That’s how Sen. John Rodgers felt after a compromise on the renewable energy siting bill fell apart in the eleventh hour, a deal that would have included requiring around-the-clock noise monitoring at industrial wind projects.
Rodgers was peeved at Sen. Christopher Bray, a fellow Democrat who is chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, and to a lesser degree at Sen. Brian Campion, who also sits on Natural Resources alongside Rodgers.
The Northeast Kingdom senator was also irritated because he felt supporters of industrial wind had brought political pressure to bear. Their lobbyists, Rodgers said, looked like smiling Cheshire Cats after the monitoring proposal was dropped Thursday.
“The most frustrating part is what I thought was an agreement about sound monitoring was backed out of in the last day, and I think it’s just another example of how much money is spent in this building,” said Rodgers, who represents Essex and Orleans counties.
A child whose family lives near the wind project in Lowell, he said, can only be outside for 15 minutes or so before he has to run back inside covering his ears.
“For all those people who are working in this building for the big checks from the wealthy developers, I wonder how they would feel if it was their children,” Rodgers said Friday morning in an interview.
Bray, of Addison County, said it was more information, not political pressure, that prompted him to dump his support for the noise monitoring requirement.
“I agreed to it with too little – I would just say, under time pressure. And I had second thoughts about it. I slept on it overnight, I did some more research,” Bray said, and that changed his mind.
The cost of the monitoring bothered him. And he thought it was unfair to impose a requirement after a project had already been approved, one that could be expensive and may have prompted a developer not to build, had it been required during the review process. He said the cost of quarterly monitoring at the Lowell site is more than $250,000 a year; full time, he said, would be significantly more.
Bray said that when he came in Thursday morning, he immediately went to Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, to say he could no longer back the sound-monitoring amendment and “apologized for getting a little ahead” of himself.
“It’s an awkward thing to go through, thinking you’re going to be able to support something and then saying: ‘You know, I can’t now that I’ve learned more about it,’” Bray said Friday. “But I have to be honest, and my job is to cast the most informed vote I can.”
Bray, however, said he didn’t understand why Rodgers felt betrayed.
The primary purpose of the bill, S.230, Bray said, was to deal with community concerns about siting solar projects, not about sound levels at wind projects, a topic that came up only as the bill was being discussed in committee. Plus, Bray said, it was clearly a proposal without much support since the sound-monitoring amendment failed 18 to 8.
The entire bill, after four and a half hours of floor debate and consideration of more than 30 amendments, passed Thursday night 22 to 3. In addition to solar, it gives communities more say in siting wind projects. More than 100 communities had signed a petition saying the Public Service Board, which approves or disapproves applications for energy projects, was not giving them enough say.
Plus, Bray and Campion, D-Bennington, said the legislation did not completely sidestep the noise issue. The law requires the Public Service Board to develop sound standards. Bray also said he would be working with Sen. Claire Ayer, the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, on the sound issue.
“We don’t want to leave Vermonters unprotected. Frankly, some of this is new and we’re learning as we go along,” Bray said, adding that the noise monitoring amendment was the only part of the “grand bargain” compromise that was dropped.
Before he went on the floor and told his colleagues he had changed his mind, Bray said, he spoke to Rodgers, who had found out hours earlier Bray was backing out.
“I shook his hand and guaranteed I would work with him on sound again” if they are both re-elected, Bray said.
Rodgers was irritated with Campion because he thought Campion would support the noise monitoring amendment after visiting a family in Fairfax, the McLanes, who live near a four-turbine wind project that straddles the Milton-Georgia town line where the decibel levels, according to Campion, were higher than allowed.
Campion told Rodgers and the committee he would not want to live in the McLanes’ house, and he wrote to the Public Service Board to say the project was out of compliance. The PSB has set an acceptable level of noise at 45 decibels. However, Campion said he was not prepared to require all projects, even those already approved, to institute around-the-clock monitoring based on that one visit.
“For me to move much more broadly on these kinds of things, all I want is time, to take the time to hear from a lot of people, see what other countries are doing, see what other states are doing, and we’ve not yet done that as a committee,” Campion said.
While Rodgers said the PSB was lax on enforcement, Bray noted the Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell, owned by Green Mountain Power, has been required to do extensive testing after it violated allowable noise levels.
Rodgers is also annoyed that wind developers, including GMP, sell their renewable energy credits to utilities out of state that use them to satisfy their own requirements for renewable energy.
He said Vermonters were not filing “frivolous” complaints about noise.
Bray sounded sympathetic and said it would be further discussed, but didn’t appear convinced yet.
“I don’t have a technically well-informed position on it,” he said. “But I would say it’s certainly disruptive to people’s lives, and does that turn into a health issue? I think for some people the disruption can be enough. We have an old expression: worried sick. You can make yourself ill by being upset about something.”
“On one level you might say it’s not the turbines that are making people sick but it’s their response to those turbines, so I don’t want to be too technical. I don’t want to dodge this. I’m concerned about it,” Bray said, adding the committee listened to the testimony with “our hearts and minds.”
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