Library filed under Noise from Vermont
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - How loud wind turbines can run has been whipping up debate for years.
“The wind noise rule as… approved is not going to protect Vermonters from the harm that we have already experienced from industrial wind turbines,” said Annette Smith, head of the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a longtime critic of industrial wind projects. “It is a step in the right direction.”
MONTPELIER — The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules accepted sound standards crafted by the Public Utilities Commission for wind turbines by a 5-2 vote. This rule-making initiative is a requirement of 2016’s Act 174 energy siting policy.
In approving stricter sound limits for ridgeline wind turbines Thursday afternoon, the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules has managed to upset both sides on the wind energy debate. The proposed sound standards have been in the works for more than a year, and they long ago set off a war of words between the various factions in the wind energy debate.
A group opposing wind turbines in Vermont has taken what its organizers say is an unprecedented step by filing a public records request with several legislators who are reviewing new sound limits for future wind-energy projects. Two of the legislators have already turned over all the requested documents. Six have not.
The rule proposed by the Public Utility Commission sets a 42-decibel limit for wind turbines during the day, when measured 100 feet from the outside of neighboring homes, and a 39-decibel limit at night. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules chose to extend the deadline for a vote on the rule.
The committee’s charge is rather to ask a fairly narrow set of questions about a rule, Benning said, including whether it meets the intent of the legislation that enabled it, whether the rule is arbitrary, and whether its potential economic effects are adequately described. Benning said he’s satisfied the rule meets all these criteria.
State regulators sided with the McLanes, generally, and operators will now have to use meteorological data to stop the blades before ice forms. The project's original state permit said the turbines would have to be paused only after ice is detected. (The PUC Order can be found by clicking the document icon to the right.)
It's all likely to prove academic, since LCAR is almost certain to vote down the rules sometime after leaf-peeping season. At that point, the PSB would have to resume work on a new set of rules. Given the fact that the board and the Scott administration take a dim view of ridgeline wind and most legislators are in favor of renewable energy including wind, it's going to be very tricky to find a set of rules acceptable to all parties.
A legislative panel has deferred action on a proposal that could have significant impacts on the future of ridgeline wind energy in Vermont.
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 DPS requested that the board “reject the proposed sound monitoring protocol and require Deerfield Wind to submit a revised protocol” that includes the department’s suggested changes. The department’s stance was echoed by the Wind Action Group and Thomas Shea, who owns property in Searsburg and is an intervenor in the project permit process.
Under the proposed rules, noise from large turbines would be limited to 42 dBA during the day and 39 dBA at night; smaller turbines would be limited to 42 dBA. ...Developers also would have to build large wind turbines away from local residents by a distance of 10 times the height of the turbine.
On Thursday, an obscure legislative committee will have the final say over new wind-power rules that have sent shock waves through Vermont's renewable-energy community.
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.