August 7, 2013

Vermont Public Service Board: noise fines won’t cover opponents’ costs

Lowell WindPSB: Noise Fines Won't Cover Opponents' Costs | Wednesday, August 7, 2013 |

The state’s utility regulators says any penalty that might be paid by Green Mountain Power for noise violations by Lowell wind turbines will not go to cover the legal and expert witness expenses of opponents.

The Vermont Public Service Board has also stated that the town of Craftsbury cannot testify at Thursday’s hearing on whether GMP should be sanctioned for a few noise violations last winter after the start-up of the 21 turbines in Lowell.

And the PSB refused to give the town of Albany more time to develop its argument about the noise violations, saying that GMP promptly reported the results of its monitoring, including the violations.

The hearing Thursday is intended to allow GMP to show cause why it should not be sanctioned for violations that occurred in December 2012 and March. The noise levels were close to but above the limit allowed by the board outside of homes near the turbines.

GMP stated that the noise was due to snow accumulation on turbine blades, which caused more noise than expected under certain conditions during the wind project’s first winter of operation. The utility adapted to the situation and prevented other problems, its expert stated.

The Vermont Department of Public Service, which represents utility consumers and the public, recommended that GMP pay a small fine of between $5,000 and $50,000 and that the penalty funds be used to do full-time monitoring. The department’s expert stated in pre-filed testimony that there is potential for other violations of the sound limits outside the monitoring periods already required under the wind project’s certificate of public good.

Neighbors have complained to the PSB, the department and anti-wind groups about noise. The department is collecting that information. In some cases, GMP is working directly with neighbors to identify the causes of noisy conditions.

But those neighbors, unless they are represented by Albany or the Lowell Mountain Group or already parties in the wind project’s initial review by the PSB, are not parties in this hearing process.

Neighbor Shirley Nelson, who stated she is suffering illnesses caused by wind turbine noise, asked for the maximum penalty of $140,000 and also asked that GMP pay for more monitoring.

The towns of Albany and Craftsbury wanted GMP to pay for legal fees and expert witnesses.

Up to now, all the legal fees and expert witness costs for the towns have been paid through donations. The towns have not paid for any legal expenses out of town coffers to challenge the wind project before the PSB.

The towns also asked that the PSB postpone the hearing Thursday to leave more time to develop expert testimony.

The board stated in a pre-hearing order that there is no compelling reason for the board to delay the hearing or to order GMP to pay toward attorneys’ fees for either the Lowell Mountain Group or Albany.

“There is no evidence that GMP has engaged in any bad faith actions with respect to the matter at hand,” the board stated.

The board called it unfortunate that there were violations, but stated that GMP completed its monitoring as required and filed it in a timely fashion – even when there were noise violations.

The board stated that Craftsbury didn’t seek to be a party in the initial hearings about the wind project over noise, and cannot offer testimony or cross-examine witnesses now.

The PSB also noted that the towns and the Lowell Mountain Group provided pre-filed testimony for the show-cause hearing about noise violations but did not use their attorneys. The parties need to ask for permission to use others to file testimony, the board stated.

The one-day hearing will be held at the PSB hearing room beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday with a pre-hearing procedural conference.

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