Editor’s note: This commentary is Mark Whitworth, who is president of Energize Vermont, a statewide organization that supports sustainable energy development that protects our environment and respects our communities.
The saga of wind turbine noise goes on and on. Vermont’s Public Service Board has proposed new noise rules and Big Wind doesn’t like them. The industry has kicked its disinformation campaign into high gear.
I first wrote about this three years ago after a PSB noise “workshop” in Morrisville. Hours before that session, Green Mountain Power rallied their favorite turbine neighbors and coached them on how to tell the PSB that turbine noise was no problem — that those other turbine neighbors were exaggerating, imagining, or lying about it. (Watch this video describing life in the shadow of David Blittersdorf’s Georgia Mountain wind project. Energize Vermont will continue to post neighbor videos.)
After the Morrisville workshop, I mapped the addresses of the neighbors who spoke and measured their distances from the nearest turbine. People who live close to the turbines report more problems than those who live farther away. People east of the turbines suffer more than people west of the turbines. This is an important fact when thinking about GMP’s Lowell turbines. Those turbines encroach on Lowell’s eastern boundary with the town of Albany: Lowell gets the tax breaks and Albany suffers the consequences. It’s the same story a few towns away: Sheffield gets the money and Sutton gets the problems.
On May 2, the PSB held a public hearing in Lowell on its proposed noise rules. Some of the same people who spoke in Morrisville spoke again. Some of them were misinformed — they thought that the new rules would apply to existing turbines (they won’t). They wanted to protect their industry-funded tax breaks that they feared might be in jeopardy — the tax breaks that they receive at the expense of their neighbors’ health.
As usual, speakers suggested that they live right next to the turbines and suffer no ill effects. One man said that his proximity to the turbines made him an expert on their effects. The chickadees in his yard are louder than the turbines and his children happily play outside. Well, he lives over two miles west of the nearest turbine. He must not know about the children who live closer to the turbines who suffer sleep deprivation or whose families have abandoned their homes.
An earnest young woman said that the PSB should relax its rules because she lives “very close” to the turbines and her goats and chickens make more noise than the turbines. She lives over four miles west of the nearest turbine.
If turbine noise was like the low hum in that gymnasium, there would be no controversy. But, turbine noise is a complex, ever-changing blend of audible noise, low-frequency noise and infrasound (more felt than heard).
A man said that he lived three-quarters of a mile from the turbines and that they were no problem. When a woman approached him with a map that showed he really lived 2.4 miles from the nearest turbine, he fled.
A guy walked up to the front of the room with a hand-held sound meter, asked the crowd to be quiet, and announced that the level of ambient sound in the room was over 40 dBA. VPIRG has posted a video of the stunt in support of its campaign to industrialize Vermont’s mountains (and enrich its benefactors).
If turbine noise was like the low hum in that gymnasium, there would be no controversy. But, turbine noise is a complex, ever-changing blend of audible noise, low-frequency noise and infrasound (more felt than heard). You can’t compare it to rustling leaves, passing traffic or whispered conversation. I have seen it have an immediate effect upon people who are prone to motion sickness. In others, it’s cumulative, taking weeks or months to impair health.
I’ve watched these PSB workshops and hearings for years now and I have a few questions.
If people are going to stand before the PSB and lie about where they live, how much value do these public hearings have? Are the hearings just theatrical events that the PSB is obliged to stage in order to satisfy a statutory requirement? Should people be placed under oath? Should they be cross examined?
Of more interest to me is the question of how people could respond to their neighbors’ pain and distress by ridiculing them, questioning their sanity and denying their problems.
The wind industry has done a lot of damage in Vermont — driving Vermonters from their homes, destroying our mountains to support the energy policies of other states, selling a snake-oil cure for climate change that degrades our defenses against its impacts, turning environmental groups into wind shills, creating cynicism about all renewables, and corrupting our democracy with vote-buying schemes in the Northeast Kingdom and Windham/Grafton.
But, it may be that the most disturbing damage that the wind industry has done is to set Vermonters against one another and undermine their confidence in state government.