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GMP, opponents appeal Lowell wind ruling  

Credit:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 16 June 2011 ~~

Parties from all sides have asked the Public Service Board to go back to the drawing board for the Lowell wind project, for a host of different reasons.

The Lowell Mountain Group and Green Mountain Power have asked the Public Service Board to reconvene hearings on the project and GMP’s partners are arguing that the state regulators have gone beyond their authority in part of their ruling on Lowell wind.

The requests are among a series of appeals to the certificate of public good issued to GMP May 31 for a 21-turbine wind project on Lowell Mountain.

The Lowell Mountain Group wants a chance to argue its case about the state’s agreement with GMP to preserve hundreds of acres of bear habitat to mitigate the impact of the wind project. And the group has asked the board to rescind its certificate of public good.

GMP asked the Public Service Board to reconsider some of its deadlines, saying the deadlines threaten the project’s chance to secure important federal tax credits. GMP asked for a chance to argue that in a hearing, if the board doesn’t immediately agree with the request.

GMP’s partners Vermont Electric Cooperative and the transmission company VELCO have asked the board to rescind part of its order, which would require compensation to several neighboring landowners if they can show their property values drop because of noise from the project.

Other parties, such as the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the towns of Craftsbury and Albany, are also seeking changes.

The certificate of public good would allow GMP and its partners to erect the 459-foot-tall turbines on the ridge line and 16 miles of new and upgraded transmission line, but only if 42 conditions are met.

VEC intends to hold a vote of its membership in July on the cost to upgrade the transmission lines.

GMP hopes to begin construction in August, to be completed by the end of 2012 to secure federal tax credits that will keep energy costs down for consumers.

The Lowell Mountain Group has asked the Public Service Board to find that the project is not in the public good.

The group of landowners adjacent to the ridge line want the board to hold new hearings – saying that the state and GMP cut a deal to preserve wildlife habitat near the ridge line on the last days of February hearings. That left parties no time to react to that deal, the group’s lawyer states.

The opponents were handicapped because witnesses were taken out of order due to the deal, the group states.

At the same time, the group states that the deal with ANR doesn’t mitigate the environmental impacts of the project.

The group wants the board to acknowledge that there is no evidence that the project will reduce carbon emissions.

And the group wants more than the allotted two weeks to respond to the various permits and conditions that GMP has to file before the certificate of public good is complete.

GMP asked the board to change its deadlines on some conditions, allowing construction to begin before some of the conditions are met.

For example, the board said training for first responders from Lowell must be done before the start of any significant construction activities.

GMP instead wants to complete the training later. That would allow GMP to begin building roads and clearing sites before training has to begin on dealing with tower fires or access during heavy snow conditions.

In another case, the board told GMP to secure easements before construction as part of its agreement with ANR, but GMP wants to delay that deadline.

GMP also wants more time to complete a system impact study of the project on the grid and to get access to properties to complete archaeological studies.

Some landowners have refused access to their properties.

GMP argues that petitioners didn’t require these early deadlines. GMP also cited deadlines in the board’s permit for First Wind, which is preparing to erect 16 turbines at its Sheffield site.

“The timing for compliance with the requirement to procure specialized first responder equipment, to complete the archaeological studies and to secure the [environmental mitigation] easements is largely beyond GMP’s control,” GMP’s attorney argues.

“The deadlines imposed by the board, unless modified, would have the unintended consequences of eliminating a substantial economic benefit identified by the petitioners and acknowledged by the board,” GMP said.

The board has said it wants to give GMP the chance to secure the tax credits, which would benefit consumers.

“Although GMP is confident it can comply with all your conditions, it cannot do so by the date to commence construction,” GMP states. “As a result, reconsideration is appropriate.”

GMP wants a hearing on these reconsideration requests, unless the board decides that is not necessary, the GMP attorney said.

The utilities raise concerns that the board wandered into territory about property rights that the Legislature says is reserved for the civil court system.

A condition requiring compensation for loss of property rights by neighbors, the utility companies say, “requires a new board-approved mechanism to financially compensate individual landowners for a future, hypothetical loss of residential development rights, even though the state and federal courts already provide venues of competent jurisdiction to hear and resolve any such legally cognizable claims.”

They say the requirement will create uncertainty and delay the project.

And VELCO argues that the decision will have impacts on other electricity projects.

VELCO “has a substantial interest in having the board’s order amended” as “a utility that requires the board’s approval prior to constructing electric transmission projects.”

The Public Service Board itself is divided over the compensation condition, with board Chairman Paul Volz actually writing a dissenting opinion as part of the order on this condition alone.

These towns adjacent to the project dispute the scientific studies about noise that the board relied upon in its decision.

The town’s expert says the decision does not protect public health and the project would have undue adverse impacts on health – enough to stop the project from receiving a certificate of public good.

Also, Albany’s expert says the $10,000 it would receive annually for five years through GMP’s good neighbor fund is not enough compared to the loss in property values that the project would cause.

The towns ask the board to rescind its certificate.

Source:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 16 June 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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