Off the Grid ...

Reasoning Through a few Monhegan Wind Power Issues

Frederick W. Faller, Revision 1, June 15,2016

Introductory Thoughts ...

Let me say from the outset that while I am a landowner on Monhegan Island, our family cottage is not connected to the electrical grid on Monhegan island, so there is no direct economic benefit to me to have the Island connected, disconnected or benefited from the wind power project that may be installed off the southern end of the island.

In addition, it is important that my observations in this writing do not at all reflect the opinions of other members of my family. If after reading what I have to say, your desire is nothing short of wanting to gibbet me under the wharf winch superstructure, please do not inflict even the slightest such thought on my dear brothers or sister or their children - or mine.

As a sitting trustee of the Monhegan Associates and as a long time acquaintance of many persons on the Island, both summer and winter residents, I have been pointedly asked my thoughts about the Aqua Ventus power project. My views are are mine alone and in no way are they representative of the Monhegan Associates, or any other Monhegan residents.

Rather than shoot from the hip about my opinions, I have taken rather to carefully write out what I see are the issues and trying to be as objective as possible about them. This tactic is not so much to claim a position, but to provoke meaningful dialog with all parties. In the end, it is my opinion that the greatest threat posed by this Aqua Ventus Wind Project is not environmental or economic, but that if the debate compromises the civil society of the island, this would be the greatest of tragedies.

The Monhegan Energy Task Force (METF) has put a lot of work into keeping abreast of the issues and information related to the Aqua Ventus project and has posted many relevant documents relating to the project on their website. Throughout this document there are references to information found there.

A word on science: I am trained as a scientist and respect most of them. Even so, I find myself reacting to science that does not support my emotional feelings on issues. I am guessing this is true of all of us. I have discovered over the years that good science is much more reliable than my gut reaction and emotions. A lot of science has been done on this project. I have to keep reminding myself, that the science done here, although not perfect, probably yields a more reliable truth than my own sense or even my own experience.

On opposing oppinions: I am fully aware that there are those that have legitimate concerns or opposing opinions that I have not listed here from ignorance or oversight. I am willing to link well written and thoughtful contributions that embrace the spirit of meaningful dialog to this document.

Please be aware that this document is a “living document” and subject to change, addition or omission based on my learning more from feedback, argument, discussion or even flaming. If you wish to share with others what I have said here, simply give them the link. If you quote me without providing this link, the quote may be changed based on any number of issues presented to me.

The Law

On June 3,  2009, the state of Maine passed a public law, “An Act to facilitate Testing and Demonstration of Renewable Ocean Energy Technology” which basically allows for the application of individuals or corporations  to apply for permits to experiment with offshore wind as a renewable energy source.It spells out in all legal glory what needs to be done for an acceptance of such an appolication to the state.

There is a lot of details about drawings, site plans, studies that need to be done, continuing monitoring and reporting of effects on wildlife, fish, the environment in general, a navigation safety plan, a plan for reemoving the project when it is done and monitoring the effects of its removal and other things like this. It also limits the number of sites to six.

The Law is about 18 pages and should be reviewed for compliance. If anyone knows where the application is posted, we could find out if all this is actually accounted for. i would be glad to post it here.

Maine Aqua Vetus MAV) submitted such an application and many of the related details are being worked on at this time.

Off the Grid?

I recently heard that several scientists at some well known institution are now convinced that they could fabricate DNA structures and with some diligence, possibly be able to replicate and improve on the human genome. All ethical, political and economic considerations aside, it reminded me of a story I heard once about a similar man who was convinced he knew enough to create a human being. He stood up and shook his fist at God and boasted that he, too, could create a man from dirt.

“Alright”, God responded, “Let’s have a contest. We will each create a man from dirt”

The scientist stooped over and eagerly grabbed a fist full of soil.

“Not so fast”, God said with a smile. “You have to get your own dirt.”

While this tale has a comedic ring to it, we laugh because we basically understand that none of us is really independent in our quest for independence. We are all standing on fabric that is maintained by a vast interconnected network of humans striving for better ways to do things. We may place ourselves at the extremity of this network, but it is very difficult and unrealistic to presume we are not still part of that network. When one adopts the extreme, it is important to accept the fact that when hard times come, the extremities of such networks are often the first that suffer. When a man is freezing to death, his fingers, toes and nose are the first to be sacrificed in the effort not to freeze his brain and heart.

Monhegan can never really be “off the grid”. Before it became a summer destination, the entire island area was being used to sustain the community that lived there and it was big enough to do so. Times have changed. The value of Monhegan for many people is not an “off the grid” community but a place to relax and enjoy the grand beauty of its preserved wildlands and the small pedestrian village. It’s enough “off the grid” to be relaxing and much sought after by those of us whose lives are intimately dependent on the grid, but Monhegan is not and never can be truly off the grid the way it was in the 1850’s. Monhegan depends on the larger grid for food, for fuel for the boats, trucks, gasoline mowers, heat... we depend on spare parts for all the machinery, and lumber for the houses and shingles, door locks, paint - basically nothing is actually produced on Monhegan, except some food that is now being grown on the island and lobsters that are taken from the sea. Even the fish that is sold at the island market is now imported..

In addition, a large part of the economy of the island is dependent on money that is generated directly because of the mainland grid. In a recent survey, the average non-resident traveler to the island has an income of $132,000 annually. That money is flowing to the island as an overflow of the great American grid. When this grid shudders, places at its extremities often suffer the most. When the economy of the American grid is hit, money stops flowing to the extremities first and places like Monhegan suffer more than the core of the grid - that is the nature of grids.

All of us find ourselves in the love hate relationship with a grid on which we are more and more dependent and is more and more invasive to our desired lifestyle. This truth is not diminished very much by moving to the extremity of Monhegan.

The question is then raised - what should I do when there is a threatened shift in the larger grid that intimately affects my piece of it?

The Inevitability of Change

I remember as a child spending the month of August on Monhegan. I remember that there was no electricity for the island, only the isolated generators of year round residents and the store. I remember playing in the sawdust at the icehouse where they stored ice for the icebox in the house we rented and coming home in the evening and scrounging for matches to light kerosene lamps and occasionally a gas lamp. I vaguely remember the controversy that swarmed the island when the first public generators were implemented and the residents struggled with what to do about this modernization. With the addition of electricity came the increased demand for water for washing machines and such and I remember running out of water regularly up on Horn hill. All these changes came with costs and there were people on both sides of anything that changed.

I remember standing in line at the store with my parents waiting for the one phone on the island that was public so we could make a phone call. I remember the colossal struggle to bring the microwave tower and the infighting over the location (right beside the lighthouse or where it is now). Many people were hurt in the fray, some irreparably. The cost of improved communication with the outside world was and still is arguably one of the most invasive visual tragedies in the history of the island, far more so than the Aqua Ventus turbines threaten to be.

I remember the lobster wars that finally culminated in a decision that provided Monhegan with officially protected fishing waters, but also a limit on the number of traps they could deploy and the number of licenses. The cost of freedom and protection came at the economic sacrifice imposed by those limitations.

I am guessing that when the coast guard decided to put up Monhegan Light, there was controversy and frustration over the imposition of the light on the most prominent hill on the island. If you have seen pictures of the 8 ray kerosene light and what it did to the night sky on Monhegan, you can only imagine what people must have thought. But to think of removing the iconic Monhegan light now would be horrifying to many of us.

I remember the meeting at the school house about 5 years ago where a woman from the state of Maine stood and explained to the island residents and landowners that the illusion that Monhegan was exempt from overboard sewage dumping was exactly that. Once again the dreaded arm of the state was invading the privacy and freedom of the independent state of Monhegan, the idea of which is really an illusion in itself. The cost of all those septic tanks and purification systems has resulted in a harbor where we can swim without having to avoid floating sewage. Many of us are thankful, while sympathetic to the cost of the cleanup. What are we supposed to think?

Looking back, we would say that these changes are inevitable at some level. If we want to use i-phones and computers to talk to anyone anywhere and “google” answers to everything, then we have to support the grid that makes it possible.

So here we are. The world is changing rapidly and now looming on the horizon is the spectre of two six-hundred foot experimental wind turbines, 3 miles south of the island. If you want to know more about this before proceeding with this opinion, just google Aqua Ventus Offshore wind, and you will have more than you can possibly digest. How should we think about this change? Here is a link to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald and below  are several of my reflections on the controversy:

Not in My Backyard!

I have queried a number of persons associated with Monhegan about their feelings and there are so many things to consider that there is not a coherent image of what to think. One common thread that most persons ask is “Why does it have to be here?” I heard one person say “It will destroy a historic view”. Others are concerned about the noise, or possibly killing birds on their migratory flight south. Others echo the fear that it will affect tourism to the island and there is the very real fact that about 5% of Monhegan’s coveted fishing waters will come off limits to fishing because of restrictions of fishing near such structures. One Lobsterman explained that those waters are very good for lobstering because the temperature of the deep water attracts the lobsters during the lobster season on the island, which is restricted to about 6 months.

Why does it have to be here? Of course it does NOT have to be here. However, if you peruse a map of the coast of Maine and then understand that:

  1. The turbines have to be in Maine water. To put them outside the 3 mile state limit would require permits from the federal government. Given the gridlock in congress, the researchers decide to stay in state water. This only extends 3 miles from Maine’s coast, which includes Monhegan.

  1. Since the prevailing wind is from the southwest, blowing more or less parallel to the coast of Maine (the term down east comes from the idea that you are basically going downwind toward the east) it is easy to see that selecting a site that would best replicate far offshore conditions while remaining in state waters, one would naturally gravitate to the water south of Monhegan.

  1. Two other sites were considered, but this site was favored.

  1. No one wants these things in their backyard. Often, these kinds of projects end up in the backyards of towns and peoples that are less vocal or have less clout. Since the other sites were closer to the mainland, more opposition was mounted and Monhegan, being smaller, has not been able to make as much of a stink about it. Its very difficult to know if this is the real reason but it certainly is plausible.

However, we do have to back up a bit and accept our role in the expansion of the world wide grid. The gasoline and diesel fuel that power the island currently are refined in someone’s else’s back yard. The trucks, tractors, power mowers and boats are built in someone else’s back yard. Solar panels that are “green” when we put them on our houses were built in yet another person’s backyard, possibly in China or Indonesia where not only is it in their yard, but it’s an unbridled ecological disaster.

The request or the imposition to put two 600 foot turbines in Monhegan’s back yard can be seen in a couple different ways:

  1. It could be an oil rig or a fracking rig that they are requesting to meet the endlessly growing demand for diesel fuel and methane we use to power the island.

  1. It could be an attempt to find a way to power the island and other places with something that is clean and relatively graceful and unobtrusive compared to our current alternatives.

To make progress and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, these kinds of projects have to be in someone’s back yard. The benefit of having this kind of development take place, no matter where it ends up, is a step toward a fossil fuel free future. One can argue that allowing these turbines south of Monhegan is a sacrifice worth making for the sake of progress, regardless of whether the immediate benefit is to Monhegan directly.

I recently installed a solar array in my backyard - literally. While I could easily argue that it is an eyesore, most people who see it are impressed and thoughtful, almost envious, that I can afford to participate in the future of the energy solution. I did not do this ONLY because it saves me money. It will actually be seven years before I start saving money. Part of the reason I did this in my backyard because I believe in the future, and participation in a better future compels me to puts such a structure “in my backyard”. (see the picture, below)

What about the view?

One of the questions that we face is the issue of the “historic view from Lobster Cove”. For detailed images of what this might look like, Aqua Ventus did a number of visual simulations of what the turbines would look like from various points on the island.  This can be found through a link on the MTEF Website in the Visualizations section and is worth looking at. I have heard that there is a 3D simulation with spinning blades and all that, but I have not been able to find a link to it. If anyone knows where to find this, I will link it here.

If I step back a moment and think about this I come to several realizations:

  1. What makes this view historic other than that it has always been this way? It’s the same view that we see from anywhere on the east coast - lots of water extending to the horizon. While Monhegan is unique and special in many extraordinary ways, if we can be honest for a moment, the view of the ocean from Monhegan is rather unremarkable compared to lots of other ocean views in this world.

  1. I have been to Lobster Cove hundreds of times and looked out to see freighters, cruise ships, sailboats and sea going tugs dragging barges. If I had never seen them before and compared them visually to wind turbines, which would I consider to be more disruptive of the view - honestly?

  1. One may argue that “the turbines will never go away”. Typically, things that never go away are more quickly submerged out of our sight than things like freighters and cruise ships. They slip into our subconscious. There are buoys out in that same water that we never think about being there at all that are very visible if we stop to look for them.

  1. There are stretches of time where because of haze and fog and general weather conditions that these will not be able to be seen at all. My father wrote a book called “The Weather and Climate of Monhegan, 04852”, based on his knowledge as a research meteorologist and 10 years of data collected by Charlie MacDonald who lived on the island. Chapter 2 is about clouds, fog and visibility. By looking at the charts, it turns out that during the months of June - 57%, July - 61%, August -53%, and September - 43%, the months with most people on the island, about 50% of the time, wind turbines at 3 miles from the island could not be seen at all because of the fog and haze.

Note: after sharing with my father that I had quoted from his book, he immediately wanted to know what I had shared. I told him. He then proceeded to say rather emphatically that the visibility data quoted there was over a ten year period that Charlie was recording it, but the the patterns have changed and the visibility now is much better, and that data should not be applied to current situations. I will note that here and let the reader decide about this.

  1. The turbines will have lights on them which will surely be visible at night so that is a consideration, but how many of us spend many of the night hours at Lobster Cove or Gull Rock? How would these lights be any more intrusive than Portland Light or Matinicus light which can also be seen from Monhegan on clear nights?

I have a friend who works as a civilian in intelligence for the U.S. military. He gets to look at satellite imagery trying to determine if certain objects are man made or not - whether something is being hidden so it cannot be recognized as a military installation. The study of camouflage is a science and if it is done well, it can be very difficult to see what you are looking at. The visibility of offshore turbines is being contested the world over. Shouldn’t a study on how to make them less visible be part of the overall project? The  $160 million Aqua Ventus project could afford to look at possible ways to camouflage these turbines.I bet there are students at the University of Maine that would love to tackle this as a student project. They could be painted a color that would make them nearly invisible at the distance they are from the island against the sky. If some clever person were able to paint them properly, say “Horizon blue”,  could they disappear against the sky? This question should be asked of Aqua Ventus.

I raised this issue at the schoolhouse meeting on June 23; make the camouflaging of the turbines part of the overall research for the MAV project. The idea seemed to be novel and well received, certainly something to be looked at in the overall project goals. We will have to see whether this actually gets traction in the project or if there are legal and regulatory hurdles that are too deeply entrenched to allow exceptions for research.

The idea that they have to look this way because of regulation: Offshore wind turbines are a brand new idea. What regulation are we talking about? Why can’t we work to change this regulation as a part of this project?

That Dreadful noise ...

When Monhegan was considering installing a turbine up behind the ball field a few years back, a lot of noise was made about the noise wind turbines make. Articles were pulled about horror stories of people having nervous breakdowns over the noise of the turbines on Fox Island and other such places. These were very real, but again we have to be careful and thoughtful:

  1. The turbines on Fox Island had gear boxes in the towers. When the wind would shift the gears would lash and clank, making jarring and unnerving noise that was erratic and intolerable for nearby residents.

  1. The turbine proposed for Monhegan was a direct drive turbine with no gears. An identical turbine was installed in Everett, Mass. near a school along route 93 traveling south into Boston. I drove down to see what it sounded like. Standing under it I could barely hear it. The noise was completely drowned by the sounds from the cars on Route 93 - even while I was standing close enough to touch the protective fence around the tower. The noise from the highway is not unlike the noise of waves on the rocks at Monhegan.

  1. These turbines will be 3 miles away. Anytime there is wind enough to move the turbines, there will be wind enough to make waves on the rocks at the shore of Monhegan. I have been down to the end of the island many times and seen people talking on the rocks. Until you get very close they are impossible to hear. The noise made by these turbines will be less than a normal human voice. (see the numbers and chart below) Standing on the rocks at lobster cove, three miles from away from the turbines, they  will not be audible when they are making any noise at all.

  1. One of the questions that should be asked is whether these turbines are direct drive or geared. If they are geared, then it is likely that the gear lash and clanking will carry very well over the water and because it is a different sound than wind and waves, it may well be heard on the island. The METF website has a link under the Environmental Studies section about acousting modeling of the turbines and how it will be perceived on Monhegan. In the article it suggests that the deployed turbine will probably be a direct drive turbine, but a gear box drive is still a possible option. This should be pushed with those responsible for the technical design of the turbines.
  1. This was asked at the meeting at the school house on June 23 - it was confirmed by the Monhegan project lead fort MAV that the decision has been made to use direct drive turbines. This is a very good direction to reduce the noise from the turbines.

  1. The study mentioned above indicates that the sound pressure levels reaching Monhegan may be as high as 44 dB(A). This is the extreme high estimate, with some of the estimates being considerably lower. There are any number of comparison charts about how loud this really is. Simply google “decibel scale comparison” and you will have many ways to guess at exactly what this will mean. From the chart below, it is likely that these turbines will be quieter than the electric hum or your house.

  1. Believe it or not, there are a number of buoys around monhegan that make much more noise than these turbines will make - the bell buoy out by Western Duck, the groaner behind Manana and a bell buoy out off Gull rock - Is it unfair to mention the fog horn? No one seems to mind the random noises that these make in the ambiance of the Monhegan experience.

  1. Below is a chart of some common causes of noise in our ocean. It’s worthy of some reflection. Notice that the wind and waves on the shore of Monhegan dwarfs the sound of a whisper made 3 miles away. (The logarithmic Decibel scale means that every 10 decibels doubles the sound intensity. 85 dB seems to be about 16 times as loud as 44 dB)

What is the Deal?

One of the questions that I am still trying to understand is what is the actual deal that is being made to the benefit of Monhegan. Even if it did not benefit Monhegan directly, the long term benefit of reduced dependence on fossil fuels might be argument enough to move forward with this experiment.

But what is the deal? I have heard that the $160 million Turbine project was willing to spend close to $4 million to run a cable up to Monhegan. The cable would come ashore in the easement where the old power cable from the mainland ran that used to power the lighthouse. (Yes, there was a time when there actually was a cable supplying Monhegan with power for the lighthouse and telephone connections.) While this might be disruptive and ugly for a time, the island has had many such projects that have disrupted is bucolic sense for a time until the land is healed over them (septic systems and electrical cable trenches etc)

The best statement of the proposed deal is in the “Maine Aqua Venttus I Proposed Term Sheet” where the Local Benefits Obligations, paragraph 4 is titled “Monhegan Plantaion Benefits”. Basically:

  1. there would be some limits on how much power the plantation could recieve.
  1. The current number is 340 Megawatt hours per year escalating at 1% per year for the duration of the project (if one assumes a $0.20 per kilowatt-hour (typical mainland rates) this ends up being about 1.5 million dollars over 20 years)
  2. There is a clause where the details of this can be worked out between MAV and the Maine Public Utilities commission and the Monhegan Island Plantation Power District. It implies that alternative solutions to Monhegan’s involvement can be considered in this agreement.
  1. MAV will pay for all the installation of cable, connections etc
  2. There would be a fiber optic cable bundled into the under water cable
  1. details will have to be worked out as to how this connection is managed
  1. MAV would be required to work with “the district and the commission” to work out the details.

Given the cost of laying a sub-sea cable ($1 million/mile, for 3 miles plus connections and other infrastructure issues) and the cost of electricity that the project is willing to provide to Monhegan, the value of a cable installtion to the island is about $5.5 million. If no cable is installed, the cost is $0.00.

I have heard varying versions of the deal that Monhegan would receive at least one person thought that the cable would supply electricity to the island at the going CMP rates (Central Maine Power) The MAV proposal from 2013 (on the METF Website) indicates that the power from the cable might be free. This would be the case for 20 years. It would cut the utility costs significantly, possible as much as 75%. But there would still be costs: Monhegan would have to maintain the current power plant in the event of a mainland power failure. While grid failures on the mainland are relatively short, a failure of the undersea cable might take months to fix. Maintaining the current system would not be without additional cost on top of the cost of power from CMP.

Clarification from the discussion at the schoolhouse on June 23 indicates that the electricity would be free, but the distribution fees for maintaining the Monhegan power grid would still have to be paid for by rate payers on Monhegan. There is no firm number, but estimates of the new power rate for the island would land between $0.30 and $0.40 per Kwhr. there is still some question about the cost of power if the turbines are not producing, as to whether that would be free from CMP or if there would be a rate attached to that.

Another alternative would be to supply money to the island instead of  the cable. One idea I heard floated was taking the $4 million and dividing down over the 20 years of the project to $200k per year. That is a lot of electricity, but after 20 years, it would vanish.

How about if we push them to give us the $4 million up-front, to be invested and used only for solving Monhegan’s long term energy future. Invested at 5%, we would see $200k per year in perpetuity. This could be used to reduce the cost of electricity AND to invest in green energy directly related to moving the energy dependence of the island further off dependence on the grid (diesel and propane). It could be used to make Monhegan’s energy independence a showcase for islands and other isolated communities.

If they were to give Monhegan the real differential cost, as calculated above, this number should be more like $5.5 million.

One of the concerns is that the deal seems to be changing. Go to the METF website and look at the MAV Proposal, from 2013. This document has been redacted to remove the actual numbers that were originally put in the proposal, but you can see what what we being proposed at the time.  It is not clear at this time exactly where this stands.

These questions, an many others will be addressed in negotiations between MAV and the Monhegan Power District. In the two weeks at the end of June and beginning of July, a survey will be sent to as many persons as possible with interest in this issue (landowners, regular visitors to the island, residents, etc.) The survey will try to assess the wishes of the community with regards to whether they want a cable, money in lieu of cable, or possibly nothing to do with the project at all. The survey is not a vote. The survey will help the “registered voters” on Monhegan understand the temperment of the broader community on this issue. The decision about where Monhegan will go will be decided by vote at a Monhegan town meeting. This is by law.

It was stated in the meeting at the schoolhouse that the decision to cable or not would have to be made some time in the summer of 2016 because of schedule consideraton and design progress. All of the details about rates and where the electrons are flowing, and who owns and is responsible for the infrastructure at what points would have to be negotiated and confirmed to make that decision.

One question that came up was what the chances would be to relocate the project somewhere else in Maine. This would actually be a Maine legislative issue, in the end. The response was that it is possible, but very unlikely that the legislature would make such a change because it would impacts so much of the work already done on the project. (environmental studies, geological studies, wildlife studies, permitting, etc.) The Maine state legislature would most likely not reverse the current decision.

For more detail on my concerns about the deal, please read “What’s the Deal?” (June 29,2016)

The Birds, The Birds ...

Along with the inevitability of change in our world, so is the inevitability of having to deal with the death of other species of animals as a result of anthropogenic (man made) intrusion into the world. In the world of wind turbines, the most plausible and visible impact is on that of birds, and even turbine developers for those machines far out to sea must answer to the call for understanding this effect. The infamy of bird kills by turbines was heightened in the 1970s when large wind farms were just beginning to be developed in California, taking advantage of the huge offshore winds coming in from the Pacific ocean that sweep onto the California coast. The devastating effects of these farms on birds were not understood and one of these farms was located in a pass between mountains where the wind was particularly strong. It also happened that this pass was also inhabited by the large soaring California condor. The combined effect of the concentration of the wind turbines and the condors produced an unfortunately exaggerated effect on the condors compared to the reality of bird kills by turbines in general. As often happens in the media, such stories get embedded in the social consciousness and projected forward irreparably, often unfairly representing reality in the society.

I do not mean to minimize the necessity of looking at bird kills because of wind turbines, but we do need to look carefully at the data and be realistic about its implications. Each site needs to be considered for its own merits and Monhegan is no exception. Monhegan is a bird sanctuary, partly because of the unique preservation of the island lands in the hands of the Monhegan Associates. Birders come from all over the world to observe the variety of birds that pass over and through Monhegan airspace and rest there along that journey. Monhegan is on a migratory route to southern climes and is unique in that way also.

The Audubon Society, one of the strongest voices in bird advocacy, has prompted a number of studies over the years related to bird kills by turbines. Several years back I attended a talk by an Audubon rep who was asked to come to Monhegan and address this issue as it related to the consideration of a wind turbine behind the Monhegan ball field. Unfortunately I do not have his slides, but I was struck by several things that I remember clearly:

  1. While Monhegan is on a migratory flyway, the average flying height of migratory fowl is close to 1500 feet, far above the height of the proposed turbine that would approach 600 feet when mounted on top of Monhegan.

  1. Not only was the average at this height, but the huge dominance of this height made it clear that only a small percentage of birds would fly at a height impacted by the wind turbine.

  1. Birds do come down from their flight south to rest on Monhegan so the flying height is altered for some birds as they pass over the island. That is what makes the island so rich for birders.

  1. The last slide in the presentation showed the number of bird kills by man made structures. The number of birds killed by turbines is dwarfed by the number killed by domestic cats, plate glass windows and cell phone towers. At the end of the talk, the speaker presented the number that the estimated bird kills by a turbine on lighthouse kill would be about 2 birds a year.

  1. His explanation is that smaller birds (not the large soaring birds like the California condor) are rather smart and nimble and are actually rather good at avoiding wind turbines.

While one might argue that that two birds a year is two too many, we should be a bit circumspect as we cry foul for the birds as we are building our house with our scenic view of the ocean through magnificent glass windows (a house that  is safe for our cat) and then demand that our cell provider do something about the lousy coverage on Monhegan.

Even though I do not have the exact slides from this man’s presentation it is not hard to find similar data on the internet. Here are a few references worth perusing. There was brief article in USA Today summarising similar results and pointing to the original studies that also say that the threat of climate change on many species of birds is far greater than the threat of wind turbines that are actually part of the solution to climate change.

The Sibley Guide (bird guide) site elaborates on this issue adding automobiles to the list of culprits for bird kills and has a very nice chart showing the relative anthropogenic effect on bird populations. While we do not have cars on Monhegan moving at speeds that would kill birds, most of us get to the island this way. Sibley also adds oil spills, electrocutions, pesticides and hunting to the list of things that further dwarf the kills from wind turbines.

If you are interested in a more scholarly look at the issue, you should read “A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions” This is heavy duty science but it is best summarized in this clip toward the end of the article (below). The section on wind turbines (Pages 1034-1036) indicate that the largest percentage of kills from turbines are soaring birds - the raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons) While there are such birds on and around Monhegan, it is unlikely that they will be preying 3 miles out from land to the south.

An actual study of the birds that visit the specific site of these turbines can be found at the METF Website in Environmental Studies section.  There is an Executive Summary on page 1 (actually the sixth page of the document) that does a good job of summarizing many details that are looked at in the study. You should read this one page at least to see what the survey found. The study also includes the impact on other species in the Ocean. There is also a Benthic Study, looking at the effect on species on the seafloor under where the turbines would be.

There are those who insist that all these numbers don’t reflect reality. It’s important to listen to all voices, so lest I seem too much on the side of science, I will say that it is not too hard to find those arguing the other side. Here are some examples of detractors for the MAV project concerning birds. Derek Lovitch is a birder who does birding tours to Monhegan and he has a pointedly different point of view that can be found on his “Maine Birding Field Notes” blog or another link to the American Bird Conservancy on the siting of wind energy turbines.  Each of these sites has more links to more science and more numbers.

Lovich does highlight the issue that structures with lights on them, particularly red lights, out in the ocean, attract a larger number of birds to be injured by the turbine. This is plausible and may be true but his comments do not refer to any scientific study of this issue. The turbines slated for the Aqua Ventus offshore project will have red lights on them, but it is unclear that this is a significant contributor to the bird kill threat from these turbines. He also claims that the kill count is low because it tis based on carcass counting and this is unreliable for getting actual numbers because of scavanging by other animals, etc. If this is true for turbines, it is likely also true for all other anthropogenic bird kill sources.

Perhaps Aqua Ventus should propose to supply the turbines with less “bird-attracting” lighting. Since this project is, on the whole, a “research project”, why not include research of the best lighting to minimize bird kills?

This issue was raised at the meeting on June 23 with the research team. The experts on the bird issues are very aware of this and several proposals for different colored lights, minimized lighting,or lighting that turns on by radar when ships or aircraft are approaching are already under consideration. It was encouraging to see that the team takes this issue rather seriously but realizes that it does not have well documented evidence to make definitive statements about the effect on birds. They have drawn from many studies, particularly in European waters, where similar bird species live around the large windfarms. When pressed about numbers or even “big/small problem” statements, they were unwilling to commit because of lack of firm data.

There are numerous decisions that seem to be driven by current standards for things on the water from the coast guard and the FAA that drove some of the decision about lighting and colors. I pressed the team to consider that since this is a “research project”, part of the research is whether age old standards for things on the water should not be revisited for offshore turbines, such as color, lighting, etc. The team seemed open to pursuing these things alternativelyt as part of the research and possibly making requests for exception for wind turbines in the name of science.

By law, MAV is required to do environmental impact studies on any proposed offshore wind turbine sites. Such a study was done on this site, but the study for the department of energy, called “Finding of no significant impact for the University of Maine’s deepwater offshore floating wind turbine testing and demonstration project, gulf of Maine”. Unfortunately this study was done assuming that the turbines would be 1/3 scale, or only 144 feet high, not the 575 feet projected for the actual turbines they now want to put there. If MAV is going to put the full height turbines at the site, the this study should be done over. The study only assumed that they would be placed there over two seasons in two different years, not 20 years of continuous presence.

While many of the factors identified in the study will not change as a result of the full scale turbines, some of them will, particularly those related to the effect on flying birds and bats. On page 5 of the study, the section on Avian and  Bat Resources, it shows that 95% of the flying birds are flying above 246 feet claiming that this would not be affected by turbines that are only 144 feet tall. This changes dramatically when the turbines triple in size.

Certainly, MAV, at a minimum, should be require to revisit this study.

It was confirmed at the June 23 meeting a the Schoolhouse by Damian Brady from the University of Maine that a new “Fonsi” (“finding of no significant impact”) will be done for the new turbine configuration and placement.

For other links to documents related to this study, please visit the Department of Energy site related to this

Again I want to emphasize that the low statistics about bird kills from turbines does not mean that we should not be concerned for the birds that may be killed as a result of our intrusion, but we do need some circumspection about the relative effects of so many other human activities that each of us participate in daily that have far greater effects. Our windows, our communications towers, our pets, our cars, our airplanes - all of which we feel are essential to our modern existence - seem to be far more serious threats to our feathered friends.

All those tourists ...

A significant portion of the Monhegan economy is dependent on tourism. It’s another love hate relationship but it is real. I grew up in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the main human migratory route to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. I remember walking with my dad down to the boats to “watch the tourists” go to Nantucket. Woods Hole had that same love hate relationship with its tourists. They brought money but we were glad to see them go in the fall and reclaim the quiet life at the end of September.

This is clearly true on Monhegan and should not be surprising. While growing up, we would leave Cape Cod and flee to Monhegan. We thus became the very thing we were fleeing. It’s taken me many years to overcome the desire NOT to be a tourist and accept the fact that I am just a “summer person” when I go to the island. People who live on Monhegan flee to become tourists someplace else when they leave the island.  

And all those tourists bring lots of money! Please read the study on the potential impact on the placement of turbines in Monhegan waters on tourism. (this is also cited at the METF Website under the Tourism Impact Study section) It was produced by the School of Economics from the University of Maine based on repeated surveys of visitors to Monhegan in the summer of 2014. It gives us wonderful insights into what the island tourists really want when they come to the island. You should read the study yourself in case I have overstated or misstated something, but in the end, these tourists, whether day trippers or multi-day visitors, bring lots of money onto the island. The concern for the placement of the turbines in Monhegan waters and how it would affect these persons’ decisions to visit the island is summarized on page 10 of the study. It might be simplistic to say that tourists were largely ambivalent, indicating the the presence or absence of the turbines would have little effect on their decision to come to Monhegan. About 1% felt strong enough that they would avoid the island altogether if the turbines were placed. Of course it’s hard to know what people will really do. There are also those who would be attracted to the island because of the presence of the turbines. My guess, when I get past the emotion is that the addition of turbines to the Monhegan waters will have no noticeable effect on tourism and the money it brings to the economy of Monhegan

As for those of us who own property on the island: while I may prefer no turbine in my backyard (south of the island) would I abandon my stake in the island over this issue? Hardly. I could learn to live with this imposition as I have many other more intrusive changes in the 60 years of my lifeI have been coming to Monhegan. And even if I did sell the property of this issue, it would be snapped up by someone, probably more wealthy than I who will be glad to assume the economic burden of contributing to the Monhegan economy. It’s hard to imagine that the addition of the turbines will affect land values and the ever expanding tourist and summer person economy for the island.

During the months of May, September and October, Monhegan is host to many bird watchers - even large groups of them, who come to see the dazzling array of birds in the Monhegan sanctuary. Many of them have expressed concern about the arrival of the turbines. I do not want to minimize their concern, but we have to be careful that we weigh appropriately their singular love for birds and the focus of they bring to this issue being heavily slanted toward this one aspect of the project. Unfortunately, the study quoted above did not happen during the time when the birders were available to express their opinion. It is unknown how this would have affected the survey. It remains to be seen if those who have been quoted that the turbines would make a “no-go” call on Monhegan if they are installed, would actually do that. It would be interesting to know if any of those persons stopped recommending Monhegan as a birders paradise when the microwave tower was built by the ball field.

Lobster and other fishy things

What about the fishery? How will the wind turbines affect the Monhegan lobstering and fishing?

There was a time, and I actually remember it, when my brothers and I could catch half a barrel of fish from our old banks dory in a morning - using hand lines! Whatever the cause and whoever is to blame, it ain’t so anymore. I was never much of a fisherman, but from my observation, the fishing is all but gone from Monhegan. Lobstering persists but even the number of active licenses on Monhegan is way down. Someone told me that the number has fallen to eight. Eight, ten, twelve - whatever the number, is, represents a dwindling part of the Monhegan economy. The lobstering season is restricted to 6 months and the licenses are restricted in the number of traps so this further diminishes the potential contribution to the island economy.

Monhegan enjoys a three mile protected lobstering buffer around the island. Given that the island is about 1.5 miles long and it’s about a mile from Whitehead to the back side of Manana, a rough estimate of the fishable ocean belonging uniquely to the Monhegan lobstering community is about 36 square miles. Because fishing is restricted around ocean structures like wind turbines, about 2.1 miles of this ocean will be lost to the lobstermen on the island. This is about 5.4%. As stated before, the location of the project is deep water and valuable to those who lobster and will impact the fishery. If we step back from the emotion generated by the invasion of the fishing ground, there are several things that need to be considered:

With a limited number of traps, a lobsterman cannot fish all 36 miles of available area. Traps that might have been slated for this area will have to be placed somewhere else in the available space. I remember reading somewhere that for a person to continually heat a home with wood, he needs about 10 acres of land to do this sustainably. If I own 36 acres of woodland and someone says to me that two of them can no longer be logged for firewood because they are on wetlands or some other reason, I will at first be offended that I am being denied access to MY land, but if I sit back and think: does it really affect the economy of heating my house?

Does this justify the taking of the water around the turbines? No, not at all, but if the sea in that area IS taken for this project, will it of necessity impact the lobstering economy? Are there alternatives? Suppose the state were to open up other areas of the ocean protected for the Monhegan lobstermen in return for the area that is taken for this project? Suppose that area were greater than the area that is taken, would we be satisfied and would that affect the economy of lobstering on the island?

Follow the Money

One of the concerns in projects like this is “what is the real motive behind this project”? Clearly, money is one of them. Money is behind many of our own motives. But where is the money coming from, where is it going? Who will benefit? Is there some sort of conspiracy to yet again step on the downtrodden for the sake of corporate greed?

While it is clear that there are many wealthy, ambitious and greedy individuals pushing their agendas through the halls of corporate america (who really needs more than a million dollars a year to live? Who even needs half that, really?) it is not clear that this is the case in the Aqua Ventus Project. Yes, Central Maine Power (CMP) is a huge corporation, but they do keep the lights lit for most of the people in Maine and they do so at a rate that is almost a quarter of what it costs to provide similar power on Monhegan. Largely, this is possible because of the economy of scale and location. Offering to extend this service to Monhegan as part of the Aqua Ventus project does not really seem like an evil plot. One could argue that it is a generous offer, considering that they could do this project without such an offer.

The Aqua Ventus Project is a project about creating power by capturing the renewable resource of the wind. It will be hugely expensive and will require an alliance with someone who can use the energy it produces. This alliance is necessary to prove that offshore wind can actually work and also to help pay to prove it can work. CMP and the rest of the world already knows that coal and oil fired generation plants do work and that if we want to keep burning fossils, they provide a proven system for doing so.

CMP has the option to just say no to Aqua Ventus and keep smogging its way into the future. If CMP did say “no”, Aqua Ventus will find someone else. Who knows who that might be. Surely it will be some corporation of similar size and interest in offshore wind, but one that may be much less interested in giving Monhegan anything at all.

So what is their interest in this project? This question should be asked, but part of the answer is government regulation. I know in Massachusetts, the power companies are mandated to get 7% of their power from green sources. This number is rising. I believe the goal for Massachusetts is to be 20% green by 2024. While this is ambitious, the power providers are being forced to be interested in green energy. Coercion is not always the best motive, but it does help explain the interest of corporations like CMP beyond simple greed and power grabbing. The world is moving slowly toward a green future. I cannot fault corporations like CMP for wisely wanting to be part of that movement.

The fact that they are interested does not make them evil. This is their business after all - supplying power to those of us who need it. Their interest in the project is not the problem. Perhaps their attitude or implementation is, or the manner and sensitivity with which they have handled the project and communicated to the one community that will be most affected by it.

Manners

Manners are important - even in 2016. My estimation is that they always will be important. Its also important to understand and keep in mind that we all fail at manners at some point, even with the best of intentions. We fail at manners more often when we do not know the other person well. The extent to which we show grace when manners fail is also a matter of manners.

It appears that the manner in which this program has been communicated to the Monhegan community could have been better. This does not mean that the intent was malevolent or the failure in the approach was intentional. I cannot control the manners of others, but I can work at assuming the best. If I were in the role of the scientist, engineer, administrator or grant writer for this project I would probably be very enthusiastic about it. Its an exciting project in reality. The kind of energy I would inject into the planning and desire to see the project done could easily overlook the feelings or detailed situations of those affected by it. I could easily project my enthusiasm onto those persons and make decisions that do not take them into account fully. In fact, it is most likely impossible for such people to be objective about Monhegan’s desires or needs. This misunderstanding or mis-estimation of the situation is not malevolence. I do not believe that it is deliberate either.

So I have found that I have to weigh the failure of others’ manners very thoughtfully, or I perpetuate the failure. I have found that a good strategy is to back up, take some time and reflect and try to take personality out of it, and look as objectively as possible. Give others the benefit of the doubt in their pursuits and engage them in meaningful dialog.

That is part of the intent in writing out my thoughts. As I write I become more objective. As I re-read what I have written to edit it, I become even more objective and thoughtful about how my words will affect my readers.

I would encourage all my readers to back up a couple steps and let the skin under your collar cool a bit. If you think I have misunderstood or misrepresented something, let me know. This living document can be changed and will be changed based on rational discussion. I will resist responding to bad manners or irrational arguments. I love healthy dialog and am willing to be persuaded by it.

Unintended consequences ....

I had the great privilege of studying earth sciences in college. I focused on Meteorology, as my father did, although I did not pursue this study beyond my undergraduate years. In the time I spent at college, my advisor was an oceanographer who was doing large scale studies of the water flow in the New England area. I was engaged in a long term project to study where the water was coming from and where it was going in the mid-Atlantic bight (south of Long Island) up to and including Georges Banks, east of Cape Cod. The purpose of the study was to try to understand what would happen if there were an oil spill on Georges Banks, because at that time, there was talk by the oil companies of putting exploratory drilling rigs on the banks.

In the summer of 1976 I was asked to go on one of the oceanographic cruises collecting data and retrieving deep water buoys we had deployed months before. In the course of the three weeks at sea we sailed up along the continental shelf, ending up on George Banks. I remember standing on the deck at night, miles away from land and seeing the Russian and Japanese factory ships raping the banks with half mile wide top to bottom drag nets. The were taking everything that moved, throwing back what they did not want (usually dead) and processing and canning the fish right on the boat to be taken back to the motherlands. These boats were like floating cities, lighting up the sky as they worked 24/7 on autopilot across the banks. It was deeply disturbing and amazing at the same time.

The environmentalists successfully blocked the placement of oil rigs on the banks. Meanwhile, the factory ships swept them clean and annihilated one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, damaging the New England fishery permanently. The scientist I worked for finally published his research, basically observing that an oil spill on the banks, while serious for the banks would all be swept out into the deep Atlantic to nodularize and sink to the bottom. Cape Cod would never see the oil. Newfoundland would never see the oil. Fishing boats might see the oil if they were in the right place at the right time.

Now here is the rub: If the oil companies had been allowed to put a rig or two on the banks it would have kept the factory ships from operating there. No one is allowed to fish within a mile of one of these rigs. Smaller New England fishermen could still have operated around the rigs. The rigs would have provided undisturbed spawning grounds for the banks and protected the fishery that the factory ships destroyed. It is not clear that they would have ever found oil there.

But it does give me pause to reflect on whether a rig or two may have been the actual salvation of the entire industry, which was the original objective of the war against the rigs in the first place. I was not in favor of the rigs, but as in many situations, hindsight gives us a different perspective. The unintended consequences or our protective reactions are not always the actual best solution.

Are the proposed wind turbines my friends or my enemies? I need to be very thoughtful about all  aspects of this project before I act too quickly on my impulses and emotions.

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Link to this site

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MIbTv0F0mqq8e7a3ArmmerpxHQaKsuJaVVCdbXZNvwY/pub