The Kingdom Wind industrial wind turbines in Lowell were proposed to be Vestas V90 or a comparable Siemens 2.5-megawatt model. The Vestas V90 is a 3-megawatt turbine that stands 449 feet tall. All the sound modeling, visual impacts, environmental impacts and all other impacts of the wind turbines were based on these turbine models.
After the Public Service Board approved a certificate of public good for the project, the developer, Green Mountain Power, changed the wind turbine model to Vestas V112. This is a 3.3-megawatt model that is 459 feet tall.
This was not a violation of legislation regulating wind turbines and so no reassessment of the increased impacts of these larger wind turbines was required, even though the towns of Albany and Craftsbury filed a formal request noting that the change in model resulted in substantial increases in costs, and impacts such as sound and aesthetics. The lateral shift of the turbines along the ridgeline to accommodate the increased blade length and the change in sound modeling for the louder, larger turbines did not change the impact of the project, according to the PSB. The PSB also ruled that the Quechee analysis did not change with the increased visibility: Does the project offend the sensibilities of the average person? Is it offensive or shocking because it is out of character with its surroundings or significantly diminishes the scenic qualities of the area?
Developers can consider a variety of models and choose one after a certificate of public good has been issued for their project, thanks to a change in legislation between the applications for the Sheffield and Lowell wind projects.
Swanton Wind has suggested Goldwind, a turbine manufacturer from China, as a possible turbine manufacturer in their certificate of public good application, and has given only a height category of 499 feet. Their sound monitoring study was based on a Goldwind GW109 2.5-megawatt turbine, but a 2-to-3-megawatt turbine range for the final project was given by Swanton Wind. The larger the generator the louder the noise, and the 2.5-megawatt generator was forcing the limits of the liberal PSB sound standards. As a matter of fact, the southernmost turbine (T5), near Lebel Drive (St. Albans Town), will have to be governed so it never reaches maximum output, because if it did, it would exceed the PSB noise standards. That is how much this project is being forced to fit into this very confined space.
The sound level threshold of 45 decibels is barely being met with the computer models. What would an actual field test with variable meteorological and atmospheric factors (moisture conducts sound) reveal? Modeling also cannot take into consideration all of the topographical features of the area surrounding the wind project. The 45 decibels threshold is actually an average over a one-hour period, which means the sound level can spike to 60-70 decibels (vacuum cleaner) and still meet the threshold – day or night.
Which turbine model will Swanton Wind be using? To know the actual size of the turbines in Swanton, you will have to wait until construction begins. You can’t rely on the permit to tell you.
Martha Staskus, a member of the Swanton Wind development team, in her pre-filed testimony states: “The specific wind turbine manufacturer, manufacturer’s model and quantity will be selected closer to the construction period.” This supports the scenario that played out in Lowell – the fact that the impacts of a different turbine model are not considered by the PSB as having any difference in impacts over the model that was specified during the technical portion of the PSB evaluation. This is one of many gifts that the Legislature has provided to the wind industry in the last decade, and a major fault with the present legislation regarding industrial wind turbine projects in Vermont, and why the legislation needs to be changed now.
So far in the PSB proceedings for the meteorological tower, for which a certificate of public good was not obtained, the PSB has found Swanton Wind to be in violation. Travis Belisle’s sworn testimony to the PSB states that he “did not have any specific project in mind in 2012, nor could he have described what type of project he might install in the future.” Yet he claims that the surrounding homeowners knew he was considering an industrial wind turbine project of the scale being proposed.
Also, Swanton Wind will be required to secure a “takings permit” for the construction phase as well as the operational phase of Swanton Wind’s proposed seven 499-foot industrial wind turbines. A takings permit allows the industrial wind turbine developer to kill endangered species, i.e., Indiana bats, northern long-eared bats, bald eagles and golden eagles. Non-endangered species such as songbirds, geese, ducks, hawks, falcons, osprey, loons and other bats are free for the taking without a permit. The takings permit is self-monitored which means the developer/operator of the wind turbines voluntarily reports any violations to the proper authorities.
These are just a few quirks of the PSB process that allows the developers to do whatever they want. Be wary of anything they say they will do, because they can say one thing and do something completely different.
Dustin Lang is a resident of Swanton.
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