SHEFFIELD – Vermont Wind – owner of the 16-turbine industrial wind project in Sheffield – and one of its neighbors continue to disagree about how a 10-week state sound monitoring plan should be conducted.
The Vermont Public Service Board launched an investigation in December 2015 into a violation of noise levels permitted in the wind project’s Certificate of Public Good after a complaint from Sutton homeowner Paul Brouha led to the state Department of Public Service hiring a noise expert. Brouha has long held that the wind project is violating the noise standards its permit allows.
The results of the independent state testing led to the PSB investigation into the matter. Recent filings by Vermont Wind attorneys, DPS attorneys and Brouha’s counsel, Denise Anderson, show disagreement over how the sound monitoring at the Brouha home should be conducted.
The Department of Public Service is arguing that its protocol, including partial turbine shutdowns and its proposed method to analyze the data, be endorsed by the Public Service Board hearing officer in the case, and that it be permitted to use its own independent expert to conduct the monitoring starting April 1.
A total of 10 weeks of monitoring at the Brouha residence is proposed by the state, with the first five weeks being this spring, and the second five weeks starting by Sept. 15.
In the most recent legal brief filed in the case, Brouha’s attorney, Denise Anderson, argues that the investigation exists only because her client “didn’t give up after the Board denied his allegations that Vermont Wind failed to operate the Project in compliance with its noise monitoring plan and the sound standard in the CPG.”
“It was not until February 2014, when Mr. Brouha submitted his own expert testing, at his own expense, that the Board uncovered Vermont Wind’s deceptive representations of compliance due to its failures to correctly execute (the monitoring plan),” a reply brief filed Feb. 23 by Anderson states.
Anderson goes on, “It took four years, but the Board finally opened an investigation into the merits of Vermont Wind’s operation of the Project.” The Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) brought in an independent tester, and confirmed that there had been violations of the indoor sound level, the reply brief continues, and the PSB hearing officer concluded “it was necessary to conduct sound monitoring at the Brouha residence to determine compliance with the CPG.”
Vermont Wind’s attorneys argue that both its experts as well as the experts hired by the state agency “testified persuasively that the turbine shutdown method is the more consistent, reliable and accepted approach to conduct sound monitoring in this situation.”
Vermont Wind’s counsel is critical of the testimony of the expert hired by Brouha, and his findings, questioning his credentials and saying he has never implemented a wind project sound monitoring program.
“Virtually all of the credible evidence in the record supports Vermont Wind’s proposal,” argue Vermont Wind’s attorneys.
Brouha is arguing for shielded background testing at the site, which Vermont Winds opposes, saying earlier testing shows there were problems with that method, although that was the method the company first asked to use.
On Monday, Brouha explained, “We get the background (noise) by measuring the noise on the east side of the house where the house shields out project-only noise.”
“We then logarithmically subtract the background from the total to obtain the project-only noise,” he said. “Shielded monitors also may be placed a couple miles away (remote) from the project in a similar area to obtain a background noise and in our case (following the method used in the original Noise Monitoring Plan for the Sheffield Project) we average the noise levels obtained from the shielded monitor behind my house with the remote monitor to get the background noise.”
Vermont Wind is arguing against that method being used again.
“Mr. Brouha effectively asks the Board to ignore the prior experience with the methodology he advocates, and blindly adopt the same shielded approach irrespective of its acknowledged practical limitations in this setting,” argues the Vermont Wind reply brief. “The Board should not accept that invitation.”
Shutting down turbines instead will help to better “differentiate background sound from turbine sound at a specific residence,” the company’s legal team argues.
“Vermont Wind has deflected its non-compliance since 2011 and Mr. Brouha’s proposal to adhere to Vermont Wind’s original methodology ends the pretense,” argues Anderson. As the independent sound monitoring firm hired by the DPS, Acentech confirmed, Anderson argues, “…if Vermont Wind had tested with windows open, Mr. Brouha and the State of Vermont would not be here today. The proof of compliance is in the proper execution of the method and using the methodology that Vermont Wind used to get us here should be the one that ends this inquiry.”
Anderson alleges that a close examination of 2012 testing leads to the “probable” conclusion “…that Vermont Wind manipulated turbine operations to ensure no violation was found.”
Vermont Wind has proposed a half dozen other sound monitoring plans since the case was opened, and new sound testing was ordered by the state.
Anderson argues against Vermont Wind’s push to shut some turbines down for noise testing in the case.
“The turbine shutdown method cannot be the predominant method unless the developer agrees to turn the source off, meaning all the turbines,” argues Anderson. “Vermont Wind is not turning the source off. It is turning the source down. The source consists of 16 turbines. The reason for the noise monitoring is to determine what the noise impact of those 16 turbines is at the Brouha residence. But Vermont Wind is not proposing shutting down 16 turbines… Vermont Wind is proposing long-term measurements without an observer.”
Anderson writes, “In summary, the partial shutdown method results in an error that raises the CPG limit, reduces the amount of any violation found,” and more. “Vermont Wind selected the shutdown method for the opportunity to handle the data differently. It is not an innovation but is proposed as a method to introduce ways to be deceptive and confusing to avoid violations.”