MONTPELIER – Vermont lawmakers have voted against a regulation that would require large wind projects to be located thousands of feet from neighboring homes.
The regulation, which was presented Thursday as part of a proposed rule on wind turbine noise from the Public Utility Commission, would require developers to build large wind projects away from local residents by a distance of 10 times the height of a turbine.
Residents could sign an agreement to allow closer turbines, and state regulators also could waive the setback requirement on a case-by-case basis.
Lawmakers who reviewed the rule Thursday voted to remove the distance requirement entirely.
“There are probably a lot of legitimate reasons to have a setback, but with regard to sound standards I don’t think it’s necessary,” said Rep. Mike Yantachka, D-Charlotte, one of eight members of the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, voted to support the setback requirement, saying he was “very troubled” that the committee was overruling the work of the Public Utility Commission for what he viewed as a disagreement about policy. The committee’s role is to ensure that rules and regulations align with state law.
The committee’s decision on setbacks is not binding, though Margaret Cheney, a member of the Public Utility Commission, said Thursday that the commission would bend to lawmakers’ wish.
More than a dozen people concerned about the health impacts of wind turbines in Vermont, identified by neon safety vests, listened disapprovingly to the committee vote.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said after the meeting that the committee was “stacked in favor of the wind industry.” Smith views the setback requirement as an integral component of the rule, in addition to decibel limits for turbine sound.
Thursday’s discussion of wind turbine noise lasted more than 3.5 hours but yielded no final decision on the overall proposed rule, which has proved a thorny controversy for the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. Committee Chairman Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange, likened it to “playing three-dimensional chess.”
The committee postponed its final decision for another meeting in two weeks.
The process began in 2016 when the Legislature asked regulators on the Public Utility Commission to create statewide rules on wind turbine sound. The resulting proposal is more restrictive than prior practice. It would limit noise from large projects to 42 dBA during the day and 39 dBA at night, as measured 100 feet from the residence of a homeowner who isn’t participating in the project. Small and medium projects would be limited to 42 dBA.
The proposal has garnered support from Gov. Phil Scott, who has called for a moratorium on wind projects on Vermont’s scenic ridgelines, as well as from Vermonters who have complained of sleep disturbance and other health effects from living near turbines.
Renewable energy advocates argue that the decibel limits, as well as the setback requirements, would effectively throttle large wind projects in Vermont.
“You’d be able to build the occasional small turbine, as the commission described, but any significant amount of energy from wind going forward would be off the table,” said Ben Edgerly Walsh of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, also expressed skepticism about the proposed decibel limits, and Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, P-Middletown Springs, worried that the rule would amount to a moratorium on commercial wind. The Public Utility Commission argued the rule strikes a balance between public health and energy and economic concerns.
“If we thought that this rule would be in effect a moratorium, we would not have offered it,” said Margaret Cheney, a member of the Public Utility Commission.
No side was fully satisfied Thursday, as the bureaucratic process labored on and dissension continued to brew.
“Democracy and rules are slow and ponderous,” said MacDonald, the committee chairman. “We beat dead horses, thank goodness. We’re back in two weeks.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding