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Vermonters for a Clean Environment seeks hearing for Therrien family before public dervice board

Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), the Danby-based non-profit organization that has been advocating for a year on behalf of a Sheffield family struggling with noise from the wind project operated by First Wind of Boston, is now seeking a hearing before the Public Service Board at which family members would testify.

VCE is also seeking to have First Wind pay for an attorney and an expert witness to represent the family, Steve and Luann Therrien, as part of an eight-page response to an independent noise monitoring study submitted this week to the PSB by the Commissioner of the Vermont Public Service Department.

The letter asks the PSB to have more testing done at the Therrien home by a firm with experience in large-scale wind projects and that the testing be done independent of the wind farm developer knowing the testing period this time.

VCE is harshly critical of the recent report and believes the wind operator scaled back operations to influence the positive outcome of the testing. The report shows noise levels to be within those permissible under the Certificate of Public Good (CPG) issued to First Wind to operate the wind project.

The Vermont Public Service Department (PSD), following months of noise complaints coming from VCE on behalf of the Therriens, last fall had monitors installed; in December, a consultant spent three days collecting sound data near the Therrien home.

Results of those three days of sound monitoring were released on Wednesday by the PSD and filed with the Public Service Board, who had issued a CPG to allow the wind project to run before it began operations more than two years ago.

VCE’s letter states, “The report filed [Wednesday] was done in part because of our regular meetings with the Department, during which then-Commissioner Elizabeth Miller (who left in December to become the Governor’s Chief of Staff) acknowledged that even if the Sheffield project’s sound monitoring reports filed with the PSB indicate the project is in compliance, if people are complaining and being harmed, that is not okay, and further investigation is warranted.”

Annette Smith, executive director of VCE, said First Wind knew about the noise monitoring and should not have. Charts in the report show “high wind speeds, consistent wind speeds at hub height, yet low power output. The report doesn’t even talk about why the power output was so low given the wind conditions. If there was curtailment, that would explain it, and presumably that information was all turned over by First Wind to the Department,” said Smith.”

She was critical of Public Service Department Commissioner Christopher Recchia not discussing or disclosing the Therrien case in his cover letter to the PSB accompanying the independent sound testing report. “The Department did not disclose, either in the report cover letter or in the report itself, the numerous complaints that the Therriens have been making to the Department about their increasingly desperate situation,” the letter from VCE states.

John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said the company did not curtail operations when they found out about the testing.

“The project was not curtailed during the testing,” he stated.

In response to the VCE letter to the PSB about the testing results, Lamontagne issued this statement on Thursday: “VCE may be disappointed with the facts, but the report clearly demonstrates that the testing done during a three-day period provided further evidence that the Sheffield Wind project has been in compliance and usually ‘substantially below’ the state sound standard.”

“The Letty (sound consulting) report also clearly demonstrates that the project was at full operation during the December testing. To claim anything to the contrary would be disingenuous,” Lamontagne stated.

VCE, in the letter criticizing the independent testing, states that Luann Therrien, during the testing period, sent an e-mail to VCE stating that the wind speed and conditions were optimal for the very loud turbine noise that disturbs her family, but she stated, “Up now at 2 a.m. Imagine our surprise we are not being rocked out of the house by turbine whoosh and jet sound. First time in a long time that we are hearing mostly normal wind sounds.”

“Luann’s full emails give a clear indication that First Wind was changing their operations because they were tipped off that monitoring was going to be happening,” stated Smith “This report shows more than a passing indication that they severed power during the tests, just from looking at the graphs.”

“VCE finds it incomprehensible that the Department did not pick up on or point out the low power output at high winds, indicating that the turbines were manipulated to reduce the noise levels during the test period,” Smith’s letter notes.

Geoff Commons, director of public advocacy for the PSD, said of the report, “While the Report’s findings are not as robust as we would have liked, this was our first foray into conducting sound monitoring at a wind-powered generating facility.”

“We gained valuable experience and insight into the challenges associated with measuring wind-turbine sound, particularly where the sound in question arises during very specific weather conditions that may not coincide with the times when monitoring is being done,” said Commons. “We are committed to working with the Board and others to address these issues as we continue to advance the state’s renewable energy goals.”

It is not yet known whether VCE will be successful in its effort to have the Therriens testify before the PSB about the effects of turbine noise.