After nearly eight and a half years, Vermont Wind, developer and operator of the Sheffield Wind Project, has settled a noise complaint and resolved other legal claims with Paul and Carol Brouha, owners of an adjacent property in Sutton. Beginning in December 2011, Mr. Brouha formally complained to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in Docket 7156, concerning the Project’s noise levels and Vermont Wind’s non-compliance with the Certificate of Public Good (CPG) issued by the PUC.
“This complaint should have been resolved in 2012,” stated Mr. Brouha. Instead, the PUC referred the complaint to Vermont Wind. Several months later in 2012, the PUC had not conducted any independent investigation into Mr. Brouha’s repeated complaints and instead relied upon Vermont Wind’s CPG compliance reports, summarily dismissing Mr. Brouha’s attempts for relief.
Mr. Brouha didn’t give up. He hired an independent noise expert, Mr. Les Blomberg of Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, who completed a study in March 2014 that showed a high likelihood the sound levels exceeded the CPG noise standards. Based on Mr. Brouha’s expert, the PUC finally took action and directed the Department of Public Service (DPS) to assess the sound levels outside and inside Mr. Brouha’s residence. An independent expert hired by the DPS conducted that assessment on July 1, 2014.
During this time, Mr. Brouha filed a civil nuisance complaint in Vermont Superior Court against Vermont Wind. That state action was later removed to the United States District Court, District of Vermont, Brouha v. Vermont Wind, LLC et al, Civil Action No. 1: 14-cv-0063, JGM at the request of Vermont Wind. Mr. Brouha’s request for relief was stayed pending further testing of the noise levels in the PUC Investigation.
Some 15 months later in October 2015, a report by Acentech, the independent expert hired by the DPS, stated the noise levels at Mr. Brouha’s home and on his property exceeded the CPG limit. The Acentech report arguably validated Mr. Brouha’s experience and belief the noise levels exceeded Vermont Wind’s CPG.
On December 11, 2015, the PUC opened Docket 8653 and directed the DPS to further assess CPG compliance. The DPS’s expert, Aercoustics Engineering Limited (Aercoustics), issued its report on October 5, 2018, claiming the sound levels at Mr. Brouha’s home exceeded the CPG limits: “Based on the sound levels indicated in this report, the sound level limits from the Facility during the maximum sound output condition exceed the sound level limit by 3 – 5 dB during the months of May to September.” (Aercoustics Sound Monitoring Report, pages 22 and 23).
Today, many years later and after several hundred thousand dollars spent on attorneys and experts, Mr. Brouha will experience some relief.
In order to ensure compliance with the CPG, and in the interest of compromise, the Brouhas and Vermont Wind have agreed to certain operational restrictions and a verification process which are referenced in an agreement between Vermont Wind and Mr. Brouha that was filed February 4, 2020 with the PUC (PUC Stipulation) and is appended to the April 9th PUC order in Docket 8653.
Today, with this resolution, as stated in the PUC Stipulation, Vermont Wind acknowledges the ongoing noise issues from Mr. Brouha’s perspective prior to the implementation of these operational changes and expresses sincere regret that the operation of the Project may have caused the Brouhas any inconvenience or annoyance.
Mr. Brouha stated, “extracting a measure of accountability for the Sheffield Wind Project highlights the problems with the wind turbine permitting and oversight process used in Vermont, where past claims of wind developers have not been carefully scrutinized by the State.” Mr. Brouha has been an advocate for developing effective legislation and enforceable regulations to protect the public and, in his experience, the State must be held accountable for each and every permitted wind project, from the initial hearings through the final determination.
“I believe the DPS’s independent noise experts’ findings support my opinion the project should not even have received a permit initially, and my 2011 complaint should have received the serious attention of the PUC,” stated Mr. Brouha.
Looking forward to effective legislation and future regulation, Mr. Brouha believes the impacts of this project were substantial and caused him stress and annoyance and has compromised his ability to enjoy activities such as working outside, gardening, eating outside, walking, hiking, observing and hunting wildlife, and enjoying views of his property and the surrounding countryside.
“When my parents fled the German advance in WWII and came to this country, they settled here because of the natural beauty, the remoteness, and the peace and quiet of the place. All my life growing up and now retired here, right up to the time construction of the project started, we were able to enjoy these activities,” stated Brouha. “We experienced long periods of time when the noise from the turbines continued with no let up and the flashing blades and blinking lights catch the eye – we’ve lost our quiet, our natural countryside, and our peaceful night skies and now live next to an industrial energy generation facility.”