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PUC opens probe into warning lights on Lowell turbines

LOWELL – Vermont utility regulators have opened an investigation into why the Lowell wind turbines have not deployed an aircraft detection lighting system as promised by the developers.

Vermonters for a Clean Environment filed a complaint March 16 saying Kingdom Community Wind developers Green Mountain Power (GMP) and its partners Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) and the transmission company Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) failed to meet conditions of the project’s certificate of public good.

The wind critics said GMP, VEC and VELCO failed to replace the red warning lights on the turbines on Lowell Mountain, which are on all the time, and replace them with the aircraft detection lighting system that only turns on when a plane is nearby.

In an order issued Monday, commissioners Margaret Cheney and Sarah Hofman directed GMP, VEC and VELCO to respond to the complaint by April 6.

The commission also asked the Vermont Department of Public Service and the Agency of Natural Resources to file recommendations about the complaint and the utilities’ responses by April 16.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, stated in the complaint that GMP and its partners promised to replace the red warning lights required by the Federal Aviation Administration with a new technology called an Obstacle Collision Avoidance System.

Smith stated that it’s been seven years since the certificate of public good was issued for the Lowell wind turbines and GMP has still not presented its plan to install the new warning system.

The request for the new kind of aviation warning system came from the Green Mountain Club and area residents, seeking to preserve the dark night sky of northern Vermont.

When the certificate of public good was issued for the Lowell wind turbines, the FAA had not OK’d that kind of technology for these turbines. State utility regulators allowed the project to go forward with the understanding that the new aviation system would be installed after it was approved by the FAA.

In 2016, the FAA approved of this kind of warning system for wind turbines.

Since then, GMP has purchased the site to install the system.

In response to the complaint, GMP announced last week that GMP intends to implement the new avoidance technology this year or next, pending permit approval, and has been in touch with regulators and community members.

“Green Mountain Power is moving forward with the implementation of an aircraft detection lighting system at Kingdom Community Wind,” GMP stated.

In its complaint, Smith also pointed out that some old utility poles have not been removed after new ones have been installed related to the Lowell wind project.