Windham and Grafton soundly voted down the industrial wind proposal for our towns. You’d think we could all take a rest. Not so. Wind-industry moles spring up in every corner of the state, begging to be whacked.
The mole of the week: the Vermont Public Service Board’s “Proposed Rule on Sound from Wind Generation Facilities.”
The gist of this rule-making is: “Help us figure out impossible rules that can’t be monitored or enforced, concerning the noise that can be legally inflicted on Vermonters by our friends, the wind developers.”
You might feel that such rules mean it’s still open season on Vermont’s communities, given that unenforceable standards amount to nothing more than a knowing nod to the wind profiteers. If you’re right, then let us give this particular mole the whacking it deserves.
First, we might ponder the difference between sound and noise: sound is simply what we hear, becoming noise when we don’t want to hear it. Remembering this, let us peruse a few of the comments on the PSB rule that were submitted by developers and wind advocates.
Green Mountain Power, developer-owner of Kingdom Community Wind, intones, “It is valuable to hear the experiences of people who live near the turbines in Lowell,” revealing anecdotal comments of 23 Lowell residents along with the distances those 23 live from the nearest turbine. The average distance is 1.9 miles, and the median, two miles. No information is given on how the people were selected, and their responses indicate that the turbines can be heard up to three miles away. An obvious fix, supported by GMP observations, would be to require a minimum setback of something around two miles, in order to ensure that turbine neighbors aren’t exposed to “sound,” which some would experience as “noise.”
We learn that Renewable Energy Vermont has “consulted with its members, acoustical engineers, and wind project developers and operators.” This group feels that public health studies don’t support the idea that there are direct health effects from turbine noise. Conveniently overlooked is that these oft-cited studies do not reject the idea that such effects exist; in fact, most studies conclude with appeals for more rigorous health studies to create a scientific underpinning for protecting populations. Thus, the existing health-effects literature is hardly the green light seen by REV for the massive turbine-noise exposures of Vermont’s population that would occur if these folks were to have their way.
Both REV and Vermont Public Interest Research Group observe that measuring indoor sound is too difficult to do (a point disputed by many noise experts), and therefore should not be done. This is even though indoor sound is what disturbs people’s sleep as well as large swaths of their waking lives. Part of the “difficulty” is that enclosed spaces seem to worsen people’s experience of the specific sound frequencies generated by wind turbines. In a study by Australian acoustician Bob Thorne, many turbine neighbors report that turbine noise is noticeably worse inside their homes than outside. Meanwhile, outdoor-sound measurement also has multiple shortcomings and practical difficulties. An obvious fix? Required setbacks of around two miles from property lines, apparently, if unintentionally, supported by both REV and VPIRG.
If the PSB is really listening, they might notice that REV, VPIRG and GMP actually support what many of us in threatened communities are saying: The only rational and helpful rule governing wind turbine noise would be a minimum two-mile setback from people’s property lines. Such a setback would be protective, and once enforced, would require no ongoing monitoring.
Frank Seawright is chairman of the Windham Select Board. Nancy Tips is a Windham resident. Both previously worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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