The Vermont Public Service Board ruled that Georgia Mountain Community Wind operated its turbine facility under icy conditions in violation of its certificate of public good. But the $2,000 fine, out of a possible $80,000, has some wondering if justice was done.
“The PSB has sent us a clear message that we may as well stop filing complaints when GMCW is in violation,” said Melodie McLane, who issued the complaint.
“This violation occurred almost 10 months ago, and thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours have been spent by all parties to follow it through to the end. The PSB then gives them a tiny slap on the wrist,” she said.
McLane, and her husband Scott McLane, have issued a handful of complaints against Georgia Mountain Community Wind over the past year. The company is supposed to follow winter operating protocols barring operation when conditions are icy.
When ice sheets encrust the giant blades of the 440-foot-tall turbines, large chunks can fly off up to several hundred feet away and potentially injure people and animals. In addition, turbine noise can be amplified by iced blades, exceeding CPG standards.
On Jan. 3, the McLanes issued a similar complaint and provided video and audio evidence. The McLanes say that the company ran the turbines for about two hours like this, with no response. Georgia Mountain Community Wind denied that ice was on the turbines while they were running.
The lack of any significant penalty from the PSB has the McLanes feeling helpless.
“In case anyone is wondering, the PSB seems to still be solidly in the wind developer’s corner,” McLane said.
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, expressed strong disappointment in the penalty.
“This fine is a real kick in the gut to everyone concerned about these issues,” she said.
According to Smith, Vermont wind-energy tycoon David Blittersdorf owns 90 percent of Georgia Mountain, and his other projects around the state are involved in about a half-dozen other violations. Blittersdorf did not return Watchdog’s request for comment.
Smith suggested that by costing taxpayers so much money to hold hearings yet issue meager fines, the state is essentially subsidizing the turbines to operate outside of their CPG limitations.
It wasn’t always like this, according to Smith. For example, a few years ago in Ira, a small community located in rural Rutland County, a MET tower (a wind measuring device) was placed about 380 feet from where it was supposed to be, according to its CPG. The PSB issued a $6,000 fine and instructed the concerned parties to relocate the tower.
Smith notes “they were not turning enforcement cases into full-blown dockets,” and now they have “completely gone off the reservation.”
Other pending cases before the PSB include a MET tower in Swanton. Also, there are two net-metered turbines in Irasburg – also Blittersdorf’s projects – with faulty paperwork showing homes located farther away than their true distances.
Meanwhile, the McLanes feel they’re out of luck, at least until a substantial policy change is made.
“In the end we have a pretty bleak future as neighbors of this project. The PSB has essentially given GMCW the green light to violate the CPG and pay a laughable fine. … We either spend our time and money filing complaints or suffer in silence,” McLane said.
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