Public comments are due Monday for interim sound standards. The Legislature directed the Public Service Board to write temporary rules until permanent standards to be developed over the next year have been put in place.
The standards will be written under a set of rulemaking ordinarily reserved for emergencies, but which have been used multiple times in the past to expedite what can be a very lengthy process.
Lawmakers and the governor’s office often use emergency rulemaking to get functional standards in place quickly. The state statute, S.260, explicitly characterised the rulemaking process as being unconnected to any known public health threat.
“The standard [in state statute] regarding imminent peril to public health, safety, or welfare shall not apply to the rules to be adopted under this subsection,” authors of the bill wrote.
Industry representatives say they hope the board will base the interim rules on the best science available today, and not on what some say are emotional responses from a small number of people living near existing wind turbines.
Critics hoped to retain language that would have declared a public health emergency over wind turbines noise, but wind advocates say there is no good evidence supporting claims that turbines endanger human health.
“It’s absolutely inaccurate to say this interim rulemaking is emergency rulemaking, or [that it] is in response to a public health emergency, because the consensus from the public health community is that sound from wind turbines is not a public health issue,” said Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney who represents wind developers.
Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director for industry group Renewable Energy Vermont, said she hopes above all else that the interim rules will be based on science.
It will be a challenge, Andersen said, for the board to develop meaningful standards in the 45-day timeframe required under the law, but the board has in the past written sound limits for specific projects that have generated few or no complaints. She said the board should draw from those standards as it drafts the interim rules.
Martha Staskus, of Waterbury-based VERA Renewables, said the best research available — including large-scale studies conducted by the Canadian government and by the state of Massachusetts — shows no health threats resulting from wind turbine noise, and the Public Service Board shouldn’t be swayed by those who might claim otherwise.
That’s not to say that turbine noise doesn’t annoy those who hear it, Staskus said, but it’s important that the board find a reasonable balance between annoying sounds and the state’s renewable energy goals.
Residents living half a mile from a set of four wind turbines near Milton wrote in their comments to the Public Service Board that, while they’re not trained acoustical experts, experiences at their home convinced them the existing sound limits have been set too high.
Melodie and Scott McLane live three-quarters of a mile from the project, and they say certain wind conditions and low ambient noise sometimes (often at night) combine to blow disturbing levels of sound their direction.
They say the current sound limits — typically 45 decibels measured outside, and 30 inside a home — are too loud.
“It’s clear to us that the outside 45 [decibel level] is not conducive to sleeping,” they wrote in a June 24 letter to the Public Service Board. “When the noise creeps above 35 [decibels], it becomes intolerable and dominates the space around us.”
The McLanes live “in a constant state of anger” when conditions conspire to carry the sound to their home, even when sound produced by the turbines doesn’t exceed limits currently established, they said.
They recommended a 30-decibel limit on wind turbine sound when measured inside a residence, and a 35-decibel limit when measured outside.
Melodie said she doesn’t expect anything good to come from the Public Service Board until Gov. Peter Shumlin leaves office. Vermonters for a Clean Environment executive director Annette Smith said her expectations are about the same.
“Based on past experience with the PSB, there is no reason to expect anything will change,” she said. “I am hoping I am wrong.
“I am tired of wasting my time and getting nowhere because Governor Shumlin loves wind turbines and hates the people who live next to them,” Smith said.
Smith, too, has supported a 30-decibel limit measured inside a home, which would imply an outside limit around 35 decibels, because, she said, a home’s walls attenuate outside sounds by between three to five decibels.
The Public Service Board has in the past erroneously instituted sound limits inside a home that weren’t enforceable because sound limits for outside that home were allowed to rise to 45 decibels, she said. Measuring wind turbine sound from inside nearby residences eliminates this possible source of confusion, and eliminates as well the other variables of weather conditions and topography that can skew sound measurements taken outside, Smith said.
More information on the interim rulemaking process can be found here.
Residents are asked to submit proposals for sound standards to the Public Service Board’s clerk, at email@example.com.