State utility regulators sent Green Mountain Power back to the drawing board over its plan to compensate neighbors whose land cannot be fully developed because of potential noise from the Lowell wind project.
Neighbors like Don and Shirley Nelson and Kevin McGrath objected to GMP’s proposal that would require them to basically do all the legwork for development, including to prove that they could get through state and local permits and the Act 250 process.
They also opposed the idea that they should have to pay for noise monitoring and to prove the noise that would be caused by the 21 turbines on the Lowell wind site was the sole cause of the loss of property value. They weren’t happy that they would have to prove that they could afford to develop the property, an argument that GMP later dropped.
These requirements, the Nelsons and others said, would cost thousands of dollars, they told the Vermont Public Service Board. They suggested that GMP set aside $30,000 for each property owner to hire professionals to do the noise monitoring.
GMP also wanted any landowner who seeks compensation to sign over an easement for the life of the wind project on the Lowell ridgeline in exchange for compensation.
And GMP wanted the PSB to be the arbiter of any disputes over compensation.
But the state regulators on the PSB said GMP’s compensation plan went beyond what they intended as part of the certificate of public good for the wind project.
Under condition 42 of the certificate, the PSB wrote that GMP “shall propose a plan for board approval to provide some form of compensation to adjoining landowners who can demonstrate that residential development of their land which otherwise could have occurred can no longer happen solely” because the sound levels caused by the project would exceed standards inside or outside homes.
“We imposed condition 42 in order to provide a reasonable process for compensating adjoining landowners for lost potential development opportunities,” the board wrote.
“GMP’s proposed plan would require an adjoining landowner to show not just the potential ability to site residential structures on lands adjoining the project, but to produce a detailed site plan for a proposed development” that includes the likelihood of getting all the permits that go with it, the board wrote.
“In sum, GMP’s proposed plan would require adjoining landowners to effectively initiate the development process in order to qualify for compensation. This is not the intent,” the board wrote.
The board said that GMP should look at the value of the land as it exists today on the grand list in towns, with the potential for development, versus the value of the land with the development potential lost because of project noise levels.
That removes most of the requirements that GMP sought in exchange for compensation, and that would reduce the amount of compensation as well, the board noted.
The value should also take into account the land’s features and obstacles to development, such as steep slopes or lack of proper access, the board said.
The landowners should retain an independent appraiser, at their own expense, if they disagree with their town’s appraisal, the board noted.
And the board said that GMP’s own noise maps show how it would affect neighboring properties. GMP should explain why neighbors can’t rely on those maps in demonstrating where excessive noise levels will occur, the board stated.
And the board wanted GMP to provide a legal argument to explain why the PSB should resolve all disputes over compensation to neighbors over noise.
The board told GMP to file a new compensation plan.
GMP must meet all remaining conditions before commissioning the project.