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Public Service Board may fine Georgia windfarm for iced blades

A hearing officer for the Public Service Board has recommended that Green Mountain Community Wind – the company led by Vermont renewable-energy pioneer David Blittersdorf – be found in violation of its permit for operating wind turbines on Georgia Mountain with iced blades.

The company’s permit for the four-turbine wind generators requires Georgia Mountain Community Wind to cease operation whenever meteorological conditions are conducive to formation of ice on the turbines’ blades, Public Service Board hearing officer John Cotter said in an order dated Oct. 13.

On two separate occasions in mid-March this year, turbine blades developed ice but the turbines remained in operation, the order states.

The iced blades produced unusually loud noise, said Melodie McLane, who lives near the project and who submitted the complaint that led to Cotter’s order.

McLane said she’s “encouraged” by the hearing officer’s recommendation, after having felt for years that state officials had ignored her complaints about the turbines.

She’s frustrated nevertheless that neither Cotter nor the Public Service Board appear willing to address her complaint about the sound violations that resulted from the iced turbine blades, McLane said.

The Public Service Board has not itself yet issued a ruling on the hearing officer’s recommendation, but McLane said Thursday’s order came as a welcome surprise, and said she expects the board’s final ruling to reflect the hearing officer’s findings.

“We’re encouraged,” she said. “They’re answering our complaints, which they’ve never done before … and it looks like at least the department is agreeing with us, which is huge, and hopefully the PSB will too.

“They seem to be taking our complaint seriously,” McLane said

Cotter’s order states that the Department of Public Service concurred with the McLane’s assessment of the events that took place March 11 and 14, when Georgia Mountain Community Wind allegedly ran the turbines in violation of their permit’s icing protocol.

Blittersdorf, the majority owner in Georgia Mountain Community Wind, said he had not yet seen Cotter’s order and so would not comment on its contents.

McLane just filed a new complaint against Georgia Mountain Community Wind for a separate alleged sound-level violation, she said.

Sound coming from the project appears to be caused by a damaged turbine blade, and seems to be louder than permissible, McLane said.

Rather than submitting the complaint to Georgia Mountain Community Wind, as she’s had to do in the past, she called a Public Service Board officer, per the board’s recently-adopted complaint process. The PSB officer will act as an intermediary, which is a nice change, McLane said.

“That’s how it should be – it takes a lot of stress off of us, to not deal with them directly,” she said.

Despite the appearance of improvement in the board’s handling of sound complaints involving wind-energy projects, McLane said she’s still disappointed with the process.

“I’m sure [Georgia Mountain Community Wind] knew the blade needs maintenance, and it disgusts me that we have to complain,” she said.

Also, she said, the Oct. 13 order addresses only Georgia Mountain Community Wind’s apparent icing-procedure violation, and not the excessive sound that the iced blades caused. The icing and the concomitant sound represent two distinct legal issues that should both lead to penalties against the company, she said.

“They violated the noise [standards], but everybody’s refusing to address that,” McLane said, “but hopefully they’ll give them a hefty fine for running them iced.”

The McLanes have two still further actions against Georgia Mountain Community Wind, both stemming from alleged violations of the turbines’ sound limits, that the Public Service Board has not yet resolved, she said.