPA’s noise guidelines for residential areas.”
Further, the PSC Staff memo argued that “It is ludicrous to argue that because the commission possibly had incorrect information before it when it made its decision, it cannot now review that decision. Therefore, staff believes Pinnacle’s argument that this issue is beyond commission review should be rejected.”
In spite of Staff recommendations, the WV PSC Commissioners decided that, because “the sitting order (which they generated) does not contain material terms and conditions related to noise or flicker and because the agency does not possess the statutory authority to address the issues raised by Braithwaite, (the initial citizen complaint),” they could do nothing to protect the citizens their Vision Statement directed them to do.
Why does all this wandering discussion matter? Well, back to the fruit cake.
Some 32 lawsuits have now been filed against Edison’s Pinnacle wind plant. The issues again center on the quality of life for residents surrounding the noisy turbines. As I mentioned in an earlier post, now bankrupt Edison Mission Energy appears to have found a buyer in NRG Energy.
At first thought, the purchase might bode well for the individuals seeking relief. NRG might add some financial stability to the floundering Edison Mission and perhaps NRG will take complaints seriously.
I thought that might work out well for the harmed neighbors of Pinnacle, and it still might. Unless, that is, the suggestion that NRG Energy may “sell 1.1GW of wind capacity among generation assets that it seeking to buy from bankrupt developer Edison Mission Energy to subsidiary NRG Yield,” becomes another way to hand off this “fruit cake” to another entity further distancing Pinnacle from it’s original owners. There’s no indication, that I can find, that the nomadic Pinnacle ownership will be part of this “sale,” but I do have to wonder, especially since Pinnacle is supported by long term agreements which appear to fit into the NRG Energy discussion.
Sure, it’s probably just a restructuring issue and hopefully, in the long run, will not complicate the ongoing lawsuits or, for that matter the outstanding agreements with the community. That’s for the lawyers and elected officials to sort out. But it seems, for an ignorant soul like me … all this name changing is not simply so the new guys can save on company stationary.
And frankly, to me, in the relatively short time Pinnacle has been around, it seems to have become the proverbial fruit cake, wondering where it will end up next. And worse, the cooks with the original Pinnacle fruit cake recipe closed up shop here and moved a little way down the road to run another “bakery.”
I just hope our neighbors, some of whom likely supported the project, are treated with the respect they deserve by whichever corporate entity finally accepts ownership of, and responsibility for, Pinnacle.
I also hope our neighbors down the road at Dan’s Mountain can learn from our experience and demand, and receive, a full accounting of the pros and cons of the project. They deserve a fair hearing before the Maryland Public Service Commission prior to any approval for the pending project is granted.
After all, as consumers and taxpayers, it’s their money.