Tag Archives: Wolfe Island

MPAC and Wolfe Island, again

INTRO

Several months ago Stewart Fast, a new professor at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, undertook a study of why southern Ontario was such a hotbed of anti wind energy sentiments.  His conclusions were interesting, and I’ll be having more to say about them in a future posting.  As part of his study he looked at property values and in particular he looked at MPAC (the Ontario real estate assessors), Wolfe Island and the property assessment reductions thereon.

As it happens, I had also looked at MPAC and Wolfe Island and posted on it about 18 months ago.   It seems that Fast and I used the same FOIA-obtained spreadsheet.  My main conclusion was that there seemed to be a large number of large reductions on Wolfe Island, but there wasn’t enough of a pattern to convincingly tie the reductions to the 86 wind turbines on Wolfe’s west end.

I’ve also posted on MPAC and property assessments in a 4-part series.  My main conclusion, contained in part 1’s section, was that MPAC seemed to be hiding the reductions by lowering the values in neighborhoods that just coincidentally happened to be around wind turbines, but not formally incorporating distance to a wind turbine into their regressions.

What Dr. Fast’s work added to mine was that (1) he was able to group MPAC’s reductions on Wolfe Island by their distance to the nearest wind turbine, and (2) he reminded me of how to use chi-square to test the differences between the bands for statistical significance.  The quick summary is that MPAC has been providing reductions to properties close to wind turbines significantly more often that those further away.  And I’m not using the word “significantly” in some fuzzy qualitative manner – I mean “significantly” in the hard statistical quantitative manner.  In other words, the odds of the getting a wind-turbine-centered pattern just randomly are vanishingly small.  Wolfe Island provides a good hard-to-refute example of how MPAC is finessing the numbers to deny the obvious.

THE DATA

The raw data (i.e. the spreadsheet) is quite detailed, so to save space here’s the summary of it.  There are 4 major areas in the municipality of Frontenac Islands:  Wolfe West (where the turbines are), Wolfe East, Howe Island and Simcoe Island.  The number of properties and total reductions are in the following table.

fi-data-base

As both Fast and I have written, these numbers aren’t really indicative of anything having to do with wind turbine proximity. About the only thing that stands out is that Simcoe Island had a far higher rate than the other areas, which was at least partially due to reasons other than wind turbines.

The next step was what Fast added: he was able to use GIS software to group the reductions into buffers based on the distance to the nearest wind turbine.  He had 5 buffers: < 1km, 1 – 2 km, 2 – 5 km, 5 – 10 km and > 10 km.  He used chi-square to see if there were significant differences between the buffers and found that the 1 – 2 km and 2 – 5 km buffers were significantly more likely to have reductions than the other buffers.  As he said, this may be suggestive but is not quite conclusive.

Dr. Fast graciously provided me the data that went into his buffers and I re-ran his chi-square calculations to make sure I could replicate his results.  Initially I thought the non-significance of the < 1 km buffer (you’d expect the buffer closest to the turbines to show the most significant effect) was due to the income-producing nature of any land close to a wind turbine, plus the setback that rendered about 25% of that buffer unoccupied.  While those could be important, I also noticed that by chance there were a lot of reductions just outside of the 1 km border.  As an example I show the following picture of the reductions around Wolfe’s main city, Marysville:

wi-reductions-wegmap-st-marys

The 1 km buffer ends about where Highway 95 T’s: to the left is inside that buffer while to the right is in the 1 – 2 km buffer.  Since all the buffer borders are fairly arbitrary anyway, I decided to proceed with 4 buffers, with my results below.

fi-data-buffers

As the buffers get closer to the wind turbines you can see that the ratios of reductions to properties generally gets higher.  The chi-square is a test to see if these ratios could simply be due to chance.  The “Chi-2 p” column provides the p (probability) that this buffer varies from the total Frontenac Islands ratio by random chance.  The two buffers closest to the wind turbines have less than a 1% chance of having values that high by chance, while the buffer farthest from the wind turbines has a much less than 1% chance of having a ratio that low by chance.  Note that BOTH close-in and far-away reductions are significantly different from the mean, and in directions that are BOTH consistent with the hypothesis that wind turbines are associated with property assessment reductions.

DISCUSSION

In my earlier posting on the MPAC 2012 study I predicted that they would lower assessments close to wind turbines while never explicitly recognizing wind turbines as the cause.  I offered up Wolfe Island as an example of how this might proceed.  Thanks to Dr. Fast and a fair amount of serendipity we now have a solid indication that MPAC is proceeding as predicted.  While some aberrations in assessments and reductions would be expected (some chi-squares show significance where none really exists), the pattern shown above is just too consistent to be cast aside as coincidental or anecdotal.  We proposed a hypothesis that there would be more reductions closer to the wind turbines and the data clearly support that hypothesis.

Dr. Fast does have a point that this is indirect evidence of lower values.  After all, we don’t have the municipality’s “bufferized” assessed values, not to mention bufferized sales data.  In the 2012 study, MPAC did provide bufferized assessments for the entire province and they show a 25% decrease within 5 km of the turbines, a result that somehow got lost in their summary.  As for actual sales, there have been so few, especially on Wolfe’s west end, that any sort of statistically-valid testing would be difficult.  In the meantime, reductions will have to serve.  That MPAC seems to be going out of its way to hide this trend indicates that MPAC is being used to implement a political agenda – a problem greater than just wind turbine assessments.

Overall, some 22% of the properties in the Frontenac Islands were granted reductions by MPAC.  I’d love to know if that is typical – it would be interesting to study the assessments and reductions in the municipalities with and without wind turbine projects.  Unfortunately, as even Dr. Fast commented, MPAC has made getting their data just about impossible.

In his report Fast says that the evidence of reductions due to wind turbine proximity is “suggestive but not conclusive”.  Given the numbers above you are of course free to come to your own conclusion, but to me they are more than “suggestive”.  Perhaps there are confounding effects from the 2008 melt-down and following economic malaise, but I’d think they would affect the area as a whole.  If it isn’t the wind turbines that produce this rather clear pattern, then what is?

Where’d Wolfe Island Go?

Last week, on December 20th, a moderate ice storm skimmed the Ontario side of Lake Ontario.  It was no big deal as these storms go – the 1998 storm that brought the Wolfe Island CKWS tower down was far far worse.  Since 1998 there have been maybe 3 similar smaller storms.  Apparently it was big enough to shut the 198 MW Wolfe Island Wind Project down.  In the early afternoon of December 20, after several hours of “light freezing drizzle”, the Wolfe Island production went to zero.  Going to zero is not a big deal – all wind farms spend a fair amount of time at zero.  But in this case the winds were still moderate, in the 20 kph range, easily strong enough to produce electricity.

We can all guess what happened.  The ice caused the blades to become unbalanced and the computers brought it all to a stop.  The only question was, how long would it stay down?  The blades are white, unheated, and getting a helicopter to spray de-icer on them would be problematical.  How long before a warm spell or some sun?  In Ontario in Winter, that could be a long time.  As it happens, it was a little over a week.  On December 27 at 10 AM the production numbers moved off of zero for the first time since the 20th.

We all know what happens to our standard of living (and in the Winter that could include dying) if we lose electrical service.  Luckily there’s enough traditional reliable generation capacity in Ontario that the wind production is entirely superfluous (and most of which is exported at a loss).  Ontario’s Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, is fond of saying how wind energy is replacing traditional sources.  Thank goodness he’s wrong about that.

Wolfe Island Bird Report #6

Stantec published their report #6 [backup link] on the state of the birds on Wolfe Island, Ontario, back in July.  I’d normally be reporting on it sooner, but they changed the linkage to it and I was unaware of its publication until recently.  It covers the second half of 2011.  In any event, this report isn’t particularly note-worthy, with a continuation of previous trends. Continue reading Wolfe Island Bird Report #6

Wolfe Island, Property Values and MPAC

Wolfe Island is located at the far eastern end of Lake Ontario and is traditionally considered to be the start of the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands.  There is no doubt it is part of one of the loveliest areas in the world as well as an important area for birds.  No matter; there are now 86 wind turbines on the island’s western half.  For many of the residents on the island this project has been a disaster, and part of their response has been to ask for reductions in their tax assessments from MPAC, the folks who do the assessing for the province.

It is a one-sided contest.  The Kenney’s appeal is instructive.  It was the two of them against a small army of lawyers from MPAC as well as the government.  I understand that MPAC was willing to give them a reduction, but the sticking point was that the Kenneys wanted the wind turbines listed as a cause.   The wind industry (for obvious reasons) really wants to maintain the fiction that wind projects do not affect home prices and even a small breach in that fiction might cause the entire edifice to come tumbling down like the house of cards that it is. Continue reading Wolfe Island, Property Values and MPAC

Wolfe Island Bird Report #5

Stantec has just released report #5, which covers the first half of 2011 on Wolfe Island.  This was generally an uneventful report, with many of the patterns established in the first 4 reports continuing.  At least I don’t have as many criticisms of Stantec as I did in my critique of their report #4.  For instance, the power production on the days they did the survey wasn’t always minimal.  Still, these reports continue to document just how much Wolfe Island has been impacted.  Obviously bird populations vary widely from year to year for a number of reasons, and Stantec takes advantage of variation to present every possible reason why the populations are down, except of course to blame their turbines.  Here’s the summary.

  • Birds: 31 carcasses found, adjusted to 131, down from the report of a year ago.
  • Raptors: 7 carcasses found, adjusted to 16, up a bit.
  • Bats: 7 carcasses found, adjusted to 41, down from last year.
  • Winter raptor density: improved from last year, at 0.54/km.
  • Notifications: 6, half for raptors, half for Bobolinks. Continue reading Wolfe Island Bird Report #5

I Make the Whig

Normally I just sit at my computer doing research and posting my conclusions on this web site.  Periodically someone calls and wants to discuss some aspect of what I’ve written.  Paul Schliesmann, a reporter from the Kingston Whig-Standard, called me recently and we had a nice 30-minute conversation.  His immediate interest was the kill rate on Wolfe Island (see my WI Bird Report #4) but we discussed a wide range of issues relating to wind turbines.

That discussion led to an article that appeared the next day in the Whig.  I’m pleased to say that the article accurately conveys the gist of what we discussed, and I thank Paul for being unbiased in his reporting.

The link to the article in the Whig.

Backup Copy.

Wolfe Island Bird Report #4

Stantec has just released report #4, covering the 2nd half of 2010 on Wolfe Island.  To read the executive summary you’d think the birds and bats were doing just fine.  But, similar to reports #2 and #3, when you start digging into the numbers you find the slaughter continues, and in the case of bats even accelerates.  Stantec, being on the payroll of the project developer, is doing its best to put the best face it can on the numbers, but unfortunately that seems to include gaming them when necessary.  I’ll get into specifics later, of course, but for now here’s my summary.

  • Birds: 54 carcasses found, adjusted to 703, an all-time high.
  • Raptors: 8 carcasses found, adjusted to 8.
  • Bats: 111 carcasses found, adjusted to 1878, an all-time high.
  • Winter raptor density: improved from a very poor 2009’s rate of 0.2/km to 0.7/km.
  • Notifications:  8, mostly for bats, none for raptors.

Links to everything

Details on Bird Fatalities

703 birds were killed in this 2H2010 period, compared to 602 in 2H2009 – a number that made the papers.  Stantec claims that rate is 3.60 birds/MW (~703/198) but then they directly compare this 6-month rate to Arnett’s Table 1, which contains annual rates.  For the year 2010 an estimated total of 1207 birds were killed, a rate of 6.28 birds/MW.  This makes Wolfe Island the second-most prolific killer of birds in Arnett’s list.  Stantec rightly claims that this rate is below the 11.7 rate at which mitigation starts, but if you look at Arnett’s Table 1 you can see how that rate was set by MNR – they simply took the largest number and set that as the limit.  As I mentioned in my Prelude to #3, this number has nothing to so with sustainability.

Details on Raptor Fatalities

8 raptors were killed in this 2H2010 period, and Stantec claims that translates to a rate of 0.04 birds/MW, and again compare that number to Arnett’s Table 1.  The mitigation threshold for raptors was set at 0.09 birds/MW, in a manner similar to the threshold for birds – they simply took the largest number in Arnett’s table.  For the entire 2010 a total of 21 raptors were killed, a rate of 0.096, which is above the threshold.  I can only surmise that the calculators at MNR don’t work very well.  There was a mention of mitigation after report #3, when Stantec and MNR could no longer deny the obvious, but the mitigation consisted of continuing to study the problem.  There’s no mention of continuing mitigation with this report.  Is this rate sustainable?  Nobody knows.

Details on Bat Fatalities

1878 bats were killed in this 2H2010 period.  This compares to 1270 killed during 2H2009 – a number that made a number of newspapers.  I can only hope this even larger number makes more newspapers.  For the year 2010 an estimated total of 2327 bats were killed, an annual rate of 11.75 bats/MW.  That is below, just barely, the mitigation threshold of 12.5.  And how was 12.5 arrived at?  It was simply the average mortality rate at nearby Maple Ridge, NY.  Is this rate sustainable?  Nobody knows.  A more recent MNR threshold was set at 10 bats/turbine which equates to 4.3 bats/MW at Wolfe Island, but Wolfe Island gets grandfathered to the higher number.  Still, Transalta is volunteering to consider raising the cut-in speed during prime bat season to cut mortality.  I certainly hope it is effective.  I cannot imagine that Wolfe Island could sustain a loss of 2300+ bats per year.

Wintering Raptor Density

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier reports, I consider the maintenance of the habitat more important than the mortality.  Wolfe Island is known for its wintering raptors and monitoring their overall numbers is one part of Stantec’s responsibilities.  Stantec tries to paint a rosy picture, saying the number of raptors was up from 2009, from a 0.2/km rate to 0.7 in 2010, and almost back to the pre-project 2006 number of 0.8.  But before you accept these numbers there’s some details you ought to know about.

There have been 3 winter raptor surveys (2006, 2009 and 2010) and for the second halves of each of those years the surveys consist of 4 periods of about 3 hours each where spotters are driven around, looking for raptors.

You’ve Got to Look at This Chart

In the chart the top section gives the results of the 12 3-hour sessions where the wintering raptor data was gathered.  By the way, the short-eared owl data was gathered on the same days.  You can see how 2006 was fairly similar to 2010, after recovering from a bad 2009.  I included the surface winds from the Kingston airport, about 7 km away, in MPH (Weather Underground was easier to use than Environment Canada).  While surface winds aren’t necessarily closely related to electric generation there is some correlation.  Why did I include this?  You’ll see…

The bottom part of the chart shows the half-year summaries for the 3 years.  In addition to averaging the previous 3 measures, I’ve added the WIWP MWH’s produced during each 2-month period, some Kingston Christmas Count (KCC) information and the notification numbers.

Stantec mentions the KCC numbers to try to relate WI’s decreases to decreases in the area’s overall raptor population.  In their report #2, as an example, they tried to compare the 75% reduction (0.8 to 0.2) in WI’s raptor population to Kingston’s 15% reduction (1.67 to 1.49).  In this report #4, they also related WI’s return to a “normal” 0.7 rate with Kingston’s return to 2.42.  Now, the units are different (km’s driven vs person-hours) but a ratio of the two gives a pretty good way to discern the reality.  The end of 2010 was very good for raptors around Kingston as evidenced by the 2.42 number.  Did WI participate in these good times?  Not quite, as it didn’t quite get back to the 2006 base numbers.  So even though Kingston’s numbers increased by 45% (1.67 to 2.42), WI’s decreased by 13% (0.8 to 0.7).

Now, why did I include the wind and generation numbers?  Here I will simply present the data and let you come to whatever conclusion you may.  Nov-Dec of 2010 were two good months for the WIWP, averaging almost 34% capacity factor (66.9/198).  During the 12 hours when the surveys were taking place the average generation was 30.4 MW.  I’ve created 2 clickable pictures showing the generation during each month and the days when the surveys took place.

I took the 12 hourly generation numbers from when the surveys were being performed and ran a t-test to see how likely they were a random variation of the overall 2-month’s generation numbers.  The results, p = 0.004, said there was less than a 1% chance.  In 2009, by contrast, the same process yielded a p of 0.68.

Wolfe Island Shoals Economic Impact

The Wolfe Island Shoals project was the largest contract awarded in the last round of wind projects, with a capacity of 300MW.  It is located at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and is slated to be the first “off-shore” wind project in at least Canada, and may end up beating out Cape Wind for that dubious honour in North America.

The project developer (Windstream) thought it would be a good idea to remind everybody how many jobs are at stake and what the economic impact of the project’s construction and operation would be.  So their project manager (Ortech) hired a consultant (Aecom) to write a paper entitled “Potential Employment and Income Impacts in Ontario from the WI Shoals Project“.  The executive summary sounds impressive.  It’s a $1.36B (yes, that’s a “B”) construction project, 1900 jobs and $89M in labour income  for 5 years.  Then 175 jobs and $9M in labour income for 20 years.  No mention of labour income to dismantle the project – they must have just forgotten to mention it.  I am (of course) more interested how they got those numbers and what other details they forgot to mention. Continue reading Wolfe Island Shoals Economic Impact

Wolfe Island Bird Report #3

Transalta has just released Report #3 (backup link) of their Post Construction Followup Plans, covering the first 6 months of 2010.  For some background you might want to look at my posting on Report #2, which covered the last 6 months of 2009.  For an overview of the regulatory and reporting framework you might want to look at my Report #3 Prelude.  We now have a full year’s worth of reporting from Stantec, the contractor hired to do the studies.  To sum it up, the destruction of the bird and bat habitat on Wolfe continues, albeit at a slower rate than before (it was the colder half of the year, after all).  Stantec’s executive summary tries to put a good face on the numbers, but buried in the details there are hints as to what is really going on there (aside from a curiously-convenient flat-out mistake/typo about the raptor mortality rate).  The most important single item to come out of this report is that Transalta and the MNR have “initiated discussions regarding adaptive management” due to the high raptor mortality rate. Continue reading Wolfe Island Bird Report #3

Wolfe Island Property Sales

As I’ve mentioned in other places, the issue of property values around wind projects has been a contentious one.  The wind industry trots out its favorable reports that show no loss of value, and I (among others) demonstrate how flawed and biased these reports are.  Since I live part-time on Amherst Island, which is right next to Wolfe, I’ve been following Wolfe very closely, and not just property values.

One theme I’ve heard over the last few years is that the tax appraisers (MPAC) have not reduced the evaluations on Wolfe because there have been no sales.  This seems to be incorrect, as a search of the MLS sales data base reveals 23 properties that have been sold on WI in 2009 and 2010.  From everything I’ve heard MPAC is pretty dysfunctional, so what they end up doing with WI evaluations is anybody’s guess.  But I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look to see what properties ended up selling.

There are two parts to this posting.  First is showing a picture of Wolfe with the turbines and sold properties displayed.  Thanks to Earth Google that can be done with a high degree of accuracy. By the way, if anyone wants my kml file I can send it – let me know.   Second is comparing the sold properties with the original WI noise study that was done before the project was built.

The Pictures

Here’s the picture of Wolfe with the locations of the 86 turbines displayed, which can be enlarged by clicking on it.  Note that they are all on the western half of the island.

To that picture we now add the sales for 2009 and 2010.  The identifiers are the year sold and the last 4 digits of the MLS number.

Noise Study

It is pretty obvious that there have been very few sales among the turbines.  I went back and compared the sales with the noise study prepared by the developer’s consultants (28mb, be careful downloading!). There are approximately 600 residential properties in the western half of WI.  Of these, 280 were located within 1000m of a turbine and were thus included in the noise study.  Of the 600 properties a total of 11 were sold during these two years.  Of those 11 just 3 were within the 1000m boundary.  In other words, out of 280 properties within 1000m only 3 have sold in the last two years.  Out of the remaining 320 properties 8 have sold.  I don’t know how many properties there are on the eastern half of the island – I’d guess less than 600 – and of those 12 have sold.  The following table shows the figures.  Note that I didn’t bother driving all the way to the end of the eastern half to verify their locations, so I didn’t present any hard distances.

The distances are in meters, and the first 11 rows are all in the western half.

I did run some ratios on distance vs. price vs. tax rates, but clearly this sample is too small to prove anything one way or another.  There’s no trends either way.  Certainly there’s not enough data to even entertain doing any regression analysis.

I plan on continuing to explore WI’s sales.  If I can get data from 2000 on it might be instructive, as I could show pictures with the sales year-by-year as the project developed.  Stay tuned.

More on Wolfe Island

As I posted earlier, the carnage of birds and bats on Wolfe Island by the 86 wind turbines there has been substantial, making news around the world.  Now some ornithology heavyweights – William Evans and Gerald Smith – are calling for a moratorium on turbines in the eastern Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River valley.  Good for them, although I doubt it will do much good at this point.  In both New York and Ontario policies have been set and contracts let.  Still, it’s good to see the real experts (as opposed to the mercenaries at Stantec, the industry’s consultants) weigh in on the issues there, along with many details that lend credence to their pleas.  Well worth the read.

Original link, hat-tip to Lake Ontario Waterkeepers

Backup link.

Wolfe Island Bird Report #2

Wolfe Island, located at the mouth of the St. Lawrence river, is in the middle of one of the most important bird areas in the world.  As part of the Wolfe Island Wind Project a plan was drawn up (the PCFP – Post Construction Followup Plan) to monitor the birds for a 3-year period.  The first full half-year report (it’s over 3mb), covering the second half of 2009, has just been published by the consultant, Stantec.  It is report #2 in their series, the first one being for only a month just after start-up.

While this report, authored by people whose paycheck comes from the developer, tries to minimize the effect of the project on the birds, a close reading of the report indicates the problems are significant, as I detail below the fold.

Continue reading Wolfe Island Bird Report #2