Library filed under Noise from Vermont
The Lowell wind opponents, which formed in reaction to the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind, said a wind turbine capable of producing 1.5 megawatts of electricity should be cited at least 1.25 miles away from a home. "For larger turbines the distance must be further and should be at the property line, not the dwelling," the group stated in its comments about wind monitoring and standards. The Lowell turbines are larger.
Green Mountain Power will be required to constantly monitor sound coming from wind turbines, which could provide the most detailed assessment yet of a noise issue concerning some residents living near wind farms. The Vermont Public Service Board fined the utility $1,000 last week for exceeding sound limits it placed on the Kingdom Community Wind farm, which was approved in 2011.
Board member John Burke disagreed with colleagues James Volz and Margaret Cheney on the fine. "I would have preferred a substantial fine be imposed on GMP and would not have ordered the continuous monitoring," Burke said in a dissent. "While the only winner then would have been the state's general fund, all the parties would begin to realize that working on noise issues is important and that more is gained by working together than by the 'my way or the highway' attitude that appears to have prevailed here."
Most wind projects in Vermont are limited to a 45-decibel sound level ...But proponents of new noise standards say the state must set a limit that accounts for temperature, humidity, location, wind speeds and the like – all of which they say cause extreme changes in the level of noise the turbines create.
In reaction to those complaints, the PSB wants to know what the department thinks about the impact of background noise when monitoring turbine-generated sounds. The board also wants to know what the obstacles are to real-time monitoring, and what steps would be taken to bring the project into compliance if a noise violation is found.
A workshop focused on how to draft reports that are easier to understand is scheduled, with the understanding that it "will not be a forum for discussion of the sound standard applicable to the project" or the methodology that GMP is using to study noise, the board stated.
The board has asked for public comment on the impacts of sound from electricity generation plants on neighbors and how to measure that sound -- what is causing health impacts, what is the state-of-the-art science on noise, for example - and then will hold workshops to expand on those issues. In particular, the board wants to know if there should be a workshop specifically to hear from the people who are experiencing health problems from wind turbines and other energy projects.
One of the issues that keeps coming up is the highly technical and legal aspects of the process used to consider new energy generation projects, which make it difficult for average citizens or small towns to participate without hiring expensive experts. The order came this week after Lowell wind project neighbors Don and Shirley Nelson complained in January about the reporting and said that GMP had violated its certificate of public good.
The Vermont Public Service Board held a prehearing conference on January 8, 2014 to discuss opening an investigation into the issue of appropriate sound standards applicable to facilities constructed pursuant to 30 V.S.A. §§ 248 and 219a. This inludes wind energy facilities. In this order the Board established a process for conducting the proceeding, as well as a proposed scope of issues to be examined through the investigation. A portion of the order is provided below. The full order can be accessed by clicking the link(s) on this page.
In a study McCann did on Lee County, Ill., the average price per square foot for a home outside 2 miles of the wind project was $104.72. For those that were within 2 miles of the project the average sale price was $78.84 per square foot - a decline in value of approximately 25 percent. One couple that was part of a panel at Friday's forum - Scott and Melodie McLane from Georgia, Vt. - experienced the depreciation of the value their home first hand.
A public hearing Wednesday was billed as a way to help the Public Service Board develop a new process to re-evaluate noise levels at all utilities. But for the majority, wind was front and center. "There are a lot of people in this room who are living with the problems, who have filed complaints with the board and have not even received a response," said Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
On December 24, as Lowell Mountain was getting pelted with a wintry mix, Shirley Nelson says her windows—which are new—began to vibrate. Christmas Eve, Nelson says, was not peaceful. “When the turbines came on you just could hear it all through the house,” Nelson said.
There has been a significant increase in energy projects before the board, in part driven by legislative enactments to push renewable energy projects, the board stated. That has led to "an increase in interest in the amount and types of sounds that such facilities produce and questions about whether and how such sounds might impact the quality of life of those living near enough to the facilities to hear them."
The department wants GMP to pay a penalty for several noise violations last winter that came from selected monitoring of four areas around the turbines. The department wants the PSB to enforce a $56,000 penalty against GMP to be used to do continuous monitoring. GMP at first resisted the idea of continuous monitoring, but then said it would research the idea.
"The department continues to believe that the identification and correction of noise-related problems is of paramount concern," Commons stated in a brief submitted to the PSB this week. ... The lack of knowledge by GMP about snow impacts, along with Nelson's health concerns, raised the question for the department of whether there were more violations last winter, which prompted the department to seek a stiffer penalty than originally sought, Commons stated.
Geoff Commons is the department's public advocate. He said the board heard credible testimony from Shirley Nelson, a neighbor of the Lowell project, that the turbine sound was harming her health, even at levels produced below the state standard. ...We do get complaints about turbine noise, more or less regularly. And we think it would be appropriate to just basically get more information on the sounds.
The Public Service Department, the agency that represents ratepayers, said GMP should be fined up to $50,000. The department also wants the board to order GMP to conduct continuous audio monitoring of the Lowell turbines. But Kaliski, the utility's sound consultant, said that would be expensive.
Tensions ran high Thursday as the Vermont Public Service Board held a hearing to determine whether Green Mountain Power should be sanctioned for operating the 21-turbine Lowell Mountain wind project at above permitted sound levels. The quasi-judicial board called the hearing after GMP reported the wind project produced noise above 45 decibels outside neighboring residences. This is the threshold that the project is not permitted to exceed.
Neighbors have complained to the PSB, the department and anti-wind groups about noise. The department is collecting that information. In some cases, GMP is working directly with neighbors to identify the causes of noisy conditions. ...Neighbor Shirley Nelson, who stated she is suffering illnesses caused by wind turbine noise, asked for the maximum penalty of $140,000 and also asked that GMP pay for more monitoring.
The family lives off the grid in a renovated hunting camp. They had plans for a bigger home near a spot where Luann says the view is spectacular when the leaves fall. But it's a view she said they will soon be forced to leave behind. "We were going to clear out back there and we were going to put a double wide in. That was what we were going to do," she said. "But now, even if we wanted to, we can't do that, because we can't stay."