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Public records request: Blittersdorf says standard will cost him $1 million

A new state standard governing sound levels permitted from industrial wind turbine projects is restrictive to the point wind developer David Blittersdorf wrote to State Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, informing her that he has three community wind projects at different stages of planning which would not pass muster under the new rule.

Blittersdorf, in a text message to Lyons early last month, referenced three hoped-for wind projects in one of the communications – two are known, in Holland and Irasburg, but a reference to a third was news to those keeping close watch on possible industrial wind proposals.

Contacted Thursday, Blittersdorf said in an email, “I am measuring the wind at numerous other sites in Vermont and have been for years. At this time, the 3rd site has not been selected. It is necessary to have multiple years of wind and other data to determine a wind site’s viability.”

Blittersdorf’s text message to Sen. Lyons is part of a Public Records Request haul posted in recent days to the Vermonters for a Clean Environment’s (VCE) website, showing the contents of communications received by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. To the VCE post which contains his text on the rule, Blittersdorf said, “The VCE post is not worthy of a response. It’s best to stick with the facts.”

LCAR recently approved a rule which the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) put forward for sound standards following a lengthy consideration time including multiple public hearings.

According to the VCE, the nonprofit environmental advocacy group in mid-October filed eight requests under the Public Records Act (PRA) with the eight legislators who serve on LCAR.

“This was an unusual action for VCE to take because in the past, legislators did not respond to PRA requests. On Oct. 18, 2017 VCE held a press conference in the Vermont Statehouse announcing the filing of the PRA requests,” the organization’s executive director, Annette Smith, stated at the outset of the lengthy post.

To the Blittersdorf reference to three wind projects, Smith, contacted Thursday, asked, “Blittersdorf says he has three projects. We know about Holland and Irasburg. What is the third?”

In a text message from Blittersdorf about the new sound standards, he wrote to Sen. Lyons on Oct. 7, stating, “I have 3 Community Wind projects in various stages of development in VT. They meet the existing 45 dbA rules but will fail the horrible new rule.”

“I will lose over $1m in development cost to date,” Blittersdorf wrote. “I will also need to build the $50m in turbines in MA, RI and NY. Wind in VT will be stopped completely. We cannot get to 90% by 2050 without mix of renewables that must include wind.”

Smith said, “What was disclosed in public record is what we expected, as we saw legislators and industry lobbyists … texting, meeting out in the hallway, carrying the industry’s positions. The text messages showed that the lobbyists were telling the legislators questions to ask. This is not unusual, what is unusual is actually seeing the communications.”

Thursday, Smith said, “In terms of the substance, the most interesting text was from David Blittersdorf to Sen. Ginny Lyons on Oct. 4, 2017 in which he said his projects can meet 45 but cannot meet the standards in the new rule. If that is the case, then one would expect he would announce he is dropping the Irasburg project … If he is not dropping the Irasburg project due to the new rule, then the question is, was his message to the Senator scare tactics to get her to object to the rule? Which is it, is the rule a bar to his future development in Vermont or isn’t it?”

“His statement doesn’t really make sense because the standard he has to meet now under the temporary rule for Holland is essentially the same as what is in the new rule, which is that the goal is an interior standard of 30 dBA. If he can meet it for Holland, I don’t see why he says he can’t meet it for future projects that come under the new rule,” said Smith.

Mark Whitworth, executive director of Energize Vermont, said on Thursday, “ Energize Vermont will make sure that Mr. Blittersdorf’s disclosure to Senator Lyons becomes part of the record of all future Public Utility Commission permit proceedings.”

“Mr. Blittersdorf’s disclosure also calls into question the ability of his Georgia Mountain wind turbines to comply with the noise limits under which they operate – those limits are stricter than the new noise rule,” Whitworth said. “It is our intention to investigate the operation of the Georgia Mountain turbines and to inform the PUC of any noise violations that we observe.”

Whitworth said, “In our view, energy projects that jeopardize the wellbeing of neighbors are creating a backlash that threatens Vermont’s achievement of its energy goals. Failure to meet noise standards is just one way in which wind projects undermine neighbors’ well-being.”

“Since Blittersdorf talks about having three projects in the works and since the only projects that we know about are Irasburg, Holland, and Swanton, we will assume that either Swanton is a Blittersdorf project, or he has another project that has yet to be disclosed – a new project that cannot meet either the new or old noise rules,” said Whitworth.

PUC Issues News Release This Week The rule advanced by the PUC and approved recently by LCAR takes effect on Nov. 22, according to a news release issued this week by the PUC.

“The PUC’s rule sets standards for three categories of wind facilities: small (up to 50 kW), medium (50 to 150 kW), and large (greater than 150 kW),” the announcement states. “For the small and medium categories, the PUC rule sets a 42-decibel limit 100 feet from nearby homes. For the large category, the limit is 42 decibels during the day and 39 decibels at night.”

The new rule requires that “Once constructed, large wind projects will be subject to sound monitoring to determine if they comply with the sound-level standards.”

“In setting statewide standards, the Commission sought to protect neighbors’ interests while preserving the opportunity to develop wind projects as part of Vermont’s renewable energy goals,” the news release issued this week continues. “The PUC undertook an extensive process that included a thorough review of scientific research and practices in other jurisdictions, while listening to hundreds of Vermonters with many different perspectives regarding wind projects.”

According to the news release, the newly-approved rule “… will apply to any facility that files for a Certificate of Public Good on or after that date. The rule will not apply to any existing or pending wind generation facilities.”