MONTPELIER – Former Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who was a strong proponent of wind power during his government service, is now speaking out on behalf of residents concerned about the noise generated by turbines in Sheffield and a potential installation in Swanton.
Dubie, who served from 2003 to 2011 and lost a close election to Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2010, said he still supports wind power as an alternative energy source for Vermont. The commercial airline pilot said he’s not looking to re-enter Vermont’s political scene, but he is speaking out on behalf of his neighbors in Franklin County who could soon be affected by turbine noise.
Additionally, a wind project is proposed in Swanton – just under a mile from Dubie’s home – that would generate up to 20 megawatts of power from as many as seven turbines 500 feet tall.
“I knew that that was going to be a question, but it’s more about knowledge,” he said. “It’s not in my backyard, but I’m kind of in the neighborhood, and 30 neighbors reached out to me as a guy who understands government. I don’t know if I’ve adopted them or if they adopted me.”
As the state’s second-in-command, Dubie supported wind generation and advocated for the turbines erected in Georgia. But Dubie said he began to hear about noise complaints and other concerns from people he knew. A letter from several state representatives and senators to Shumlin, the Public Service Board, the Department of Public Service and the Department of Health detailing complaints also caught his attention.
Sixteen wind turbines were erected in Sheffield in 2011. Since then, plenty of noise complaints have been logged. One man who lives near the Sheffield project told Dubie that his son had moved out of their home because he was so sensitive to the noise.
“I’m watching this guy, a kid who I went to high school with, and he’s not a NIMBY kind of guy. It piqued my interest,” Dubie said, referring to a “not in my backyard” sensibility. “Their quality of life has been diminished.”
Dubie said he felt a responsibility to speak out.
“It’s a complex thing. But the reason I’m kind of sticking my nose into it is I kind of supported it. I literally wrote a letter in support,” he said about the Georgia turbines. “With knowledge comes a responsibility and I have learned, and as a consequence I feel an obligation on behalf of the families. I’m saying I don’t think that’s consistent with good public policy. That’s what I’ve learned.”
“I’ve got another life. I’ve got another job. But, when I met these people that feel like they’re collateral damage or left behind, I think we’re a better state than that,” he added.
Dubie is advocating for Paul Brouha, whose family lives on a farm that abuts the Sheffield project, among others. Brouha maintains that the turbines, operated by Vermont Wind, exceed the allowable 30 decibel level at his residence that is part of Vermont Wind’s noise monitoring plan.
Brouha is seeking relief via the Public Service Board. He hired a noise expert to conduct testing that he said shows the turbines are at times louder than allowed when the windows of his home are open. The Department of Public Service hired its own expert and found the data Brouha gathered to be credible.
Dubie said he is concerned that the department is now recommending that the Public Service Board accept additional comments from both Vermont Wind and Brouha. Noise readings have already been collected and affirmed in the last 15 months – it’s time for a decision, according to Dubie.
Dubie said his neighbors in Franklin County are concerned with the delay and fear a similar outcome for themselves if the Swanton project moves forward. Other states, including Maine and Colorado, have enacted more stringent regulations on noise, Dubie said.
“My involvement is, yeah, this stuff has a place, but it needs to be done right,” he said. “Some states and countries have been doing it a lot longer and have tighter regulations.”
Dubie said he would like wind developers to pay a fee that would cover the cost of continuous noise monitoring.
“They’re industry, and as such, these things generate a lot of revenue. One simple thing is to put a reasonable fee on them and allow continuous noise monitoring,” he said. “I think it’s just a natural evolution to a better job of regulating as we go forward and as we learn lessons.”
Dubie said he isn’t sure how far his involvement in the wind debate will go, but he plans to continue speaking out.
“I think the best role that I can do is to have a conversation like this,” he said.