LOWELL -- Lowell wind opponents say the state's plan to continuously monitor turbine noise is technically flawed and the consultant the state has chosen is not reliable.
That concern has prompted the state utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board to press officials at the Department of Public Service for more information.
The department, which is acting as the consumer advocate involving energy generation projects, has been in talks with Green Mountain Power and opponents over how to continuously monitor sounds from some of the 21 turbines on the ridgeline.
The requirement to do that stems from several instances two winters ago when turbine noise exceeded the standards set by the PSB.
The PSB is looking at whether continuous monitoring for a year would be a sufficient penalty for noise violations.
But it's been difficult for the parties to agree on a monitoring method and a company to do it that would meet the support of GMP, the department and the opponents.
On May 22, the Lowell Mountain Group, the town of Albany and neighbor Kevin McGrath filed comments in opposition to the department's proposed monitoring consultant and plan.
In reaction to those complaints, the PSB wants to know what the department thinks about the impact of background noise when monitoring turbine-generated sounds. The board also wants to know what the obstacles are to real-time monitoring, and what steps would be taken to bring the project into compliance if a noise violation is found.
The PSB also wants know what the department officials think about the opponents' assertion that the department's consultant is not reliable.
The Lowell Mountain Group, with the town of Albany and McGrath, complained to the PSB that they did not get enough time to react.
"We strongly object to the DPS proposal," the opponents stated in their comments.
"If the department was trying to find a firm we could have no confidence in and who would assure that GMP would be able to operate in ways that make us sick and want to abandon our homes or sell them at a loss, they could not have found a better firm."
They compared the proposed consultant to the one currently used by GMP for its periodic monitoring tests of wind turbine noise. They said the results would not be known for a week at a time, too late to do real-time adjustments to deal with noise violations that are affecting neighbors.
And they called the method of establishing background sound levels "a sham," saying the PSB doesn't understand the problems.
They also warned that the noise levels from the turbines are worse.
"At the Vermont Electric Coop annual meeting ... we learned that GMP operated the Lowell turbines at 46 percent capacity factor last month. This doesn't surprise the people living around the wind turbines. The noise impacts have been a lot worse during this time period," the neighbors stated.
They asked the board to consider several consultants of their choosing.
The department noted that they had to pick from the consultants that answered the request for bids and that didn't include those supported by the opponents. The department has offered to retain the two consultants recommended by the opponents to oversee the monitoring.
The department's attorney has also noted that its staff are struggling to deal with three different wind projects and the general investigation by the board into whether existing standards for noise in relation to all energy projects are up to date.
"The department has found it challenging to stay ahead of sound issues which are now in play," stated Geoffrey Commons, the department's director for public advocacy.
The state has three major wind projects, in Georgia, Lowell and Sheffield. A project planned for Essex County has been shelved due to the cost of connecting to the grid at this time.