Georgia’s Harrison family received final approval on its four-turbine wind project sited for Georgia Mountain, according to the Public Service Board’s May 31 order.
The board ruled that Georgia Mountain Community Wind’s 180-foot setback from abutters’ property lines “will protect public health and safety,” despite testimony from landowners and the Vermont Department of Public Service and the turbine manufacturer’s guidelines.
“It’s a final hurdle in some respects,” project owner Jim Harrison said.
“We used the setback that has been approved previously in six to seven projects in this state,” he continued. “We didn’t submit something that didn’t have history to it.”
Turbine manufacturer GE recommends setting back the 443-foot turbines 1.1 times their height; this was echoed by the Department of Public Service. One of Harrison’s turbines is sited just 30 feet from neighbor Jane FitzGerald’s property line.
In its order, the PSB said there are no residences or public roads within a half-mile of the turbine site; based on the Harrisons’ scientific study, the PSB said the probability of ice thrown from a turbine striking a person is limited.
The board did order Georgia Mountain Community Wind to prepare a winter operating plan to monitor icing conditions on site before construction begins.
The FitzGeralds have argued they use the land for recreation and hunting, but the PSB said this use is not significant enough to warrant the desired 487-foot setbacks.
Such a setback would have shut down the project, said Martha Staskus of Vermont Environmental Research Associates, project manager for the Harrisons.
“The turbines would have had to be set back off the top of the mountain,” she said. “The project wouldn’t have produced enough energy.”
Burlington Electric also had a stake in the decision, as it inked a power-purchase agreement with the Harrisons last fall. The company is now negotiating to buy the development rights for the project, Harrison said. He hopes this deal will be worked out this summer.
Development rights are exactly what opposed landowner Melodie McLane is concerned with losing when the turbines are built, she said.
“The reason why we’re interested is because it just could happen anywhere,” she said. “It could happen on our land.”
McLane, whose property is 3,500 feet from the turbine site, is also concerned about noise and said despite all her research presented, the PSB listened to the Harrisons’ experts.
“It is not a fair process,” she said. “The petitioner has the money … the experts say the right thing, and the landowner intervenors are left with pro se unless they have money.”
Staskus said this final major approval is a large step in completing the 31 conditions included in the project’s June 2010 certificate of public good. She said the Harrisons have completed about one-third of these required steps, but none of them are showstoppers like the setback determination.
Harrison hopes to start turbine construction next spring. Neighbors will regroup to discuss their next steps, McLane said.
Burlington Electric estimates the four 2.75-megawatt turbines will power 6,500 homes and supply 9 percent of its energy needs.
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