Vermonters concerned about the proximity of wind turbines to population centers received a victory Thursday when the legislature’s rules committee voted 5-2 in favor of sound levels that approximate life in a “quiet rural area.”
It was a good ruling, and one that confirmed the legislative committee’s purpose, which is to judge as to whether a proposed ruling is arbitrary. The sound standard – 39 decibels by day, and 42 decibels at night – was proposed by the Public Utility Commission and its exacting standards, and the research behind it, were anything but arbitrary.
That, of course, infuriates wind power developers and those who are willing to sacrifice our ridgelines to the purpose of more renewable power. They contend the new standards will kill all future wind power development in Vermont.
That’s ridiculous; what the standards do is to give direction to what is acceptable and what isn’t. What’s not acceptable is building 500-foot turbines near people’s homes.
This ruling takes some of the guess-work out of the equation.
That should help developers, long-term and protect homeowners as well.
Developers are angry because the ruling does eliminate some of the more easily accessible terrain; that closer to housing developments and population centers. Anything that contributes to higher costs means potentially less profit. That’s the extent of the argument. It has far less to do with the altruistic purpose of contributing to a more fossil-free world.
But it should also be remembered that the wind turbines of today are far different than a generation ago, and it’s expected that technology will continue to make the blades more silent and more efficient. Industry journals predict a future of wind turbine blades that are faster, more efficient and far less noisy. Interestingly, they are trying to model turbine blades using the wings of an owl as an example and expect to be able to cut the noise from the turbines appreciably.
That’s why we should pay little attention to naysayers who object to any tightening of standards. Their cries are about the money, or the political appeal that accrues through advocacy. Any review of how technology has contributed to the renewable energy industry shows unending creativity and advancement.
It’s worth remembering how energy efficiency standards for automobiles were described as a death knell for the car industry. It was only through forced regulation that the industry evolved to where it is today. And it’s more profitable than ever.
The same applies to solar, wind and other innovative approaches to renewable energy. There is always the need to have technologies evolve, to become more efficient, more affordable and more acceptable to those who live next to them.
That’s all the Public Utilities Commission is requiring with the new decibel standards. The rules make things understandable. It eliminates some of the debate. It requires the developers to be a little less cavalier in where they choose to develop their projects.
We all have to live with the results.
It’s a relief that the legislative rules committee overcame its internal disputes and voted to back the PUC’s recommendations.
by Emerson Lynn
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