MONTPELIER – The Public Service Board (PSB) held its second workshop to gather information regarding industrial wind sound limits in Montpelier on Jan. 9. This time, members of the public dominated the proceeding.
The Vermont legislature has tasked the PSB with creating sound regulations for industrial wind facilities by July 1. The PSB held an initial information-gathering workshop on Dec. 2, at which government agencies, specifically the Department of Public Service, dominated the proceedings. Members of the public in attendance criticized the PSB for not allowing the public due time, so the board established a follow-up workshop session.
The last workshop took several hours, from mid-morning until the early evening. The second workshop took only two-and-a-half. There were just two presentations, by Les Blomberg, director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, a Montpelier-based national non-profit devoted to combating “noise pollution,” and by Olivia Campbell Anderson, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, another Montpelier-based nonprofit, in this case supporting industrial efforts to increase renewable energy.
It was an even split between those advocating for tighter restrictions on industrial wind, arguing higher wind sound levels damage human health, and those advocating for less-harsh regulation, arguing strict restrictions on wind projects damage the economic prospects for renewable energy in Vermont. But those tighter-regulation advocates dominated the floor, with almost a dozen members of the public present to support them and voice their own concerns, sitting around the small conference room adorned in their trademark lime-green reflective vests.
Blomberg listed frequently used international wind sound regulatory tools. He said 89 percent of wind sound ordinances are based on public nuisance reports, 82 percent specific to the time of day and 70 percent based on zoning regulations. Blomberg did not share specific citations during his presentation, and members of the PSB consistently pressed him for more specificity. Blomberg spoke in favor of constant, 24/7 monitoring of wind facilities’ sound output, prompting the board to ask how that could feasibly be accomplished, a question for which Blomberg did not have a specific response.
Blomberg’s presentation was most clear when it was most simple, never more so than when he presented a list of six problems with industrial wind noise and six ostensibly simple solutions. Blomberg’s list stated regulatory techniques for wind turbine sound are too complicated, and suggested using setbacks, a mandatory distance between any industrial wind project and a homeowner’s house or even property line, and metrics based on maximum sound outputs rather than average sound outputs. But as with the rest of his presentation, Blomberg struggled when pressed by members of the PSB for specifics.
Anderson’s presentation was a brief reiteration of statements made during the last workshop: a 45 decibel (dB) average-based monitoring model is sufficient to protect the public health. She referred to many of the reports cited by the public opposition as “outlier studies” too constraining for project feasibility, advocating for limits “beyond what’s necessary for public health.” She said long-term monitoring of industrial wind projects is “onerous,” and threatens the economics of the industry without any benefits to the public.
Annette Smith, the director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, the state’s foremost industrial wind opposition group, pressed Anderson. “Are you a noise expert?” Smith asked.
“No. Are you, Annette?” Anderson retorted.
Anderson presented a vast and specific list of international wind sound limits. But when Smith asked if Anderson had investigated the success of those limits, a question members of the PSB echoed, Anderson said no. “We’d have to reach out to those jurisdictions,” she said.
Members of the public in attendance frequently raised questions or concerns throughout both presentations. Fairfield resident Sally Collopy summarized public disdain after Anderson’s presentation, in which Anderson, like state and industry representatives during the last workshop, used the term “in reality” to contest assertions made by members of the public.
“We keep hearing ‘in reality,’” Collopy said. “The ‘reality’ is the people living with it.” She said the board faced “complete disagreement” from each side of the argument on sound monitoring. “You’ll never get the answers you want – and it is desperately needed – unless you can secure an independent party,” Collopy said.
Republican House Representative Marianna Gamache represents the town of Swanton, the proposed site for the controversial Swanton Wind project. Gamache was a member of the House Energy Committee, where the bill requiring the PSB to create a sound rule began. She said the House bill set a Jan. 2018 deadline for the rule’s creation. The Senate changed the deadline to Sept. 2017, and the bill finally passed with its current July 2017 deadline.
Gamache suggested the PSB request an extension “given the amount of material you have to sort through.”
“There was a general agreement in our committee that if you needed more time, all you have to do is request ii,” Gamache told the board.
The PSB’s workshops were not official hearings. Those will follow the creation of a preliminary sound rule. However, anyone can submit comments regarding any potential wind sound regulation to the PSB at psb.clerk@vermont. gov.