The state utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board this week threw open the doors to a wide-ranging discussion about sound standards involving wind projects and other power plants in Vermont.
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.
If the board decides that new regulations and standards for sound impacts are required for planning and certification of power plants as well as post-construction monitoring, the board will call for formal hearings in the future.
The board does not suggest that any new standards would affect existing energy projects like Lowell wind.
The investigation into what are appropriate sound levels from electricity generation plants is driven by ongoing complaints about noise from existing wind projects in Vermont.
In establishing the sound standards investigation, the board noted that its reliance on World Health Organization standards and case-by-case establishment of oversight has not prevented some neighbors of wind projects from experiencing health impacts.
Some neighbors of the Lowell wind turbines like Shirley Nelson of Lowell have said that noise within those limits has still affected her health.
The board appeared to react to those kinds of complaints, in setting up this investigation.
"Even with these restrictions placed on several recently constructed facilities, the board has received complaints regarding sounds produced by the operation of some facilities. These complaints have raised questions about whether the limitations that the board has previously adopted are adequate," the board stated in December.
"As a result, the board has determined that it is appropriate to commence a general investigation into the issue of appropriate sound standards for facilities that are subject to the board's jurisdiction."
On Wednesday, PSB members James Volz, John Burke and Margaret Cheney posed a series of questions that they hope will be discussed by public comment and in the workshops.
And the board requested the participation of state agencies -- the Department of Public Service and of Health -- to offer assistance in reviewing scientific and technical literature on state-of-the-art science and to make recommendations on standards and protocols.
Here are some of the questions:
- What are the major public concerns regarding potential health impacts from energy facilities?
- What consultation process is appropriate with host towns and adjacent property owners before energy facilities are proposed and constructed?
- What can be learned from actual sound impacts from power plants already built in Vermont?
- What credible scientific studies exist about potential health impacts and should those studies require a change in sound standards applied to wind projects, for example? Should the standards include different types of sound?
- Should the standards be consistent with adjustments for types of projects and locations?
- How are factors such as weather, terrain, wind shear, season and time of day relevant to wind turbines?
- Do other states and countries have best practices that Vermont could use to mitigate potential human health impacts?
- How should the state assess exposure to sound from energy facilities?
- Should the board establish a standardized method of conducting pre-construction acoustic studies and what would that look like?
- What specific sound standards should the board use to reflect the best science available today?
The board asks for written comment on these questions by March 3, with one specific request:
"We ask the participants to comment on whether one of the workshops should be dedicated to hearing from individuals who live near existing energy projects and wish to describe their experiences, concerns and recommendations," the board stated.
After the board reviews the comments, the board will issue a final order framing the scope of the investigation and set dates for workshops.
Anyone who wants to participate can get on an email service list by writing to the PSB clerk, Susan Hudson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.