State derails scientific panel recommendations regarding windmill noise levels
In an April 25, 2011 email, the head of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association advised state employees to delete emails pertaining to a potential recommendation that Michigan's noise level limit for wind turbines be lowered.
Written 14 months ago, the context of the email was what appears to have been a successful effort by government bureaucrats to derail a pending noise level reduction recommendation. The email advising state employees delete conversations was one of several emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to the wind turbine noise level issue.
"I would delete these types of emails because of the possibility of FOIA requests,” John Sarver wrote in the email.
Sarver is now the executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA), which is a statewide non-profit that promotes and facilitates the use of renewable energy in Michigan. Most, if not all, of the renewable energy sources GLREA supports require government subsidies, mandates or both for their survival.
A 34-year veteran of state government, as an employee and an official, Sarver is best known for his efforts to promote solar and wind energy. He was program manager at the State Energy Office until leaving within the last two years. At the time of the email, Sarver was not a state employee.
In the April 25, 2011 email, Sarver was communicating with Mark Clevey (who had replaced Sarver at the State Energy Office) and Julie Baldwin, an employee at the former Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Development, which, at that time, was being reorganized under incoming Gov. Rick Snyder.
Meanwhile, Baldwin was moving to the Michigan Public Service Commission where, by March 28, 2011, she was a Renewable Energy Section Manager.
The context of the email was a discussion about how to handle a pending report from the Technical Work Group chaired by Dr. Jerry Punch, an audiologist and professor emeritus at Michigan State University, and Kenneth Rosenman, a professor of epidemiology (occupational diseases) at MSU.
State bureaucrats disbanded the Technical Wind Group before it wrote its final report and before it could vote on a statewide wind turbine noise level standard.
Clevey ultimately wrote a substitute report with input from some members of the Wind Working Group, an umbrella organization comprised of groups involved with the expansion of wind power. According to emails obtained through FOIA, the Technical Working Group had been organized under the Wind Working Group in connection with federal funding.
In his email on April 25, 2011, Sarver recommended that the work group be allowed to finish its report if possible.
(In his emails, Sarver referred to the Technical Working Group (TWG) as the “TWK.” It is unclear why he used that acronym, but in the emails, Sarver is clearly referring to the TWG.)
“Mark and Julie ... Just ending the TWK will be perceived as government closing down dissent,” Sarver wrote. “The two of you writing a report will be perceived as a white wash. While I think it is important that state government make clear what your plans are, I think you should allow the TWK to decide how to finish its work.”
In the email, Sarver outlined what he thought should be done. He made it clear that he believed Clevey would not allow the work group's potential recommendations to go into effect.
"Mark. ... .I understand from your response and previous emails that you have no intention to revise the sample zoning language," Sarver wrote. "Julie .... This leaves the ball in your court whether the MPSC would consider a revision?"
Also, in the April 25 email Sarver expressed concern about the reactions of the Technical Working Group members, who anticipated that their work would result in regulatory revisions.
"I'm trying to avoid the TWK thinking they are doing a lot of work that will lead to guideline revisions if this most likely won't happen," Sarver wrote. "We need to manage expectations and with the energy office change now may be the time."
Neither Clevey nor Sarver responded to requests for comment. Baldwin didn't respond to an request for comment made through the MPSC.
The emails were obtained through a FOIA request filed by private citizens who banded together to successfully prevent a wind farm from being established in Lenawee County.