The operator of four wind turbines atop Georgia Mountain drew a $2,000 fine from the Public Service Board this month for letting the blades spin with ice on them.
The fine resulted from complaints called in by residents who live near the turbines.
The turbines’ operator, Georgia Mountain Community Wind, is required to follow a winter operating protocol that says the turbines must stop when their blades accumulate ice, or when weather conditions threaten to develop ice on the blades.
Iced blades sometimes create noise that neighbors say is particularly irritating.
After opening an investigation in May, the Public Service Board found in October that Georgia Mountain Community Wind had violated that operating protocol on March 11 and 14.
The board Jan. 13 ordered the operator to pay a civil fine of $2,000 for the two violations.
Renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf, a partner in Georgia Mountain Community Wind, could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
A neighbor of the installation hailed the board’s action but said it didn’t go far enough.
The fine represents an improvement in the way the PSB resolves complaints against wind turbine operators, said Melodie McLane, who lives 3,800 feet from one of the turbines.
But residents shouldn’t have to complain in order for the state to enforce the permit, McLane said. She and others have sought continuous live monitoring of the turbines’ sound levels. McLane has lodged dozens of complaints against the turbines, and she said that shouldn’t be her responsibility.
“The state should step up and do the right thing by doing full-time, year-round monitoring of the projects that they approve,” McLane said. “We would have no reason to complain if the project was kept in compliance by the state.”
Furthermore, she said, the fine isn’t enough to make the company change its behavior.
The Public Service Board could have fined Georgia Mountain Community Wind as much as $80,000 for violating the sound standards.
Georgia Mountain Community Wind in October had asked the board to reconsider its determination that a violation had occurred, arguing that the language of the protocol requires halting the turbines only when both icing and extreme weather conditions are present. Both conditions weren’t simultaneously present March 11 and 14, the company argued.
Furthermore, it argued, the October violations order can’t be read literally, or it would lead to the absurd result that the company must be fined “whenever a snowflake might make contact with the blades” while the turbines remain spinning.
However, the board said company representatives had already admitted the turbines ran after ice formed on the blades.
The company’s “admission is factual evidence that the turbines were operated with ice on the blades sufficient to find that two violations occurred,” the PSB wrote.
“While we agree that additional evidence might be needed if GMCW were claiming that a single molecule of ice or a single snowflake was present on the blades, or that the blades were merely coated in frost, such is not the case here,” the board wrote. “GMCW has admitted that it operated its turbines with ice present on the blades and has never characterized the facts in this proceeding as anything else.”
The wind generators, when approved in 2011, were projected to have 16 to 18 days each year when ice or other adverse weather conditions would force them to be stilled.
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