LYNDON CENTER – Lyndon State College is asking some towns in the Northeast Kingdom and beyond to contribute $5,000 each toward a wind project monitoring project.
LSC stands to be awarded a $50,000 appropriation in the 2015-2016 legislative Capital Bill, but can only get its hands on the funds if it raises the same amount in matching funds.
In language added to the Capital Bill by Sen. John Rodgers, D-Orleans, the college will be given a $50,000 appropriation to buy sound monitoring equipment for industrial wind projects, providing it raises $50,000 on its own for the project.
Rodgers said Monday the proposal went before the full Senate during the legislative session, and is intended to train students in sound monitoring for wind projects in Vermont. He said criticism in recent days by VPIRG that the funds were snuck into the bill at the 11th hour are unfounded.
The funds will not be released until LSC “… has notified the Chairs of the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions and the Senate Committee on Institutions and the Commissioner of Finance and Management that $50,000 in committed funds has been raised as a match to finance costs associated with the purchase of sound monitoring equipment,” the record for the legislative appropriation shows.
“Lyndon State College is pleased to serve the State of Vermont by providing a much-needed academic perspective on the relationship between wind energy and sound,” the college said in an emailed statement about the project.
“Professor Ben Luce, a physics professor with 26 years of experience in scientific research and teaching, will provide research to gather data on this important issue,” the college statement said. “In addition to providing funds for the purchase of sound monitoring equipment, the appropriation will give Lyndon State College students the opportunity to do hands-on research and reporting. This experiential education is key to a Lyndon education.”
LSC is working to drum up the matching portion of the funds, and last week the request was discussed by the Irasburg Select Board, the minutes of the board’s Aug. 22 meeting show. The town was asked to contribute $5,000, but tabled the request.
In a letter to towns seeking financial support for the college’s wind monitoring, towns were told, “Lyndon State College is seeking community partners in support of a wind power noise monitoring program that the College is interested in providing as a community service to address the lack of extensive data on this important and relatively new issue in our region.”
In addition to Irasburg, LSC has also reached out to the towns of Sutton, Albany, Craftsbury, Milton, and Fairfax, as well as the Green Mountain Club, spokeswoman Sylvia Plumb said Monday.
LSC has no written plans for the wind testing program yet, Plumb said late Tuesday. “Testing sites have not been determined.”
Of the Green Mountain Club, Plumb said LSC just “wanted to gauge their level of interest.”
The college is just beginning fundraising for the project, said Plumb, and will approach more towns. No funds have been pledged to date, she said. Both Irasburg and Sutton have placed the request on their select board agendas.
“There has been concern all along about whether we could raise the $50,000 matching funds, so we have not yet outlined when testing would begin,” Plumb said.
She said monitoring locations if the program gets funding “would be in many locations.” She said the property belonging to Luann and Steve Therrien in Sheffield has been discussed as a possible site.
VPIRG, the state’s largest consumer and environmental organization, has publicly asserted that Luce’s association with the project is a conflict of interest because of his work with Energize Vermont. VPIRG mounted an online petition urging LSC’s administration not to accept the state appropriation for the work.
Ben Walsh, VPIRG’s climate and energy program director, said in a post on the organization’s website, “The public has a right to know how this ‘golden fleece’ of a project was slipped into the capital budget. More importantly, VPIRG is calling on Lyndon State to pull the plug on it before one public dollar is actually flushed down the toilet.”
In response to VPIRG saying his role would lead to a tainted outcome for any study of a wind project, Luce said in an email this week, “All I want to say right now is that as a professional physicist, it is my intent to adhere to the strictest of standards in any of the measurements and analysis I oversee.”
Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding, in an email to the newspaper about the project, said, “I am confident Professor Luce and Lyndon can do a high quality and unbiased study that will be useful to the public and policymakers. Further, this would be a wonderful research experience for our students.”
Luce is a member of the board of directors of Energize Vermont, a nonprofit renewable energy lobbying group which recently entered an agreement with Steve and Luann Therrien, owners of a nearly 50-acre piece of property adjacent to the Sheffield wind project, to study the impacts of the wind site.
The Therriens fled their modest home more than a year ago, after begging state and local officials, as well as the wind project owners, to help them. They say living near the more than 400-foot turbines had a negative effect on their health and that of their two young children.
Energize Vermont recently paid the couple’s more than $5,000 delinquent tax bill, saving their property from tax sale, and entered an agreement to use the site for wind project monitoring purposes.
Energize Vermont will use the property as a new Center for Turbine Impact Studies site, to collect data on the wind project, under the agreement with the Therriens.
Mark Whitworth, executive director of Energize Vermont, said Tuesday of the Therrien site, “If the property is suitable for LSC’s purpose, we would be delighted to make it available to them.”
Whitworth was critical of VPIRG’s attack on the funding for LSC to begin a wind monitoring program, saying, “It looks like VPIRG would like to prevent research on turbine impacts from being carried out in Vermont. By suppressing scientific inquiry, VPIRG would be following in the proud tradition of the tobacco and oil industries.”
If LSC is successful raising the needed $50,000 in matching funds, Luce said, “We are hoping to begin a training program for interested students that would educate them in the theory of acoustics and sound measurement. The program would include both some coursework and then student projects.”
“Measurement at wind sites is one type but not the only type of site we hope the student projects will investigate. We intend to make the data and analysis from projects, especially involving wind sites publicly available, with thorough documentation of the measurements and site conditions,” said Luce. “We also plan on working with certified professionals in the field to help with and review our measurement and analysis practices.”