“Protest loudly, politely, and often, and sue at every turn. Expose greed and support sound science…. Finally, always speak from a position of integrity and truth and NEVER exaggerate the way the wind industry does. It is possible, though not expected, that eventually truth will win the day. Be proud because you have the truth on your side – whether you win or not.”
– Interview with Tom Stacy (below)
“Finally, the wind lobby is telling the press and environmental groups that freezing the mandate will cost tens of thousands of renewables manufacturing jobs in Ohio. But the truth is Ohio has manufacturing jobs because we have the infrastructure, the natural resources, the education opportunities and the skills to compete in manufacturing. More expensive electricity would hurt that competitive advantage and cost Ohio jobs on net.” Such is the usual fare from Tom Stacy, a determined Ohioan for consumers and taxpayers (read more here).
My interview with Tom and his work on the wind power issue follows.
Q. Let’s start with the most obvious question: how did you get energized by the wind industry?
A. I had an industrial machinery background, working with machines that melt plastic pellets and inject that molten material at high pressures into molds (injection molding). The more a client could utilize those high tech, expensive machines, the cheaper became the products they spit out every few seconds. That’s not much different from electricity system economics (load factor economics). But that simple concept is lost on most electricity regulators and lawmakers today.
Then something came out of the blue. In 2007, it came to light that a wind developer was sneaking around to the less affluent farms in the area near my home, signing up needy and greedy farm owners below the radar of the community at large. I started digging into the claims the wind industry made in defense of its land use, public nuisance, and high costs.
Q. What did you find?
A. Exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims of benefits across the board. I then networked with utility engineers, analysts and leaders who confirmed my findings. At that point I alerted the residential community in the area who then pressed local zoning and planning officials to prevent the project from being built. This was going to negatively affect our views and lifestyles and thus our property values.
Q. And you fought back?
A. Yes, I personally did. The developers snuck out of town, but not before characterizing my cause as “NIMBY”–not-in-my-back-yard.
My response was to take the issue to state lawmakers and implore they enact uniform minimum siting and permitting rules across the state. For better or worse, it let us fight the industry in Columbus, Ohio rather than over and over in every township in Northwest Ohio as I moved from the purported NIMBYism to more of a ratepayer and residential property owner watchdog team member for the state’s electricity consumers.
Q. What organizations are you involved with?
A. Interesting question. Involvement and membership are different things, I guess.
I would say I am involved with NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association), ACRE (Action Committee for Rural Electrification, have been involved with the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Energy Policy Committee, am involved with state lawmakers, the Ohio Township Association, The Ohio County Commissioners Association, The Buckeye (Policy) Institute, with the Institute for Energy Research, and with IICCUSA.org (Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition).
Q. And you founded a group….
A. I founded Save Western Ohio and have consulted for several other citizens groups in counties across NW Ohio. I am a board member for National Wind Watch (wind-watch.org).
I guess you would say I am “involved” with PUCO (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), PJM (the regional grid operator in Pennsylvania New Jersey and Maryland (and ten other states), and FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), as well. It just depends on your definition of involvement.
Q. Is this a paid position, or are you a community activist?
A. Yes and yes. I am one of very few who dropped out of the private business sector to pursue self-education on the electricity system – its physics, its markets, its regulatory environment and it’s green image marketing – with the intent to become a self-funded “anti-lobbyist” on behalf of electricity ratepayers.
I would say I am a sort of a jack of all electricity trades and master of none, but it truly is the interplay between facets of the sector where a lot of money changes hands unearned and where the opportunity for greater efficiency is hidden. What really drives me is eliminating waste – whether by exposing and fighting the new-fangled legalized robbery of corporate cronyism, the old fashioned, illegal kind, or anything in between.
The electricity system is very complex and not held accountable very well to market mechanisms so there is more opportunity for making money without earning it in this sector than in most others. So yes, I have been paid something for some consulting work with local opposition groups and by some policy groups as well. Unfortunately it hasn’t added up to a sustainable career at this point so I am headed back to the plastics industry or some other private sector productive endeavour to try to rebuild a nest egg for retirement.
Q. You have been an energy educator and activist for a long time: are there fringe benefits, or has it all been a chore?
A. It has been very exciting in many ways. The opportunity to dig in and learn, and then gradually be able to referee and advocate effectively at various levels makes me feel useful to society as a whole. It has very much been a calling over the past 8+ years – just not a calling I am willing to go bankrupt to pursue indefinitely.
I might, but my kids deserve better. It is also a blessing (and a chore) to have learned a lot more than most lawmakers and the general public about this matter.
It feels like I have earned some expertise and credentials through the “Tom Stacy blind squirrel university extension office” and that I might be able to find a meaningful career path here. But I haven’t. And of course I receive many thank you notes and sincere thanks from people who live in a rural setting and from lawmakers who want to do the right things but don’t have time to understand the bulk electricity system.
It’s really bittersweet at this point. I would love to spend more time learning, teaching, advocating and possibly work as a regulator. But it would have to pay the bills.
Q. What is your educational or vocational background, and has this helped you in the debate?
A. I have a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Marketing from the Ohio State University (1989). I have always had a head for physics, economics and math of all kinds although I never excelled academically.
And yes, my business education has definitely helped me at every turn. Managerial accounting principles, marketing, statistics, macro-economics and finance courses come into play daily. The scholastic engineering and math content also provided some foundation, which blossomed into more useful tools when applied in the private sector.
Working in the plastics industry I interfaced with people of all stations and learned to speak to people in terms that matched their experience and degree of technical prowess. There was a bit of a mentor there – a guy named Harold Luttman with Engel North America in Guelph, ONT – who really ignited my desire to understand the very technical as well as the big picture aspects of the business. I’ve never been as bright as he is but have always aspired to be.
Q. How has your involvement made a difference, or is that difference to come?
A. Ouch! Of course it has made a difference!
But has it met my expectations for the difference I envisioned making? Not at all. Perhaps I suffer grandiose delusions about influence. It’s quite hard to make a difference.
I still believe that given the right breaks I could help make very meaningful changes at the state, RTO/ISO (Independent Systems Operator/Regional Transmission Organization), and federal regulatory levels. I believe the markets need to be reformed and that ratepayers ought to control the balance of power in that reformation.
I am not a purist when it comes to “free markets” for electricity either. There are good reasons the attributes of free markets that optimize trade efficiency don’t apply well in the electricity system. Utilities have traditionally taken advantage of that fact at the expense of ratepayers and that is, I think, unfair and regrettable.
Q. Were you a political partisan before wind power ‘changed your life’?
A. Yes. I was a conservative. But the wind industry isn’t as much partisan as it is a cancer of politics as a whole.
Q. What have been your most challenging moments as you travel through educating others? What to date has been most rewarding?
A. My biggest challenge has been to learn to accept that others have their own style, priorities and comfort zones that must frame their work on this issue. I don’t want to be dogmatic, but still feel groups should not attack wind from every conceivable angle, rather pick the one or two aspects of it that the population at large may be sympathetic to.
I believe those are the implications of intermittently available fuel (wind currents) on cost, as evidenced by the industry’s perennial dependence on future-taxpayer-supported subsidy (and current-ratepayer-supported subsidy) with no end in sight.
The third area that might have previously resonated with a peripheral percentage of rural people, property rights, is now an area of burgeoning interest, and facts are facts. Property rights have been consistently diminished within sight lines of wind installations, and while this argument may have been discounted as weak in the past, folks are now marching into the courts with regularity. Still city folk – who make up the bulk of voters – have a hard time rallying behind complaints about noise from their countryside counterparts.
Q. How do you personally envision the wind turbine fiasco unraveling?
A. Sadly, I feel it must run its course for another five to ten years because big government, big media and well-cloaked corporate greed work together effectively to create a false image and spread that image across the population. Scientific truth has few benefactors. Even utilities that own coal, nuclear, hydro and gas fired generators today have found a way continue to push their rising costs onto ratepayers and buy some green energy armour in the process.
Q. Tell us about an interesting or outside the box encounter in the last few years.
A. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to be given an audience by a new head regulator, a lawmaker pushed that regulator to meet with me. When we met, I explained the economics supporting my imposed cost theorem. He didn’t agree the effect is real even though it is as irrefutable as basic addition. Still he must have recognized something I was doing as solid because he promised to help me find a career in the regulatory sector – albeit a promise that fizzled.
Q. What advice would you give to a community that has just been permitted?
A. Protest loudly, politely and often, and sue at every turn. Expose greed and support sound science. Slow the developer down by finding ways to raise doubt in the minds of those putting money on the line for which they expect a handsome return. You can’t beat Wall Street. You have to create perceived risk of loss to make Wall Street turn away from a project or a technology.
Keep trying to get laws revised. Bills introduced to strengthen setback laws or compromise the expected handouts if passed work wonders.
Finally, always speak from a position of integrity and truth and NEVER exaggerate the way the wind industry does. It is possible, though not expected, that eventually truth will win the day. Be proud because you have the truth on your side – whether you win or not.
Q. What is your favorite quote about wind power?
A. Of the seemingly limitless laws elected officials can create and modify, the laws of physics are not among them.
[Interviewer’s favorite quote by Tom Stacy: “If Ohio has only 0.75% of the nation’s installed wind capacity how can the wind industry claim Ohio wind manufacturing jobs rely on Ohio’s renewable mandate?”]