Utility consumer advocates at the Department of Public Service want to expand research into noise from the Lowell wind turbines. And they want Green Mountain Power to pay for it.
DPS is asking GMP, which owns and operates the 21 large turbines on the Lowell ridgeline, to pay toward continuous monitoring of the turbines through a penalty of $54,000 for six violations of sound standards last winter.
The board held a hearing earlier this month to consider whether GMP should be penalized for those violations.
GMP opposes larger penalties and continuous monitoring, stating that the operation was 99.9 percent within limits during monitoring and that the company reacted quickly when noise problems were identified.
The department points to complaints about health impacts from the turbines’ sound by neighbor Shirley Nelson, although noting that her concerns exist even when the sound from the turbines is within levels set by the PSB.
Continuous monitoring “would better promote the public good, and allow the parties and board to gain information that could assist with a more far-reaching resolution of issues related to the project,” stated Geoffrey Commons, director for public advocacy of the department.
“The department continues to believe that the identification and correction of noise-related problems is of paramount concern,” Commons stated in a brief submitted to the PSB this week.
The department has received complaints from other neighbors, but Nelson was the only neighbor who was cleared to testify about the impact of sound violations.
GMP stated that continuous monitoring is beyond the scope of the hearing.
Continuous monitoring would cost $600,000, GMP states.
GMP is spending $100,000 to install a weather monitoring station and video equipment to alert operators when snow begins to accumulate on the turbine blades, which causes noise above the acceptable sound standards set by the PSB.
There were six times during two hours last winter when sound monitoring stations found sound from the turbines slightly above the set standard of 45 decibels outside of neighboring homes, or the sound of a quiet library.
The rest of the time the sound was within limits set by the board. The sound limits were the subject of extensive testimony during hearings before GMP received permission to erect and operate the turbines.
Testimony shows that it’s hard for humans to identify changes in sound of 3 decibels or less. The noise violations were .1 to .3 decibels above the 45-decibel limit.
The department points to Nelson’s testimony about dramatic effects to her health and quality of life which she said were caused by the sound of the turbines. No one challenged her assertions, Commons stated.
Annoyance from the sound of turbines could have “a significant impact on quality of life” at sound levels below the limit set by the PSB, he stated.
The department doesn’t want to discount Nelson’s complaints, but says the testimony isn’t sufficient to link her complaints to the violations – with the record showing she experienced effects even when the turbine sound was within standards.
GMP had a duty to look deeper into noise caused by snow on turbine blades before the project began operation, the department stated. GMP stated that the company which made the turbines did not warn about noise caused by snow buildup on turbine blades.
The department originally considered minor penalties, but still wanted more monitoring.
The lack of knowledge by GMP about snow impacts, along with Nelson’s health concerns, raised the question for the department of whether there were more violations last winter, which prompted the department to seek a stiffer penalty than originally sought, Commons stated.
Editor’s Note: This article is by Robin Smith of The Caledonian Record, in which it was first published Aug. 31, 2013.
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