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Dairy Air Wind must explain need for smaller turbine

HOLLAND – State utility regulators want more information about why wind developer David Blittersdorf wants to put up a smaller industrial-grade wind turbine on Dairy Air Farm in Holland.

And Thomas Knauer, hearing officer for the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, also wants to know why Dairy Air Wind thinks a smaller-capacity turbine would alleviate concerns by opponents and whether Dairy Air Wind has talked about the changes with opponents.

The request for information came out the same day that Dairy Air Wind complained that the commission was taking too long to review its petition to amend its standard-offer contract for a 2.2-megawatt turbine to erect a 1.5 megawatt turbine instead.

The Dairy Air Wind project is on hold until the size change is considered.

The project is also dependent on whether the commission lifts a deadline that requires Dairy Air Wind to start the turbine by this summer.

Dairy Air Wind has a standard offer contract that guarantees that state utilities will pay a preferential rate for the electricity generated by this turbine.

In an order issued Friday, Knauer noted that developers have to demonstrate “legitimate engineering reasons” why a project in the standard offer program can’t be built to the original capacity.

“Consistent with this precedent, the petitioner is directed to provide an explanation of why it had a good faith basis at the time that it executed the standard-offer contract to believe that a 2.2 MW project was possible, and to provide contemporaneous evidence documenting the preliminary project design analysis performed to arrive at 2.2 MW,” Knauer wrote.

Under the standard offer program, the maximum size of a renewable energy project is 2.2 megawatts.

Knauer gave Dairy Air Wind until Feb. 26 to respond. The order does not address the Dairy Air petition to lift the deadline.

Dairy Air Wind has maintained that the smaller capacity turbine would be more readily available on the marketplace, would operate at a lower sound power level, would be more easily transported, and would help alleviate concerns about restrictions in the local electric grid.

Dairy Air Wind cut a deal with Vermont Electric Cooperative to stop generating electricity at the Holland farm whenever VEC’s turbines and renewable resources are being constrained when the regional grid is overloaded.

In exchange VEC is not opposing the location of the turbine in Holland.

Knauer told Dairy Air Wind that the commission set a precedent that some project amendments under the standard offer program can be denied if developers hadn’t done their homework.

“While changes to a project are sometimes necessary, the standard- offer queue was not designed to accept placeholder submissions for projects that had not been sufficiently planned to determine whether they could in fact be constructed; instead the queue as designed to provide an orderly process for ensuring that legitimate projects are accepted into the program,” the commission noted in 2011.

The Vermont Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers and customers in Vermont, warned the commission that rejecting Dairy Air Wind’s reduction in capacity could discourage future developers from changing their projects to mitigate concerns of opponents.

But the commission has warned that opposition is a risk all projects face, Knauer stated.

The commission has noted that it’s better practice “to assess the risk of community opposition – and any other potential barriers to successful commissioning – early in the development of a standard offer proposal.”

The precedent prompted Knauer to ask Dairy Air Wind officials when they first learned there would be opposition to its project, why the smaller size would address the opposition and whether there have been discussions to determine if the smaller capacity would mitigate opponents’ concerns.

Knauer said he would accept comments about Dairy Air Wind’s response up to March 15.