The Vermont Department of Public Service is collecting and investigating noise complaints caused by the three large wind projects in Vermont.
DPS Commissioner Chris Recchia said Thursday that the amount and nature of the complaints warrant the investigation to see if the noise is creating a public nuisance for residents who live near the Georgia, Lowell and Sheffield wind projects.
“I want to get to the bottom of this,” Recchia said. “It’s not what was expected.”
He may take the evidence to the state utility regulators on the Public Service Board and ask them to re-evaluate their noise standards, under which wind projects are now operating.
“I am considering asking them to reconsider,” Recchia said.
This is the first time that DPS as the state’s consumer watchdog is dealing with a potential public nuisance issue.
It’s comparable to the Agency of Natural Resources, where Recchia was deputy secretary, reacting to complaints of smell from the Moretown landfill or from a pig farm. “That’s a fair comparison,” Recchia said.
“No one should be creating a nuisance on someone’s property,” he said.
Examining wind turbine noise is complicated, involving topography, wind direction, design and other issues, he said.
But DPS must react, he said.
“We are the public service board. We are going to be responsive to people’s concerns.”
On Thursday, Lowell wind project neighbor Kevin McGrath filed a new complaint with DPS and shared it with The Record.
At 12:30 a.m. Thursday, McGrath wrote an e-mail and sent a tape of turbine noise to Susan Paruch of the consumer affairs division of DPS, saying the noise was above standards of 45 decibels:
“The decibel readings in my home are now 44 with all the windows closed. The outside readings are now 51 and this has been the case for the last two hours. I cannot sleep.”
Two hours later, McGrath added this:
“It sounds like an airport behind my home and the plane never lands,” saying he is experiencing a hum throughout his house and has a headache.
Since October, 105 complaints about the big three wind projects have been collected by the DPS division on consumer affairs and public information, not including this complaint from McGrath.
Some of those complaints are from the same people. Twenty-three different people have complained. In one case in November, 31 people joined to file a petition about wind noise about the Lowell wind project which prompted Green Mountain Power to adjust early operations.
Some complaints are specific and were likely from turbine malfunction and were passed on directly to turbine operators, Recchia said.
Others noted less-detailed noise complaints, some from people who lived farther away from turbines and were not expected to be bothered by noise, he said.
“We are compiling and comparing them now” to quarterly noise measurements made at sites around the wind projects, Recchia said. Except for two instances, the Lowell turbines passed inspection this winter. Inspections are ongoing.
The complaints will be analyzed by a noise expert over the summer, he said.
There are three options. DPS could:
— enforce standards if violations are found;
— set up a better system for utilities to respond to complaints;
— request the PSB change its noise standards if they aren’t appropriate.
The DPS could pursue more than one option, Recchia said.
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment is also compiling confidential complaints.
Some NEK turbine neighbors are not comfortable talking to the state or turbine operators but want to get the word out, she said.
“There are a lot of people living in the area around the Lowell Mountains who are interested in taking action in a meaningful way,” Smith said.
They say that complaints to the state or PSB and to the turbine operators “have resulted in no response,” she said, adding that state officials are not interested, don’t care or have no ability to respond. She put the DPS in the latter category.
Smith said she heard from outspoken neighbors like Luann Therrien, Shirley Nelson and McGrath who experienced noise overnight Wednesday and Thursday.
McGrath said to DPS and The Record that noise has devalued his property.
“This is simply wrong and I should not have to lose thousands of dollars in property value or peace of mind. No one should have to defend their home.”
The rest of his email to DPS was detailed.
“It is 02:30 and there is a constant vibration-like hum throughout my home with the windows closed. The noise outside is a constant swoosh followed by a mechanical clunking noise.
“Please ask GMP if this is normal or if something failed up there? This cannot possibly be OK. No one can possibly tolerate this type of sleep deprivation,” McGrath wrote.
“No one should have to live like this. I can not sleep in my own home!”
Both the DPS and Vermonters for a Clean Environment will continue to collect and study complaints.
Anyone who has a noise complaint can contact the DPS directly at the consumer affairs hotline at 800-622-4496 or at Susan.Paruch@state.vt.us.
Or anyone who wants to participate in Smith’s confidential survey can contact her at windreporting.org.
Smith said she is providing details about the survey to the DPS for their research without names unless the complainants want to have their names attached.
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