Sunday, November 10, 2013

Couple win landmark battle to have 10 wind turbines taken down because they spoil the view from their dream home in France

A couple have won a landmark legal battle to have 10 wind turbines taken down because they spoil the view from their dream home in France.

In a judgement which could have widespread implication across Europe, including Britain, the husband and wife successfully argued that the 360ft high structures ruined their quality of life.

As well as agreeing that the turbines ‘spoiled the view’, judges noted the ‘groaning and whistling’ and ‘unsightliness of white and red flashing lights’.

Now the company responsible has to take them down, and pay large fines and legal expenses.

It is seen as a major victory for those campaigning against wind farms, and those who believe their spread is destroying both beloved countryside and cultural heritages.

Erik Wallecan, a retired vet, and his wife Ingrid bought the 18th Century Chateau de Flers in the Pas-de-Calais, in northern France, in 1996, after moving from nearby Belgium.

Their restoration of the house and its 42 acres became a labour of love, and they also turned adjoining buildings into a guesthouse.

But when, in 2007, the ten wind turbines went up, they were horrified to suddenly lose their ‘bucolic and rustic’ view.

They first spotted them on returning from a trip to Anvers, in Belgium, with Mr Wallecan telling Le Monde: ‘The first evening when we arrived in the chateau after their construction, there was a firework display and we wondered where these lights were coming from.  ‘We were not even aware that these projects existed.

'Three huge turbines are visible when gazing across the gardens from the bay windows in the chateau’s grand salon.  ‘Every day we have to suffer the visual and noise pollution. I can see the turbines from everywhere in the house, from every room.’

The Wallecans launched a civil action against La Compagnie du Vent (The Wind Company), a subsidiary of the energy giant GDF Suez, which runs the turbines.

Judges in Montpellier ruled that the structures blighted the countryside, causing the ‘total disfigurement of a bucolic and rustic landscape’.

The company was ordered to pay the Wallecans the equivalent of £31,500 in damages and to remove the wind farm within four months or face a fine of £450 per day per turbine.

La Compagnie du Vent said it would appeal the judgement, but Philippe Bodereau, the Wallecans’ lawyer said: ‘People are often too scared to take action and suffer in silence.

‘Today we are saying no - justice has been done and this shows all those who suffer wind farms with a sense of powerlessness that the fight is not vain, that one can have one’s life respected — one’s right to peace.’

In August, a French court banned a local council from erecting turbines near the Mont Saint Michel abbey in Normandy, after Unesco warned they could cost France’s most visited provincial tourist site its World Heritage status.

A plan to build a vast offshore wind farm within view of several Normandy D-Day beaches has also been condemned as ‘an insult to the memory of the thousands who died there’.


Fracking 'is safe... and it's coming soon' to Brits

Households “right across the South” should prepare for gas fracking to begin in their areas, a senior minister has warned.

Michael Fallon says that in the next few weeks, a study by the water industry will conclude that fracking will not contaminate the water supply.

He told The Telegraph that places such as Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex will become centres of the potential source of energy. The Conservative minister, who has posts at the business and energy departments, said Britain had the scope to emulate US states such as Texas in exploiting shale gas.

Mr Fallon also pledged to block wind farms, saying that only one in three sites is being approved following planning restrictions.

In other comments, he said energy bills would be “pegged back” when the Coalition cuts green levies on power next month, and that the Conservatives could fight the next election on a promise to reduce taxes for lower-paid workers by increasing the income tax threshold above £10,000.

Mr Fallon was this week named minister of the year by The Spectator magazine because of his successful management of the Royal Mail privatisation.

He will now focus on trying to win wider acceptance for fracking.

Fears about the process are “myths” and it could provide “the most exciting home-grown source of energy we’ve seen for years”, he said. Fracking is a method of extracting small pockets of gas trapped in rocks by pumping in pressurised water. Advocates say it could produce large amounts of cheap energy, but critics fear it will cause environmental damage.

Water UK, which represents water companies, expressed fears about fracking earlier in the year and began a study.

Mr Fallon said its report will conclude that fracking is largely safe, and will say there is no risk of contamination of water supplies. The report will be part of a drive by the Government to dispel fears about shale gas, which have led to protests against energy firms considering fracking — protests backed by some Tory MPs.

The water industry study follows research from Public Health England which said last month that fracking did not pose a serious medical risk.

“There are genuine concerns, but there are also myths and we are tackling them,” Mr Fallon said.

Shale gas exploration has so far been concentrated in the North, but Mr Fallon said the South could also be in line for fracking. Next year, the British Geological Survey will publish a map of the “southern basin” of England, identifying sites most likely to be rich in shale gas.

“It’s right across the South we’re talking about: Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, into Kent,” said Mr Fallon, the MP for Sevenoaks. Ministers have reduced the regulatory barriers to fracking, clearing the way for the industry to spread across the country, he said, adding: “There is shale in the Midlands too.”

Mr Fallon said he had discussed fracking recently with Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. He admitted that the state had little in common with the Home Counties, but said: “He was telling me about the number of new businesses that shale had brought to Texas — technology companies, energy companies, lots of new jobs.

“There are differences, but the potential is there and we should check it out.”


Electric cars guru sees shares in firm tumble by a fifth after three vehicles catch fire in five weeks

Nick Clegg’s new adviser on motoring has seen the value of his electric car firm slump by a fifth after three vehicles burst into flames.  Billionaire Elon Musk, who founded PayPal, was revealed by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday to be working with the government  on how to increase take up of electric cars.

But his company Tesla Motor Inc has suffered a string of bad headlines about Model S electric cars being destroyed by fires.

Mr Clegg said the government has enlisted the help of the electric car pioneer to advise ministers on how to reach a ‘tipping point’ for the take-up of green vehicles.

The involvement of Mr Musk, who runs the firm behind the Tesla electric sports car, came as Mr Clegg called for large fleet companies, taxi firms and public agencies to explain what more could be done by ministers to encourage them to change to ultra-low emission vehicles.

Setting out the details of Mr Musk's role, Mr Clegg said: ‘He brings unmatched expertise to the table. Among other issues, he'll consider how we can boost investment, massively increase the take up of electric vehicles across the country and promote the benefits of ultra-low emission vehicles more widely to drivers.’

However, in the last week shares in Tesla have tumbled on the back of three Model S electric cars catching light and poor trading figures.

A Tesla Model S electric car caught fire this week after hitting road debris on a Tennessee freeway, the third fire in a Model S in the past five weeks. Two previous fires have also been linked to accidents, Tesla insists.

The Model S has  a large battery pack under the passenger compartment, protected by a quarter-inch-thick metal shield.  Experts say that if debris punctures the shield and damages the battery, it can cause shorts and arcing that can touch off fires.

Yesterday shares fell by seven per cent, after falling by 14 per cent on Wednesday. The company has also posted weak financial results, after admitting selling fewer of the £60,000 cars than expected.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said: ‘For a company with a stock price based as much or more on image than financials, those recurring headlines are highly damaging.’

Mr Clegg had hoped Mr Musk's appointment would be the centrepiece of a speech attacking the Tories over their reluctance to commit to the green agenda.

But after news of the latest fire, a spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said: ‘We are not under any obligation to follow any of his recommendations.’

Mr Musk will not be paid to write his report on increasing the roll-out of charging points for electric cars, due to be published in the New Year.

The Government wants all new cars and vans purchased in the UK to be ‘effectively zero emission’ by 2040 and £400 million has been committed over the course of this Parliament to support the technology.


California Wind Farm Seeking First Permit to Kill Protected Golden Eagles

A wind farm in the Montezuma Hills region of Northern California is seeking a permit to legally kill up to five golden eagles over the next five years even though the raptors are currently protected under federal law and an international migratory bird treaty.

Noting that “the project contributes to California’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard goals,” the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has recommended a five-year permit with additional mitigation and monitoring efforts, including the purchase of “conservation credits in an approved mitigation bank.”

Due to the government shutdown last month, the public comment period on the permit has been extended to Nov. 12th.

If approved, the 3,500-acre Shiloh IV Wind Project in Solano County, which is owned by EDF Renewable Energy, would receive the nation’s first “eagle take permit” allowing the project’s 50 two-megawatt wind turbines to legally kill the birds of prey without penalty. An estimated 315 birds and 258 bats will be killed by each turbine per year, according to the project’s Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA). (See Shiloh DEA.pdf)

Earlier this year, a similar wind farm in Nevada faced a $200,000 fine for killing a single golden eagle without a take permit.

The Migratory Birds Treaty and the Bald & Golden Eagle Protection Act forbid the killing of even one of the estimated 527 golden eagles that live within 140 miles of the project area. “Wind facilities are believed to be one of the currently leading causes of mortality,” according to the DEA.

According to a new FWS study published in September in the Journal of Raptor Research, eagle deaths have spiked in recent years, with wind farms killing “at least 85 eagles” in 10 states between 1997 and 2012.

Seventy-nine of the  fatalities were golden eagles who inadvertently flew into spinning  turbine blades. One was electrocuted by a high-power line.

However, the study, which “excluded 17 eagle deaths for which there was ‘not enough evidence’,” warned that due to the lack of monitoring and voluntary reporting by wind-energy companies, that figure “substantially underestimates” total eagle mortality from wind turbines.

The DEA determined that nesting adult eagles and their offspring found within 10 miles of the wind farm “are at risk from project operations.” Although EDF replaced 230 of its 1980s –era wind turbines with 50 newer ones, FWS noted that the risk to eagles has actually “increased because of the larger size of the turbine blades.”

Golden eagles, one of the largest raptors in North America, are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because they tend to look down for prey while they are in flight.

A recent FWS estimate put the total population of golden eagles at 20,722. A 2009 analysis of the golden eagle populations in the Shiloh IV area found that it “might not be able to sustain any additional unmitigated mortality, and set the thresholds for this species at zero,”and any authorized killing must be offset by “compensatory mitigation” efforts.

EDF Renewable Energy, which has a number of wind, solar and biomass projects throughout the country, signed a purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to provide wind-powered electricity to the utility over the next 25 years. A mandate passed by the California legislature requires that 33 percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 allow a 2.3-cent per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for wind projects such as Shiloh IV. According to the DOE, the federal government spent $9.7 billion on 24,711 renewable energy projects, with 79 percent going to wind energy projects.


EPA Regulations: Browning out America’s future

In the modern world, where energy flows, commerce and prosperity follows. The economic and industrial greatness behind the United States is built on the back of an infrastructure that makes massive amounts of energy accessible and affordable. Coal is a indispensible pillar of that infrastructure.

Since becoming an economic powerhouse, the United States has consistently relied upon coal as an abundant, reliable source of energy. According to the Institute for Energy Research, coal-burning power plants make up 37 percent of all electric energy generation in the United States. There is enough naturally-resting coal in the United States to power the nation for over 500 years at current energy consumption rates. America’s coal resources more than double the amount of natural coal found in the world’s second-largest repository nation, Russia. Coal offers the U.S. a great strategic advantage in the international marketplace.

On January 17, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama held a press conference outlining his desires for the future of energy regulations. When questioned about his intended regulatory burden on the coal industry, Obama quipped, “if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it’s going to bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” He made it clear that his ideas for environmental preservation took precedent over economic growth and those who rely on inexpensive energy.

From the Oval Office Obama kept his promise, utilizing all of the executive regulatory resources at his disposal through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to apply as much pressure on coal-powered energy as possible. On September 20, 2013, the EPA issued a major rule restricting the amount of CO2 emissions allowed from new power plants.This regulation virtually removes the economic possibility for the future development of new coal plants in the U.S. Strict emission regulations on current plants remain to be formally announced by the EPA.

One hundred thirty-eight coal plants have already shut down since Obama took office, eliminating nearly 10 percent of coal-powered energy generating capacity. Two hundred seven more have announced closure over the next decade due to prohibitive EPA regulations. Before any further plant closures are announced and new regulations designed by the EPA, the United States will lose 32 percent of its coal-fired plants due directly to the EPA’s presidential task to decommission the coal industry.

Energy demand is growing in the United States. The U.S. Energy Information Administration anticipates energy demands increasing at a rate of about 1 percent per year until 2040. Energy sector expert Lawrence J. Makovich, PhD speculates even more dramatic growth in demand, as high as 1.7 percent annually. As the nation’s economy continues to recover from the 2009 recession, any economic advance must have a reliable energy foundation from which to develop.

President Obama has often pointed to wind and solar options to replace coal in the future. Conceding this very well may be the case in this distant future, neither option is viable to sustain the United States as an immediate replacement for coal. In 2012, wind and solar made up 3.6 percent of net electricity generation in the U.S.; less than a tenth of coal’s generating capacity. Further, none of this takes into account practical inconsistencies inherent within wind and solar energy sources: solar panels only absorb sunrays with the sun shines and wind turbines only spin when the wind blows. Coal plants are fundamentally reliable.

Economic growth necessitates energy reliability. If the economy ever begins growing faster than the anemic rates of the post-recession years, the nation’s power grid must maintain the capacity to support that growth and offer inexpensive energy. The policies of the President’s regulatory state and the EPA are undermining sustainable reliability in exchange for historically unreliable options and untraceable dreams of reversing global climate trends. These damaging policies toward coal are laying the groundwork for stunted economic growth and a dark, expensive energy future.


Australia: Utilities to share carbon cuts

THE bosses of two of Australia's biggest power companies have vowed to slash hundreds of dollars from family power bills the moment the carbon tax is removed.

Origin Energy's Frank Calabria last night told The Daily Telegraph: "To keep things simple, if the carbon price is removed as an input cost to energy bills, we will pass the benefit on to consumers."

At AGL, the nation's largest electricity provider, boss Michael Fraser said: "Once the repeal … legislation is effective, AGL would expect to apply this to bills accordingly.

"The savings on bills may be expected to vary by state and consumers should also be aware that any savings will depend on their individual circumstances."

But when contacted on whether they would make similar moves, NSW's other major energy providers Momentum Energy and EnergyAustralia did not comment.

The comments follow those of corporate watchdog chief Rod Sims, who described the carbon tax removal as "not a massively complicated process" and tipped prices to fall by as much as 9 per cent once the tax was repealed.

The Abbott government has said the repeal of the tax should lead to a 9 per cent fall in power bills and a 7 per cent fall in gas prices.

Over the past five years, the average household electricity bill has risen between 37 and 80 per cent.

Energy Supply Association chief executive Matthew Warren said the full carbon component of energy bills would be passed through.

"The impact of carbon on the energy supply chain is complex but it can be unravelled and the industry will continue to work with the Abbott government to deliver this," he said.

Recent NSW Audit Office figures have shown the state government's electricity companies boosted their combined profit to $1.54 billion in the year to June - up from $1.03 billion only a year earlier. The state government has sold the retail operations of NSW's main electricity companies, including EnergyAustralia, Integral and Country Energy.

The electricity companies' high profitability helped boost their overall contribution to the government's coffers to $2.2 billion from $1.82 billion a year earlier.

Mum-of-three Katie Davis said the tax had made day-to-day living close to unaffordable and she planned to spend the extra cash saved on power bills on minor luxuries such as family dinners out. "The power bill is up to about $1000 a quarter, it's ridiculous," she said. "When it comes in every time ... it seems like it's been going up and up and you wonder when it's going to stop."



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