BENNINGTON – A public hearing on new regulations for wind generating facilities in Vermont drew over 60 people to the River Street fire station on Monday.
The first of three hearings held by the Public Service Board concerned new rules being proposed for the siting of and noise from wind turbines.
The rules have been controversial and comments from the public reflected that: While some who spoke said the regulations are needed to protect health and quality of life of Vermonters, others expressed there is an urgent to curb use of fossil fuels and to slow man-made climate change.
If adopted as proposed, sound emissions from turbines could not exceed 42 decibels during the day and 35 decibels at night, as measured 100 feet from a residence. And turbines have to be located a distance of at least 10-times the height of the turbine’s height (“as measured from base to the tip of a blade in the upright, vertical position.”)
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said the levels were the right standard. The only way to assure compliance, she said, is through independent, continuous full-spectrum sound monitoring for the life of the project. She said the cumulative effects of noise including infra sound can cause headaches, nausea and sleep deprivation.
Smith, a Danby resident who has been a vocal critic of industrial scale wind projects, criticized the PSB and said: “Dozens of noise complaints go into a black hole with no response from regulators.” And she said wind developers respond to residents’ complaints by ridiculing them, “saying they are crazy and denying there are noise issues.”
Bruce Lierman, of Bennington recalled visiting Somerset County in Pennsylvania, where a wind turbine project was built over an old coal strip mine.
“The sound of the wind itself through the fields was as noticeable as any sound from the windmills,” he said.
The new rules are “a high price to pay for marginally scientific argument on the effect of the sound,” Lierman said, and the restrictions “would make it extremely difficult to meet states renewable energy goals.”
PSB members are writing the rules in response to Act 174 that the Legislature passed last year: www.psb.vermont.gov/about-us/statutes-and-rules/proposed-rule-sound-wind-generation-facilities. The renewable energy siting law required the quasi-judicial entity study wind generation facilities and adopt rules. Under interim noise standards the board adopted last July, the limit for large-scale wind projects was 45 decibels outside of a residence and 30 decibels on the inside.
The board issued a new, draft set of rules in March, which was the subject of the public hearing.
Represented at the meeting was the local chapter of Vermont 350, Renewable Energy Vermont and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).
More than one attendee commented that an HVAC unit in the meeting room was louder than the sound levels being proposed for wind turbines.
Keith Dewey said he believed the new rules were “an attempt to block large scale commercial wind in Vermont.”
“We’re looking at this wrong,” he said. Wind is the state’s best asset, he added, “in terms of money we have to spend and the short time we have to solve this.”
But Dustin Lang of Swanton said there was no information how raising sound levels above normal background noise would effect rural communities.
Vermonters should advocate for more renewable energy, not less, said Ben Freeman of Peru, adding that standards aren’t ambitious enough.
“If we could feel the damages inflicted on millions of people around world by our burning fossil fuels, we’d never make the choices we’ve made,” he said. Now is an opportunity, “to choose a brighter future for my children and the children of others.”
Sue Andrews, of Shaftsbury said the regulations must be sensible. Past generations have willingly sacrificed their lives to help future generations, she said, and described her late father-in-law received hearing loss from feeding ammunition into a machine gun during World War II.
“No ones hearing will ever be harmed by sound of a wind farm mile away,” she told board members. “I hope we haven’t lost the courage and strength to do what needs to be done.”
A second hearing was scheduled in Lowell on Tuesday night. A third will take place in Montpelier on Thursday.
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