St. Albans Messenger, May 22, 2017
State recommends penalty for tower
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The developer of Swanton Wind could be fined $15,000 for the construction of a meteorological tower on his property, in violation of state statute.
Travis Belisle erected a 132-feet-tall, six-inch-diameter meteorological station on his property in 2012, “seeing if the wind on the ridge would be right for wind turbines that generate electricity.”
But because of such a project’s connection with a prospective grid-connected project — Swanton Wind — Belisle required a Certificate of Public Good, essentially a construction permit from the Public Service Board, before doing so. Now the Department of Public Service (DPS), not to be confused with the Public Service Board, has recommended the board impose a $15,000 penalty for the construction of that meteorological tower.
Travis Belisle at a Montpelier Public Service Board conference in Oct. 2016, flanked by Ashley Belisle, left, and attorney Anthony Iarrapino, right.
Messenger file photo
DPS also recommended to the board, in the form of testimony filed May 18, that the board require Belisle to follow the Agency of Natural Resources’ recommendations as well: that Belisle allow vegetation cleared for the tower to naturally regrow, and that Belisle monitor and control invasive species on the site for the three years the agency estimates it will take the vegetation to regrow.
Belisle stated in his testimony before the board that he constructed the tower on his property after consulting with Vermont Environment Research Associates (VERA) and the Swanton zoning administrator, unaware that a Certificate of Public Good was required to construct the tower.
But the DPS disputed the factuality of that testimony, “given the sophistication and experience of Mr. Belisle’s consultants in the area of wind energy development and the regulatory permitting process in Vermont.” The DPS noted in its May 18 filing that those consultants previously worked on the Deerfield, the Kingdom Community and the Georgia Mountain Community wind projects, rendering the assertion they were unaware of permitting requirements “implausible.”
Belisle said in his testimony that he had not designed a specific project in 2012, disputing the tower’s direct connection to Swanton Wind or any such prospective grid-connected project.
Belisle said his “decision to gather data about wind on his property and his interest in exploring the possibility of some day using the hill behind his home to generate electricity is not evidence of a potential wind project sufficient to trigger Public Service Board jurisdiction.”
But the board disagreed. “Since part of the purpose of a meteorological tower is to assess the suitability of a site, such an interpretation… would render the obligations therein meaningless,” the board said in a November 2016 order. “Instead, under these requirements, all that is needed is the intent to construct a meteorological tower to assess the wind resources for a prospective grid-connected project.”
Swanton residents Christine and Dustin Lang reported the violation of Title 30, Section 246, which concerns the temporary siting of meteorological stations, to the board in July 2015. The Langs are among the opposition to Swanton Wind, which would be constructed in the area surrounding their home.
Belisle removed the tower in August 2015, after the Langs’ report to the Public Service Board.
The DPS argued in its May 18 filing that a $15,000 fine “is necessary to ensure the credibility of the Board process, both with respect to Mr. Belisle’s future actions, as well as those of other developers who must navigate the regulatory process in the future.”
The DPS said the department “believes its penalty recommendation is appropriate given [Belisle]’s economic resources,” and suggested Belisle may be able to recoup some of the fine from his consultants, “to the extent that they provided incorrect information regarding the need for a [Certificate of Public Good].”
The DPS also noted that Belisle has no other recorded violations of the Public Service Board process, having resolved a wetlands violation with the Agency of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Public Service Board has not yet determined Belisle’s penalty.
Swanton Wind, which Belisle has developed with his wife, Ashley, is still undergoing the board’s review. A status conference for that project is scheduled for Wednesday, May 24, in Montpelier.