Vermont’s wind turbines drew emotional testimony before the Public Service Board last week, as board members sought public input on proposed new rules that some say will prevent further wind development in the state.
The board proposes to dramatically restrict the volume of sound that wind turbines are allowed to emit. The board will take public comment through Thursday on the draft regulations.
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.
Because decibels are measured logarithmically, an increase of 10 decibels represents a 10-fold increase in the power of sound.
One critic of the proposed standard measured sound levels inside the auditorium where the hearing was held; when no one spoke, the room’s ambient sound level measured 42 decibels.
But numerous wind power opponents, including Swanton resident John A. Smith, said that even the proposed standards would allow wind turbines to produce unacceptable sound volumes.
Smith told the board he spent the last three years studying wind turbine sound. Wearing the neon-green vest that wind power opponents have adopted to identify themselves in public hearings, Smith told the PSB that wind turbines kill people.
The turbines “bring with them a lot of medical problems — dangerous ones, some including death,” Smith said.
“To put a project in where [proponents] know they’re creating medical problems, and possibly death, to me I’d have to consider that that you’re knowingly committing genocide, and as far as I know, genocide is still illegal,” Smith said.
He did not elaborate on how he believed deaths occurred.
Just before Smith testified, former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie told board members that Vermonters had become “collateral damage” to the wind industry.
Bill Dunkel, of the Windham planning commission, told the Public Service Board that wind turbines cause health problems. He urged the board, “for the sake of protecting public health,” to set the ultimate wind turbine sound limit at 35 decibels.
Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen said as recently as last year that no current scientific research has established a causal link between wind turbines and adverse health effects.
Nevertheless, Monique Thurston, a retired radiologist who organized against wind power in Maine before moving recently to Vermont, told Public Service Board members that even the proposed 35 decibel sound limit doesn’t protect the “most sensitive” individuals from health harms she attributed to wind turbines.
More research will support her view on wind turbines, Thurston said, and “the time is coming when deniers of wind turbine noise complaints will be challenged in the court of law.”
Kathy Hepburn said there’s no evidence that wind energy reduces carbon emissions, and she accused people who “want to save the planet” of “usually lacking in facts.”
But wind power advocates told the board that the technology doesn’t cause many of the harms its opponents allege.
Audio technician Ben Shapiro measured the sound level of the Montpelier High School auditorium where the hearing was being held, and when the crowd was silent, the reading was around 42 decibels, he said.
That’s the volume the Public Service Board has proposed for the daytime turbine limit, and the 35-decibel nighttime limit, Shapiro said, is so low it’s “idiotic.”
“In a state where the F-35 is housed and used, the idea of a 35-decibel limit for wind power makes no sense whatsoever,” Shapiro said. “Thirty-five decibels is nuts.”
F-35 military jets are to be based at the Vermont Air National Guard facility in South Burlington. Opponents in the area are fighting that plan because of the expected noise.
Several speakers told the board that the proposed standard would halt wind power development in Vermont. One of them was Kathleen Scott, of Windham. Scott said Vermont is considered a leader among states on environmental issues and that it will need wind power to reach the goal set out in its comprehensive energy plan of providing 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.
Donald DeVoil, a native of Scotland and 12-year Montpelier resident, told Public Service Board members that his home country has wind turbines “everywhere,” including in the middle of the town where he grew up.
“This reminds me of the debate on wind we had in Scotland 25 years ago,” DeVoil said.
“We’ve had no health crisis,” DeVoil said. “We haven’t lost the tourism industry.”
Residents, he said, “don’t even notice them” after living near the structures for decades. DeVoil did not say whether he had lived next to turbines for any extended period.
But even if wind turbines do disturb some residents, DeVoil said, that’s to be expected.
“Vermonters have enjoyed the luxury of being able to use electricity without dealing with the reality of what producing electricity means,” DeVoil said. “But any form of electric [generation] disadvantages some people over others … and you can’t write it off simply because it has impacts. Every form of energy has them.”
“It’s not right for Vermonters to expect other people to deal with the reality of power production if we’re not willing to deal with it in our own state,” he said.
Several workers from Northern Power Systems, the wind turbine manufacturer based in Barre Town, testified as well.
“We’re trying to make a living and make a difference, and these kind of rules would definitely kill wind in Vermont,” said Christopher McKay, a sales director at Northern Power Systems. The proposed regulations, he said, “are really about just trying to stop wind.”