Don’t erect industrial-size wind turbines close to homes.
That’s how the Lowell Mountain Group would have state utility regulators develop new sound standards for wind projects.
The Lowell Mountain Group and others offered comments about best practices involving the sound of wind turbines at the request of the Vermont Public Service Board, which is conducting an investigation into whether current sound standards for wind and other energy projects are sufficient.
The board has held hearings and collected a last round of statements on sound standards in other states and countries along with information on best practices before, during and after construction for sound monitoring. The investigation was driven by a series of health complaints by neighbors to existing wind projects in Lowell, Sheffield and Georgia.
The board is expected to decide whether the current standards should be updated and expanded to cover health impacts that opponents blame on specific kinds of wind turbine noise.
The Lowell wind opponents, which formed in reaction to the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind, said a wind turbine capable of producing 1.5 megawatts of electricity should be cited at least 1.25 miles away from a home.
“For larger turbines the distance must be further and should be at the property line, not the dwelling,” the group stated in its comments about wind monitoring and standards. The Lowell turbines are larger.
A wind developer would have to get permission to exceed the standards and erect turbines within that “exclusion zone,” the group stated. “Otherwise it is trespass and a taking of property rights.”
And the Lowell Mountain Group wants wind standards to reflect how quiet the environment is. If the background noise is quiet, at 20 decibels, then the turbine noise has to be almost as quiet, at 30 decibels or less.
“Wind turbines do not belong in quiet areas where this standard cannot be met,” the group states.
The group wants the topography of the land around a wind project to be considered in the project’s design and the sound standards applied.
Green Mountain Power, which built and operates the 21 turbines in Lowell, stated in its comment that it’s not recommended to use an amount above a background level as a standard in a rural area, because background noise fluctuates and compliance would be difficult.
Background noise is low in Vermont, which can lead to a “very low standard, well below what most people would find objectionable and well below levels that have been shown to cause activity interference, such as sleep disturbance,” GMP stated.
“Places with higher background sound levels would thus be more suitable for development, but those tend to be where more people are located. Thus, it increases human exposure to noise,” GMP stated.
Noreen Hession of Newark, which has opposed a wind project that was considered and discarded in Essex County, told the board that the World Health Organization has identified a nighttime standard for wind noise that should be followed.
There should be continuous and full-frequency monitoring of wind projects after they are built, Hession stated. And the monitoring has to be by independent professionals approved by those who are impacted by wind noise, she stated.
All results of the wind monitoring – including the raw data, not just the final results adjusted for background noise – should be shared, Hession stated.
The Public Service Board also asked how other jurisdictions handle complaints.
The Lowell Mountain Group would like an agency other than the board to handle them, one that has the authority to shut down a project that is out of compliance.
GMP stated that in California and Alberta, Canada, there are forms that neighbors can fill out to document and prompt investigation of complaints.
But GMP cites the regulators of utilities in the Netherlands which state that it is not possible to satisfy 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. The goal is to limit the number of people who would be “highly annoyed” by wind projects.
Vermont’s watchdog for electricity consumers, the Department of Public Service, detailed a list of complaint practices in other states and jurisdictions.
In most of the states cited, complaints had to rise to the level of a permit violation to require a full investigation, according to Autumn Barnett, director of consumer affairs and public information for the Department of Public Service.
Otherwise, Barnett noted, the complaints were directed to the wind project operator to address.
“Conversations with states also indicated relative inexperience with responding to complaints about wind facilities,” Barnett stated.
In Minnesota, a representative called the formation of best practices for handling complaints “new ground.”
States surveyed show that complaints about impacts on health or issues that are not already addressed by standards are handled on a case-by-case basis, Barnett stated.
Best practices when it comes to health issues and other complaints are still evolving, she stated.
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