After an extended debate, Vermont lawmakers have imposed new statewide limits on wind power that are meant to prevent sound from disturbing neighbors’ health and sleep.
Some renewable energy advocates claim the restrictions will effectively stop the construction of large wind projects in Vermont.
The rule, proposed by the Public Utility Commission and approved Thursday by a legislative committee, will limit noise from large wind 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 Public Utility Commission believes the limits “are both protective of public health and safety and capable of allowing future development in Vermont of appropriately sited wind generation projects,” the regulatory panel wrote in a letter this week.
Margaret Cheney, a member of the Public Utility Commission, confirmed at the hearing Thursday that she believes the rules will continue to allow “utility-scale wind” in Vermont.
“These are not the lowest sound limits in the country,” Cheney said, according to a live video of the hearing recorded by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group concerned about the impacts of wind.
Renewable energy advocates are skeptical of wind’s new future.
“There will be very few locations, if any, that will allow large wind projects, and that means it’s being taken off the table as a significant resource here in Vermont,” said Sarah Wolfe, a clean energy advocate at Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
Wolfe said VPIRG favored a 45 dBA limit during the extensive rulemaking process.
Austin Davis, a spokesman for Renewable Energy Vermont, said that at best the rule would have a “slight chilling effect on wind energy.”
“However, wind energy still remains the cheapest new renewable energy available to New England,” Davis said.
The Legislature ordered state regulators to set statewide standards on wind project sound in 2016. An earlier version of the rule would have also required large wind projects to be set back from homes at a distance of 10 times their turbine height. The Public Utility Commission deleted that part of the rule this month at the committee’s request.
Mark Whitworth, president of the board of directors for Energize Vermont, was disappointed that setback requirement was abandoned.
“In the absence of the setback, I don’t think that protections are strengthened,” Whitworth said.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, was not satisfied with the rule. She wanted stricter sound limits, limits on lower sound frequencies, and setbacks.
“The wind industry did succeed in chipping away at the rule,” Smith said.
Sen. Mark MacDonald, chairman of the committee that approved the rule Thursday, voted to reject it. He said he wanted more details about how the Public Utility Commission calculated its decibel limits.
MacDonald, D-Orange, said the rule had been improved throughout the committee process and hoped it would result in “no harm done.”
The Public Utility Commission’s rule applies to new wind project applications. No advocates were willing to say Thursday whether they would challenge the rule in court.