HOLLAND – The Vermont Public Utilities Commission has narrowed its initial review of the Dairy Air Wind Project to determine first whether the single large wind turbine should be built given the grid constraints in northern Vermont.
All other issues are on hold until the commission, which regulates energy generation projects in Vermont, resolves the questions relating to the grid that could determine the fate of this wind project, according to an order issued by the commission last week.
The technical hearings on grid issues are scheduled for May 17 and 18 in Montpelier.
The rest of the issues would be moot if the commission rejects the application based on the grid situation.
In reaction to the order, the developer, David Blittersdorf, has offered to voluntarily curtail the single turbine to ease restrictions on other already existing wind, solar and hydro-electric projects. The town of Holland opposes that offer, saying it has come too late in the process.
Blittersdorf wants to raise a 499-foot-tall wind turbine on Dairy Air Farm on School Road in Holland, about a mile from the town’s elementary school. The town, Northeastern Vermont Development Association and some neighbors and area towns oppose it.
The state’s largest utilities, Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative, have stated that they are already experiencing reductions from existing wind projects in northern Vermont due to grid constraints.
The town of Holland and three residents filed a motion in April asking the commission to continue the hearings, or “bifurcate” or break up the hearings into several parts. The town’s attorney argued that concerns about the transmission system in this part of Vermont are of statewide importance and could determine the fate of the application for Dairy Air Wind, regardless of other issues under debate.
Dairy Air Wind opposed hearing only the grid issues first.
The three-member commission stated in an order issued Wednesday that the May technical hearings will only be on criteria involving what’s called the Sheffield-Highgate Export Interface (SHEI).
The SHEI is part of the northern Vermont grid which has experienced constraints because the grid cannot transmit enough electricity out of the region at times.
“The commission has previously acknowledged the transmission-system constraints in northern Vermont that may limit the amount of generation that can operate simultaneously in the SHEI area,” commissioners Anthony Roisman, Margaret Cheney and Sarah Hofmann noted in their order.
“Furthermore, the commission acknowledged that the Vermont System Planning Committee, Vermont utilities, and other stakeholders are currently working toward resolution of the identified constraints.
“This docket represents the first new generation project located within the identified SHEI area that will go to evidentiary hearing before the commission. We agree … that this threshold case poses law and policy questions that are of statewide importance.”
The commission also agrees that the grid situation can be separated from the more local topics.
“Accordingly, we conclude that it will be efficient, economical, and just for the parties and the commission to bifurcate the hearings such that hearings addressing only the SHEI-related criteria will be held before the full commission on May 17 and 18, 2018, and hearings on all remaining criteria will be continued until after the commission reaches a decision on the SHEI-related criteria.
“We disagree with the petitioner that bifurcation will result in a ‘procedural quagmire.’ We will hold hearings, the parties will file briefs and reply briefs, and we will issue a ruling on the SHEI-related criteria.
If our ruling is dispositive the case will be closed. If our ruling is not dispositive, we will reopen the record and hearings will be convened on all remaining Section 248 criteria,” the commission concluded.
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