Public Service Board may fine Georgia windfarm for iced blades

A view of Georgia Mountain Community Wind taken with a telephoto lens at the Highbridge boat launch near Scott and Melodie McLane’s property in Fairfax. Photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger
A hearing officer for the Public Service Board has recommended that Green Mountain Community Wind — the company led by Vermont renewable-energy pioneer David Blittersdorf — be found in violation of its permit for operating wind turbines on Georgia Mountain with iced blades.

The company’s permit for the four-turbine wind generators requires Georgia Mountain Community Wind to cease operation whenever meteorological conditions are conducive to formation of ice on the turbines’ blades, Public Service Board hearing officer John Cotter said in an order dated Oct. 13.

On two separate occasions in mid-March this year, turbine blades developed ice but the turbines remained in operation, the order states.

The iced blades produced unusually loud noise, said Melodie McLane, who lives near the project and who submitted the complaint that led to Cotter’s order.

McLane said she’s “encouraged” by the hearing officer’s recommendation, after having felt for years that state officials had ignored her complaints about the turbines.

She’s frustrated nevertheless that neither Cotter nor the Public Service Board appear willing to address her complaint about the sound violations that resulted from the iced turbine blades, McLane said.

The Public Service Board has not itself yet issued a ruling on the hearing officer’s recommendation, but McLane said Thursday’s order came as a welcome surprise, and said she expects the board’s final ruling to reflect the hearing officer’s findings.

“We’re encouraged,” she said. “They’re answering our complaints, which they’ve never done before … and it looks like at least the department is agreeing with us, which is huge, and hopefully the PSB will too.

“They seem to be taking our complaint seriously,” McLane said

Cotter’s order states that the Department of Public Service concurred with the McLane’s assessment of the events that took place March 11 and 14, when Georgia Mountain Community Wind allegedly ran the turbines in violation of their permit’s icing protocol.

Blittersdorf, the majority owner in Georgia Mountain Community Wind, said he “respectfully disagrees with the Board’s decision that there was a CPG violation.”

“Looking forward, GMCW will participate with the other parties in the next phase of the PSB proceeding, and as always will look for ways that the Project can continue to be a good neighbor and to provide important benefits to Vermont,” Blittersdorf said in a statement.

McLane just filed a new complaint against Georgia Mountain Community Wind for a separate alleged sound-level violation, she said.

Sound coming from the project appears to be caused by a damaged turbine blade, and seems to be louder than permissible, McLane said.

Rather than submitting the complaint to Georgia Mountain Community Wind, as she’s had to do in the past, she called a Public Service Board officer, per the board’s recently-adopted complaint process. The PSB officer will act as an intermediary, which is a nice change, McLane said.

“That’s how it should be — it takes a lot of stress off of us, to not deal with them directly,” she said.

Despite the appearance of improvement in the board’s handling of sound complaints involving wind-energy projects, McLane said she’s still disappointed with the process.

“I’m sure [Georgia Mountain Community Wind] knew the blade needs maintenance, and it disgusts me that we have to complain,” she said.

Also, she said, the Oct. 13 order addresses only Georgia Mountain Community Wind’s apparent icing-procedure violation, and not the excessive sound that the iced blades caused. The icing and the concomitant sound represent two distinct legal issues that should both lead to penalties against the company, she said.

“They violated the noise [standards], but everybody’s refusing to address that,” McLane said, “but hopefully they’ll give them a hefty fine for running them iced.”

The McLanes have two still further actions against Georgia Mountain Community Wind, both stemming from alleged violations of the turbines’ sound limits, that the Public Service Board has not yet resolved, she said.

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  • Kim Fried

    It will be very interestingr to see exactly what the PSB does. As most citizens that have dealt with this agency and issues related to industrial wind have no confidence that they will do justice for harmed Vermont citizens we will just have to wait and see if their definition of fairness and justice has changed.

  • This quote sums up the years of pain and neglect the McLanes have been through. “They seem to be taking our complaint seriously,” McLane said Also, she said, the Oct. 13 order addresses only Georgia Mountain Community Wind’s apparent icing-procedure violation, and not the excessive sound that the iced blades caused. The icing and the concomitant sound represent two distinct legal issues that should both lead to penalties against the company, she said.

    The Public Service Boards knows Vermonters are watching and waiting for their decision. Will justice prevail? Or will it be another slap on the wrist, or $1,000 fine with the recommendation of “try not to allow that again”. And what will become of the turbine noise complaint and the many other out of compliance complaints. It’s a start and maybe by this Christmas a miracle will truly happen behind the doors of the PSB, especially if Phil Scott is elected and this abuse of power is no longer acceptable.

  • Candy Moot

    So Vermont citizens are responsible for enforcement of these developments that are already unfettered by Act 250 and most environmental regulations?? OUTRAGEOUS!

  • Christine Lang

    Please note here that the owner of GMCW has not complied with their permit and yet it is the neighbor who has to complain and do all of the legwork to get to this point. The neighbor has to travel to Montpelier to be met with a room full of attorneys against them, they have to file pages and pages of documents in multiple copies. Just so the state will hopefully fine the developer.
    And, this is all after years of complaints that have been ignored. And, even now they have ignored the noise portion of this complaint. When the blades are iced, not only is it dangerous, it is noisier.
    It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the State to investigate the latest complaint of a possible damaged blade. If that is the case, you have to seriously question why the neighbor has to report such an issue.
    Step up State of Vermont and do your job besides rubber stamping wind projects. Make sure they are run properly and meet their permit requirements.

  • Suzan seymour

    Why is it always up to the citizens to police the industry? Isn’t that why the PSB makes the big bucks? Shame!

  • The fact that the word ‘hefty’ was used to describe a potential fine kind of tells me that there is a little bit of ‘gotcha’ involved. Every argument such as this is always framed as big guy versus little guy. It ain’t necessarily so.

  • Our governmental institutions, including the PSB and the DPS, should not be allowing any developer to construct and/or operate industrial scale renewable energy technologies that cause harm to already established property owners. Property owners like the McClanes are members of the public whose rights should be protected whenever the PSB issues a Certificate of Public Good. If there is a “greater good” that entails sacrifices by some, those who sacrifice should be justly compensated. It has taken years of effort that coincide with years of suffering for the McClanes to be taken seriously by the PSB, and still only half the issue (the icing, not the noise) has been acknowledged. Had Blittersdorf been a responsible developer willing to acknowledge, mitigate, and compensate for the harm done, there would likely be no need for years of struggle.

  • Melodie McLane

    David Blittersdorf, can you please give examples of how Georgia Mountain Wind has been a good neighbor? How can you “continue” to be a good neighbor when you never started? Perhaps my expectations have been too high? How about if you start right now by taking care of that NEW noise coming from your project, the shrilling and whistling that is driving the the neighbors insane? Noise experts have told us that it sounds like a damaged blade. Can you please fix that?

  • John Brabant

    Seems like the commenters have brought up a topic that is worthy of a news story, that being, the lack of a functional regulatory compliance and enforcement arm at the PSB. The current process involves citizens lodging complaints at the PSB and the PSB requiring citizen complainants to build a case and defend their complaint in a formal hearing process, which often takes months to years to complete. This is absolutely ludicrous and provides yet one more example that the PSB process was not designed, nor ever intended to handle these distributed energy projects. Under Act 250, its Natural Resources Board historically performed a bifurcated role as both a quasi-judicial panel of judges and separately as the overseer of staff who conduct its own compliance and enforcement actions. The Act 250 process is better suited to handle these types of projects with land use and off-site noise impacts. It is a process that is more sensitive to the human and natural environment.

  • Good. Wind Energy as we now know it is terrible. It’s my main sticking point in my vote 4 governor this yr. Solar is completely different though I’m not 4 filling fields w/huge panels. But 2 say wind power creates hundreds of jobs is a complete joke. It creates jobs 4 a short as they’re put up.Then those people are let go&few are kept to make repairs infrequently.They’re bad 4 us as humans-nearby me they’re proposing putting them up but instead of the size of 1’s in Georgia they’ll be as big as the entire mountain in Georgia.The Travis Belisle illegally w/out permits put up a test tower.Even his enviro guy told us&people around here they’ll definitely hear them-their solution-“Shut your windows!” Really? We keep our windows closed more than 1/2 the yr&now your telling us all 2 shut our windows in the summer, spring early fall-quite the solution. I hope like hell this project is stopped or many will be fleeing this area literally. Myself included-very Sad Sue MINTER!