A House member is asking his colleagues to consider halting new large-scale wind turbine projects until the Public Service Board has established firm rules for how much noise the structures can produce.
Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, presented the idea Friday afternoon as an amendment to S.230, the bill addressing the siting of renewable energy projects. It is before the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
The amendment directs the Public Service Board to create rules for allowable sound levels from wind turbines. Currently the board sets a decibel limit for each project, but on a case-by-case basis and without having undertaken a broad examination of the science and effects of sound.
Another member of the committee suggested that looking to the board as arbiter would be a better and more politically palatable approach than the Senate’s.
“Rulemaking is the most effective way to do it … because look at what the Senate did with it,” said Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, referring to extensive amendments senators attached to S.230 not long before they voted on it.
The board would probably undertake a very thorough evaluation of sound standards, and the board’s rulemaking process is considered fair enough that other lawmakers might agree with the bill, Hebert said.
Furthermore, Hebert said, legislators aren’t expert on the subject and don’t have the time to become so, whereas the Public Service Board consists of experts who would consult further with other experts.
It’s not clear whether enough representatives in the Natural Resources and Energy Committee support the amendment to add it to the bill, but the language is likely to persuade at least some of the bill’s opponents to support it, said Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton.
“It would make it more palatable,” Gamache said.
The committee has already removed a number of provisions the bill contained when approved by the Senate.
Among those are the original instructions to the Public Service Board, directing it to finish its existing examination of issues related to turbine sound and to write new sound rules. The board had said the current process wasn’t designed with rulemaking in mind and would require a fresh start.
The committee also jettisoned language pertaining to preferred sites for new solar projects, along with the substance of an amendment originally proposed by the Senate Committee on Agriculture meant to preserve prime agricultural land. Also removed were provisions for a new position at the Public Service Board, called a public assistance officer, who would have helped members of the public navigate the PSB hearing process.
Committee members cut from the bill as well a section that would have established a pilot project to test the feasibility of deploying greater numbers of solar panels over parking lots and other previously disturbed sites.
These cuts were intended to keep the heart of the bill while trimming all else that could interrupt its path through the House, said the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington. The central element of the bill is a mechanism for giving communities more say over the siting of renewable energy projects during the PSB review process.
“I think taking some of the pieces out that came to us as Senate floor amendments, or (that) have an impact on ratepayers, was partly an effort to expedite the bill getting through the House while ensuring the core planning components garnered more agreement and we could bring them to the floor,” Ram said.
Ram said she’s hoping to revisit some of the portions of the bill the committee has removed.
One wind turbine neighbor said she’s heartened by Van Wyck’s amendment and thankful that the issue of noise has come before the Legislature.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction, if they can get it through,” said Melodie McLane, who lives within a mile of the Georgia Mountain wind energy installation, consisting of four 2.5-megawatt turbines.
At the same time, McLane said, the legislation leaves it to the Public Service Board to decide exactly where an appropriate sound level for future wind developments should be set.
McLane said the current maximum sound level the board allows – 45 decibels outside – is too high.
Renewable energy advocates say they like the thrust of the bill but consider it lacking.
It’s a good thing to give towns a greater voice in the siting process, said the Vermont Natural Resources Council’s energy program director, Johanna Miller.
But it’s unfortunate, she said, to have lost from the bill the public assistance position and the pilot program.
Van Wyck said he’ll probably formally introduce his amendment Tuesday, if his fellow committee members view it favorably.