Library from Vermont
Back in the 1960s, Yale psychology professor Stanley Milgram conducted a research experiment whose results shocked the nation. Participants were told that they were taking on the role of “teacher” in a study of methods to improve learning. An authority figure told the “teacher” to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks to a “learner” in the next room whenever a question was answered incorrectly. There actually were no shocks and the learner was part of the research team, but the “teacher” heard increasing cries of pain with each “shock” administered. Even as the intensity of the shocks approached the maximum of 450 volts, the authority insisted that the shocks should continue – that the anguished screams, the banging on the wall, the pleas about heart conditions, and ultimately the ominous silence from the other room should all be ignored.
The final rule keeps the daytime sound level at 42 decibels, but the board changed the allowable nighttime level from 35 decibels allowed in the draft rule to 39 decibels. The board also kept a controversial setback limit of 10 times the height of the turbine, so that a 500-foot turbine would have to be at least 5,000 feet from the nearest residence.
About a year later, the board ruled in favor of Georgia Mountain Community Wind and determined that noise coming off the spinning turbine blades was not in excess of its state permit. But in that ruling the board said the McLanes and the Public Service Department could request additional testing if they could convince the board that the previous sound testing was not accurate.
VPIRG and REV have implied that the proposed rule will be the end of wind power in Vermont. In particular, VPIRG undertook a GIS study that showed that 0.2% of Vermont would be available for wind facilities due to the setbacks in the proposed rule. There are two problems with VPIRG’s analysis: its premise is wrong and the conclusion does not follow from its data.
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 board has proposed limits of 35 decibels at night and 42 decibels during the day, as measured outside neighboring homes. Most turbines today are subject to a 45-decibel sound limit outside neighboring homes and a 30-decibel limit measured inside neighbors’ homes.
The board released its draft version of the new rules in March, and the board members held four meetings this week to hear from the public and from wind and sound experts as they get ready to finalize the sound standards.
Prospective neighbors of wind turbines heard all the promises: “Quiet as a library.” “Like a baby’s breath.” “The same decibel level as a refrigerator.” The more brazen wind developers claimed “you will not hear them.” Then the four hundred and fifty foot wind towers with their bus-size nacelles and three-bladed fans were built. Sixteen in Sheffield, four on Georgia Mountain, twenty-one in Lowell. And neighbors learned the truth. Yes, you can hear them. They sound like “a jet plane that never lands,” or “sneakers in a drier,” or there is a “thump thump thump” or a “whoosh whoosh whoosh” as the blade passes the tower, causing something called amplitude modulation.
One man is dead after the crane he was operating came into contact with high tension power lines at the Deerfield Wind project.
The best advice: “Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am— a reluctant enthusiast … a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this much: You will outlive the bastards.”
If the new rule is adopted as proposed, sound could not exceed 42 decibels during the day and 35 decibels at night. ...The new rules also require turbines to be at least 10 times their height from the nearest home. A 500-foot turbine, for example, would have to be 5,000 feet from the nearest home.
State regulators have proposed new sound limits for wind turbines that some renewable energy proponents say would effectively ban new utility-scale turbines from Vermont.
“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.”
Critics of industrial-scale wind farms say the Vermont Public Service Board’s new sound standards are a step in the right direction but ultimately may not help Vermonters. “On the surface it is a big improvement over the current standard, and over the first draft, but there will be more public process, and the industry will fight against what I view as still inadequate to address all the issues,” said Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
The Public Service Board has issued its draft rules on wind turbine sound that, if adopted, would put much stronger restrictions on wind development in the state.
Swanton Wind sought to have GMP buy power from the planned wind farm under prices established through PURPA; however, the pricing regime Swanton Wind applied under expired in September, 2016. Green Mountain Power fought that effort, saying that Swanton Wind filed its application too late. The Public Service Board agreed,
“The Vermont Air National Guard is a big deal and they are responsible for keeping us safe,” said Christine Lang, a resident who would be one of the project’s immediate neighbors. “If wind towers are going to affect their ability to train and keep us safe, then that’s a concern.”
The VTNG’s motion outlines three core concerns motivating its opposition to Swanton Wind — basically, that the project “will significantly and negatively impact the operations of [the VTNG] rotary wing flights in the Northern Champlain Valley.”
This commentary is by Dustin Lang, of Swanton, who lives adjacent to the proposed Swanton Wind project.
SWANTON — For more than four hours Thursday night, opponents of Swanton Wind got a chance to question the team behind the project.