MONTPELIER — At a special hearing Thursday, representatives from Georgia Mountain Wind appeared before the Vermont Public Service Board to appeal a ruling that wind turbines have violated noise and weather-related specifications listed in the project’s certificate of public good.
The hearing, attended by Georgia Mountain Wind attorney Alex Lewis, Department of Public Service counsel Aaron Kisicki, and local resident Scott McClane, had two parts: one addressing noise and another to deal with turbines operating under icing conditions.
In prior rulings, a PSB hearing officer alleged that Georgia Mountain Wind violated turbine sound limits. Another ruling found that the developer operated turbines with ice on the blades in March of this year.
At Thursday’s hearing, McLane testified that he and his wife have had trouble sleeping during alleged violations.
“Our sleep is disturbed with this,” McLane said. “According to the CPG, they are supposed to adhere to no more than 30 dBA [with windows open] over the course of an hour inside our bedroom. That’s not been the case.
McLane, who has training in measuring decibel levels, said the turbine noise has reached 40 to 45 dBA outside his home. Using attenuation data from homes near similar projects, he estimated that sound inside the home is in the mid-to-high 30 dBA range, well above the 30 dBA indoor limit.
Lewis denied the alleged violations, and he cited eight weeks of sound monitoring under comparable weather conditions in 2013 that showed turbines operating within limits. He also dismissed the PSB hearing officer’s first-year compliance report, which showed noise levels hitting over 40 dBA on five occasions.
“As the hearing officer acknowledged in his report and recommendation, all five of those data points were contaminated with gusty wind,” Lewis said, adding that the board should deny a request for additional noise testing.
McLane wants the board to require a new round of testing by independent researchers since he has “no confidence in the developer’s experts.”
On the issue of icing on the blades, the Public Service Board issued a ruling that Georgia Mountain Wind violated winter operating standards on at least two occasions in March. The company is required to halt turbines in icy conditions because ice on blades amplifies noise and creates a hazard for anyone in close proximity to the towers.
If the board upholds its ruling, Georgia Mountain Wind faces a penalty that is yet to be determined.
Kisicki, who defended the prior findings that violations occurred, said the argument put forth by the developer’s attorney, if accepted, would make it nearly impossible to verify sound violations.
“If we use the technical standards put in place in Section 2 of the CPG compliance for the noise monitoring plan, there’s simply no way for us to ever come to the conclusion that under any circumstances there would ever be any kind of sound within 5 decibels [of the 45 dBA violation mark],” Kisicki said.
At the meeting, attorneys disputed the protocols for operating in wintry conditions. Kisicki argued that the winter operating protocol created by Georgia Mountain Wind is too loose and open to interpretation, and GMW’s attorney claimed it’s difficult for the company to know what constitutes icing conditions in the first place.
At one point, Lewis had to defend an accusation that the company wanted the winter protocol to be vague and open to interpretation.
“Board, I’m frankly baffled by the department’s position, which seems to be that George Mountain snuck some language in its winter operating protocol and got it in under the wire. Georgia Mountain submitted it to the board for the board’s approval and the board approved it,” he said
Board Chairman James Volz took issue with Lewis’ statement.
“If the protocol that had been filed was actually somewhat different than what the setback rules required, then it was incumbent upon you to bring that to the board’s attention,” Volz said.
McLane, whose testimony is similar to other Vermonters affected by turbine noise, insisted that the turbines have not been operating in compliance with Vermont law.
“We live with this day in and day out,” he said. “(You) aren’t there firsthand like we are. We know what we are seeing, what we are hearing, what we are experiencing.”