LOWELL -- The Vermont Department of Public Service recommended that state utility regulators find the Lowell wind project in violation of its operating certificate for exceeding noise limits four times last winter.
However, the department asked the Vermont Public Service Board not to impose sanctions right away on Green Mountain Power, which operates the Lowell wind project, to give GMP time to remedy the problems that caused excessive noise, according to filings with the board.
The department wants to work with GMP on future noise monitoring protocols, complaint resolution and other noise-related impacts, the filings state.
Opponents with neighboring towns want the project's turbines that caused the excess noise shut down until GMP can demonstrate there will be no violations. They have challenged the way the sound studies were conducted, the limits set by the board and other issues.
The wind project was tested in January and February, where the noise limits were met for 703 hours, almost the entire test period. The noise limits were exceeded during several hours near the Lowell home of Shirley and Don Nelson near the Albany town line. Noise testing will continue over the next two years.
GMP, in its response to the board, to the department and to the neighbors, said it has taken remedial steps to assure future compliance.
"These steps include installation of sophisticated weather monitoring equipment and visual monitoring of the turbine blades from the control center," according to GMP's filing with the board.
"As demonstrated ... none of the comments (by opponents) provide a basis for modifying GMP's sound monitoring and remediation efforts," GMP stated.
In a comment Friday, GMP spokesman Dorothy Schnure said "GMP is conducting sound monitoring according to the approved protocol.
" We were within the standard for 99.8 percent of the 703 hours of testing and have begun taking steps necessary to ensure that the sound from the turbines remains within the approved range, including installation of sophisticated weather monitoring equipment and visual monitoring of the turbine blades remotely from our control center."
In the filing, "GMP submits that an 'exceedence' is not a violation unless it occurs after GMP has had a reasonable opportunity to respond to the conditions causing the 'exceedence.'
"Although the Final Order states that GMP shall operate the project so that sound levels do not exceed the board's standard, it also makes clear that in the event noise exceeds allowable levels, GMP 'shall take all remedial steps necessary to bring the sound levels produced by the turbine(s) into compliance.'"
GMP states that the board's order requires monitoring and then managing future operations to avoid exceeding the limits.
The two-step process is necessary, GMP states, because weather conditions that cause higher noise levels depend on wind speed, direction, temperature, precipitation and wind sheer, all which need to be examined during noise testing periods to make sure the turbines are being operated properly.
"Irrespective of whether violations have occurred, however, GMP supports the department's recommendation to refrain from addressing the sanctions issue until GMP has had an opportunity to take remedial actions," GMP states.
The Department of Public Service is documenting noise complaints from neighbors and considering whether they constitute a public nuisance.
Neighbors also file complaints with GMP and the department about noise during operations, with the intent to have GMP adjust the turbine operations to reduce noise.
Also, Vermonters for a Clean Environment has been collecting comment about noise and impacts from neighbors.
Meanwhile, GMP has sought a permit with the Agency of Natural Resources to allow the deaths or "taking" of a handful of bats from endangered species.
A hearing for public comment on the permit application will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Lowell Graded School.