IRASBURG – Vermont agencies say a property owner on Kidder Hill should face a penalty for erecting a wind test tower without state permission on the same land where he put up two small wind turbines and at one time considered two large ones.
In a case that’s under investigation by the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, the Vermont Department of Public Service states that Kidder Hill property owner and renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf should face a penalty of $2,500 for failure to get a certificate of public good for his meteorological “met” tower.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources supports the penalty recommendation.
On Thursday, John Cotter, the hearing officer handling the case for the commission, rejected Blittersdorf’s motion that the department’s recommendation be struck from the record.
Cotter did note that the department’s recommendation came early in the penalty phase of the investigation, but said that didn’t warrant rejecting it.
He asked parties to respond about whether there is need for an evidentiary hearing.
The dispute over the “met” tower that Blittersdorf raised a decade ago began in 2015. The town of Irasburg complained that Blittersdorf didn’t get a certificate of public good or CPG for the tower, prompting an investigation.
At the same time, Blittersdorf was seeking a CPG for two large turbines on his Kidder Hill property.
Along the way, a neighbor argued that the two small turbines were not placed where their CPG specified. The two small turbines were removed.
In February 2018, Blittersdorf dropped plans for the two large turbines, blaming Vermont Gov. Phil Scott for creating a climate that opposes large wind turbines – in the same way he blamed the governor recently when he dropped plans for a single large wind turbine on a Holland farm field.
Kidder Hill Cases
The commission is waiting for Cotter to make a recommendation on whether Blittersdorf should be penalized before considering the case.
Cotter ruled last fall that Blittersdorf should have sought a CPG for the met tower and asked for comment on any penalty.
The Department of Public Service, in a December 2019 recommendation for a $2,500 penalty, stated that Blittersdorf denied adjoining landowners and the town of Irasburg a chance to comment on the met tower’s location, and adversely affected utility customers “by diminishing the credibility of the regulatory oversight process.”
The department stated that Blittersdorf, as a renewable energy developer, had reason to know that he was in violation because of his expertise and experience and had sought permitting from the commission in the past.
The department noted that Blittersdorf intended to power the cabin on the Kidder Hill property with small wind turbines and put up the met tower to measure the wind there.
“At a minimum, respondent (Blittersdorf) should have engaged in the appropriate due diligence” about regulations for the met tower, the department stated.
The violation caused harm but not “substantial harm,” the department stated, so the penalty should be less than the maximum $10,000 allowed.
A $2,500 penalty is a significant deterrent and ensures the credibility of the commission, the department stated.
Blittersdorf in reaction argued that the department managed a grant program to install met towers without CPGs and that regulations governing permitting is uncertain.
He called the recommendation “unduly prejudicial,” depriving him the right to challenge the department’s position on cross examination.
Supreme Court Ruling
The Kidder Hill case is influenced by a Vermont Supreme Court ruling in April 2019 that upheld the commission’s decision to penalize the owner of a met tower in Swanton $10,000 for not getting a CPG. That final penalty was to be recalculated.
In November 2019 the commission stated it is more efficient for the hearing officer to finish the penalty phase of the investigation and make a recommendation, along with findings in the case.
“In reaching this conclusion we emphasize that the hearing officer’s order is not a final judgment,” the commission noted.
The commission emphasized that any penalty recommendation “is not a ruling on the merits of Mr. Blittersdorf’s position with respect to liability …”
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