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Scope of PSB inquiry into Blittersdorf’s MET tower questioned

MONTPELIER – The lawyer for a developer who wants to build two nearly 500-foot-tall wind turbines in Irasburg questioned the scope of the investigation into the legality of a MET tower constructed without a certificate of public good (CPG).

During the Public Service Board’s (PSB) pre-hearing conference Tuesday morning, Leslie Cadwell, attorney for developer David Blittersdorf, asked why the investigation was opened pursuant to a statute dealing with new power-generating facilities when the developer built the meteorological testing station under a statute that addresses a simplified process for building such a tower.

Cadwell wanted to know why penalties were being considered in this case, when the penalties are only supposed to apply to new generating facilities.

Blittersdorf did not build the MET tower to pursue net-metering generation, Cadwell said, and to her, the only question before hearing officer George Young should be whether Blittersdorf needed a CPG under the MET tower statute.

Young said it could be because the PSB was considering the MET tower to be a hybrid under the two statutes.

The investigation was opened after the Irasburg Select Board and the Department of Public Service requested it.

Blittersdorf said, at a public select board meeting, that after realizing how much wind blows atop Kidder Hill, he decided to pursue a CPG to build the two industrial size wind towers.

Cadwell, in a letter responding to the Department of Public Service’s request for an explanation of why Blittersdorf did not obtain a CPG, wrote that Blittersdorf did not get his wind data from the MET tower, which she said would be insufficient to determine wind speeds for the larger project.
Cadwell asked if she could brief Young on why penalties under one statute should not apply to another, but Young said the purpose of the conference was to set a schedule.

Irasburg Selectman Robin Kay moved to intervene on behalf of the town, but determining who will get party status is generally something done farther down the road. She also asked for a site visit during the investigation process.

Geoffrey Commons, director of public advocacy for the Department of Public Service, said it would make sense to get party status out of the way earlier rather than later. “It would make sense to know who’s on the train before it leaves the station.”

The parties agreed to set a deadline of Oct. 20 for motions to intervene, and the parties will have until Oct. 30 to respond, after which Young will decide who gets party status.

“I’m going to ask you a question that you’re probably not going to answer,” Young said. He asked if Blittersdorf would object to the town being granted party status.

Cadwell said she could not answer that question at this time. Young said if there is no objection, Irasburg could be granted party status by stipulation.

But Cadwell did appear to take umbrage with Annette Smith consulting with Kay, Selectman Brian Sanville, Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance volunteers Judith Jackson, Michael Sanville, and Dr. Ron Holland, and Sen. Robert Starr at the conference table at the center of the room.

Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is well-known as an opponent of industrial size energy projects and has helped citizens navigate the complex PSB process in the past.

Cadwell asked what role Smith would serve in this context.

Smith said she was there to consult with Irasburg. “Most people don’t understand the process,” Smith said.

“Can we get that on the record?” Cadwell asked.

Cadwell also took issue with the three cameras in the courtroom being used by members of the press, as well as with reporters recording the hearing. “This is really distracting to me,” she said.

“It doesn’t bother us,” Sanville said.

Cadwell asked if the Department of Public Service would submit questions to her ahead of time.

“I want to hear your story first about what happened,” Young said.

A tentative phone status conference was scheduled for Nov. 12, and the parties agreed to accept electronic filings.