Several years ago, a company based in Maine wanted to build a biomass/wood pellet manufacturing facility in Pownal at the former Green Mountain Race Track. What followed was more than a year of public hearings, permit applications, and controversy.
In order to get a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board, which it never did, Beaver Wood Energy LLC had to obtain a number of other state permits, among them a water withdrawal permit. The facility needed water as a coolant. Beaver Wood was required by the state to hire an engineering firm to determine how much water would be needed and if the local supply could withstand it.
People did not like the fact that Beaver Wood would be the one doing the hiring. Not only for the water draw permit, but for its other permits as well. It didn't matter that said firms needed a license from the state to operate. It didn't matter that those firms had a vested interest in supplying Beaver Wood and the state with accurate information. It didn't matter that the state still had to sign off on said permits. People figured that Beaver Wood would only hire consultants and engineers who would tell it, and everyone else, what they wanted to hear. To the people whose lives would be adversely affected if something went wrong, the whole system smacked of the fox guarding the henhouse.
Today, the Deerfield Wind project in Searsburg and Readsboro is faced with a similar situation regarding noise level monitoring, although the Department of Public Service, which advises the Public Service Board, appears to be taking a different approach.
The department is recommending changes be made to the noise monitoring program submitted by Deerfield, which plans to bring its industrial wind farm on National Forest Service land online by the end of this year. The current plan calls for Deerfield to pick the contractor responsible for sound monitoring. The department says it's the state that should be doing that, as well as being responsible for supervision.
The department is correct. Permit enforcement is a concern raised at nearly every public hearing for renewable energy projects. People want the government to protect them if and when a company violates the terms of its operating permit. It's hard to trust that the government will do that when so much of the monitoring process is in the hands of the company being monitored or its agents.
The Public Service Board should go along with the Department of Public Service's recommendation and shift responsibility for noise monitoring of the Deerfield Wind project to the state. Given all the problems we've had locally with industrial pollution, it makes sense.