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Lowell wind shipments: Vermont Public Service Board fines Green Mountain Power $30,000 over violations

State utility regulators have fined Green Mountain Power $30,000 because of five violations in its permit to ship turbine parts to Lowell Mountain last year.

GMP had reached a settlement that included a $7,500 fine over the violations with the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board accepted the settlement but disagreed with the amount.

“We have determined that a higher penalty is warranted for violating the transportation plan,” wrote PSB members James Volz, David Coen and John Burke in an order this week.

The investigation into alleged violations began during GMP’s shipments across Vermont of parts to the Lowell wind project.

The problems for GMP began in July 2012, prompting complaints by opponents.

The PSB said at the time that the opponents didn’t have the party status to address the potential violations and demand a hearing.

But the PSB did hold a hearing.

Under GMP’s own transportation plan approved by the PSB, GMP was supposed to give towns along the shipping routes notice that over-sized truck loads would roll through on local roads.

GMP shipped turbine parts and other parts from southern Vermont to Lowell and from Island Pond’s rail yards to Lowell, all without violations.

But the utility wanted to make a few shipments from northern New York state to northwestern Vermont and then to Lowell to save some time and help reach its deadline for construction of Dec. 31 – when the federal tax production credits for wind projects were about to sunset.

The loss of those credits would have cost GMP ratepayers more than $40 million over the life of the Lowell wind project.

On July 17, 2012, GMP asked for expedited approval for use of what was called the “northern route” without asking for a waiver of the 30 and 60-day warning periods for local towns, because the project manager of GMP thought the waiver alone would eliminate the need for the warning periods.

The board granted the waiver.

GMP began shipping parts on July 23 and ended on Aug. 2 on over-sized trucks. And then GMP acknowledged that the shipments began without complying with the warning periods and before the road conditions survey. GMP stopped the shipments on Aug. 2 pending approval by the PSB.

The board granted permission to renew the shipments if GMP filed verification that the towns had been notified.

The PSB ruled that “it is clear that GMP violated both the terms and conditions of its approved transportation plan as well as condition 11 of the certificate of public good.”

The PSB agreed with the department and with GMP that there were five separate and discrete violations.

The department set the fine at $7,500, or $1,500 for each violation.

“However, we find the $7,500 is too low for a penalty in this case, given that GMP is a large corporation with significant earnings from its regulated activities in Vermont.

“Instead, we have determined that a penalty of $30,000 is more appropriate in view of the size of GMP and the scale of its annual revenues and other economic resources to bear the burden of such a fine without interfering with the company’s ability to continue to provide adequate and reliable service to its customers,” the board stated.

That breaks down to a fine of $6,000 for each violation.

“The violations at issue are a serious concern – a fact that is reflected in the magnitude of the fine we have assessed against GMP,” the board stated.

GMP “acknowledges that this proceeding ‘how strongly reiterated the importance of flawless compliance and GMP will continue to use lessons learned to achieve this goal,'” the board concluded.