The Public Service Board has approved new sound standards governing wind energy projects that have been cheered more enthusiastically by wind opponents than by environmentalists.
The odd thing is that wind opponents, too, count themselves as environmentalists, arguing that the sound generated by large wind turbines harms the nearby environment in a way that offsets the environmental gain from the clean energy produced by the turbines.
The injury created by continuous thrumming sound waves is hard to grasp for people who haven’t been exposed. Aggrieved neighbors have sought to establish, through monitoring, that the sound at their homes is excessive.
The utilities and wind developers have been dismissive, characterizing complaining neighbors as cranks or hypochondriacs.
Further, the number of people who live near big wind projects is small relative to the larger world, which benefits from the development of renewable energy.
Vermont is unlike other places where wind has been developed on a large scale. The state does not have wide open spaces as Texas or Washington state do. In those places, huge wind farms can spread out over hills or rangeland without disturbing anyone. Here, wind turbines loom over some people’s homes — maybe they are few in number, but the residents’ concerns are real.
State Sen. Christopher Bray, a Democrat from Addison County, has been at the forefront of the effort to bring common sense to the siting of renewable energy projects. Bray, a strong supporter of renewable energy, is willing to give the new sound standards a try. We don’t know yet that they are too strict, he says.
Wind developers say the hurdles to renewable energy are becoming too onerous, slowing the growth of an essential industry. And yet, even an important industry such as renewable energy must not be allowed to ride roughshod over Vermonters.
The new standards include a distance standard that may help guide wind turbines to areas where they won’t harm local residents. Or maybe such areas don’t exist. If they don’t, then maybe wind is best left to the rangeland of Texas or offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
Not everything is appropriate everywhere. The new sound standards may help us determine what is appropriate in Vermont.