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Board: GMP Exceeded Sound Limits At Lowell Project

AP/Toby Talbot

State utility regulators are considering sanctions against Green Mountain Power for violating sound limits at its Lowell wind project last winter.

GMP says the problem was caused by snow build-up on the turbine blades. It says the violations were extremely limited and that monitoring now shows that it’s in full compliance.

Don Nelson and his wife Shirley live just below the Lowell ridgeline. He doesn’t have sound monitoring equipment at his farmhouse, but he describes a thunderous noise from the turbines one weekend in early November last year.

 “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I went outside. And the turbines on the ridgeline, they were roaring,” he said. “And somebody asked me what it sounded like. I said it sounded like they were ripping the atmosphere apart.”

Nelson is no fan of Green Mountain Power. He and his family are outspoken opponents of the Lowell wind project.

But the Public Service Board said GMP’s own reports show that the outside noise limit of 45 decibels was exceeded “a number of times” last winter.

In an order released this week, the board said it wants to “determine the appropriate civil penalty for the identified violation.”

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the limits were exceeded for just four hours in the two monitoring periods, starting on Dec. 6. She said the excessive noise was triggered by unusual weather conditions when wet snow built up on the turbine blades.

“We identified the reasons why we exceeded in those four hours. And we are investing in significant equipment to ensure we identify those conditions and do not generate in those conditions. Because we will meet the sound standard,” she said.

 As the PSB order on possible sanctions became public, GMP put out a press release saying that its latest reports, from May and June, showed it’s met the sound standards.

“The most recent levels, the most recent testing indicates that we have no times where we exceeded the sound limit,” she said.

The Department of Public Service represents the public in utility cases. Geoff Commons is the department’s public advocate.

He says the department initially recommended that GMP not be fined, because it wasn’t clear that the utility had violated the order that set the sound limits. But the board took a different view.

“And the board is certainly the authority on its orders and what it meant in its order. And if there is a violation of the order, as they’ve said, there should be a consequence,” he said.

Don Nelson said the noise from the Lowell ridgeline has subsided now that there’s no snow on the turbine blades.

“We don’t hear it the same now. Sometimes we’ll hear it real loud but it’s nothing like that noise that we have when there is the snow build-up,” he said.

The Public Service Board has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 8 to take testimony on possible sanctions against the utility.