MONTPELIER – Reacting to ongoing complaints, the board that regulates wind and other energy projects is opening an investigation into what kinds of noise from these power plants are acceptable in Vermont.
The Vermont Public Service Board has announced the investigation into the potential establishment of state standards related to sound levels from the operation of generation, transmission and distribution equipment of power plants under the board’s jurisdiction.
A prehearing conference on the noise investigation will be held Jan. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Pavilion Auditorium.
The board is already looking at whether turbines of the Lowell wind project by Green Mountain Power violated existing standards a few times last winter during intermittent monitoring. GMP is looking at whether constant monitoring is physically and financially possible on the mountain. GMP could face some fines for the violations, which the state said could be spent on monitoring.
Groups like Vermonters for a Clean Environment have been collecting information about the impacts of sound from the Lowell wind turbines on neighbors around the Lowell ridgeline and has submitted that information to the board and to the consumer advocates in the Department of Public Service.
The board acknowledged in an order issued Monday that it has relied to a large extent on sound standards set by the World Health Organization.
Neighbors of the Lowell turbines, like Shirley Nelson, have said that noise within those limits has still affected her health.
The Therrien family living near the First Wind facility in Sheffield has also voiced concerns over health consequences from the turbine noise.
The board appeared to react to those kinds of complaints.
“Even with these restrictions placed on several recently constructed facilities, the board has received complaints regarding sounds produced by the operation of some facilities. These complaints have raised questions about whether the limitations that the board has previously adopted are adequate.
“As a result, the board has determined that it is appropriate to commence a general investigation into the issue of appropriate sound standards for facilities that are subject to the board’s jurisdiction” along with small net-metered projects, the board wrote in its order.
The board is asking those who attend the prehearing in January to be prepared to talk about the overall goal of the investigation, the format that the investigation should follow, who should participate in the investigation, and potential schedules.
The board will establish a web page on its website for the investigation. Written comments on the topic and those questions are requested, with a deadline of Dec. 31. All comments will be posted on the website before the prehearing conference.
The Vermont Public Service Board is required to evaluate potential energy projects under 10 criteria set by the Legislature.
One of them addresses whether a proposed facility would have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, air quality and public health and safety, the board notes in its order calling for the noise investigation.
“The quantity and quality of sound emissions from proposed facilities have the potential for impacts under each of these categories,” the board stated.
There has been a significant increase in energy projects before the board, in part driven by legislative enactments to push renewable energy projects, the board stated.
That has led to “an increase in interest in the amount and types of sounds that such facilities produce and questions about whether and how such sounds might impact the quality of life of those living near enough to the facilities to hear them.”
The board noted in the Lowell wind noise violation review that it took Nelson’s health concerns seriously. However, the board stated it could not evaluate Nelson’s concerns about the impacts on her health from turbine sound because GMP put up the turbines under a certificate of public good that accepts current sound standards.
Nelson provided a diary of sound levels and her health impacts, which showed that she had health concerns even when the turbines were within the accepted limits.
In setting up the new sound standards investigation, the board has created a forum to hear and react to her concerns.
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