St. Albans Messenger, May 27, 2017
New rules would limit turbine projects
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
MONTPELIER — The Public Service Board (PSB) has submitted its proposal for the state’s industrial wind sound rules.
Advocates for industrial wind power, like Sarah Wolfe of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), said the new rules, if approved by the legislature, would destroy Vermont’s wind industry. The industry’s critics, like local resident Patty Rainville, said the new rules do not go far enough, or address the real issues.
The PSB has developed these rules over the past year. The passage of Act 174, a state law designed to increase residents’ say in local energy siting, required the development of these rules.
The PSB’s development process included multiple public hearings. The Messenger reported on one such hearing, in Montpelier, in December 2016.
That hearing illustrated a vast divide between scientists and industry professionals, who said peer-reviewed research proved even less-harsh rules than the state’s temporary sound limits would not have adverse health effects, and citizens and advocacy groups, who said personal accounts and non-peer reviewed research proved the opposite and called for stricter standards.
The PSB’s proposed rules err toward the side of those citizens and advocacy groups. The state’s temporary sound limit was 45 A-weighted decibels (dBa) outside a residence. The volume of such sound is just above that of a suburban area at night, according to a decibel comparison chart from Yale University.
The PSB’s new rules propose a 42 dBa daytime exterior sound limit, based on measurements taken 100 feet from a residence, and a 39 dBa nighttime exterior limit.
The board did not set an interior sound limit, because doing so would “present significant complications for modeling, monitoring and enforcement,” according to the board’s final report.
But the board did impose a physical restriction as well. Any facility with an output above 150 kilowatts — for comparison, Swanton Wind is designed for an output of 20 megawatts — must be positioned a distance of 10 times the turbine’s height from the home of any landowner who objects to the project’s construction.
For example, Swanton Wind has proposed turbines of up to 499 feet. That would mean an approximately 5,000-foot setback for that facility.
The PSB’s final report noted that the setback requirement “may be waived on a case-bycase basis for good cause shown.” The report did not define “good cause.”
Wolfe said the proposed rules are “the most restrictive in the country by a wide margin,” and will “make most, if not all, large wind projects unworkable in Vermont.”
She said in an official statement that the rules “would essentially hand the keys to Vermont’s energy policy over to the most extreme anti-clean energy voices in the state… We expect to see this kind of policy out of Washington these days, but not Vermont.”
The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC), which represents Franklin and Grand Isle counties, includes wind in its plan to meet Vermont’s 90×50 goal, requiring the state as a whole to utilize 90 percent clean energy by the year 2050. The NRPC’s current draft energy plan proposes the generation of 19 megawatts of wind power in Franklin County by that time.
Rainville said the disagreement on industrial wind in Vermont could be avoided if all parties “wait five years,” because of the rapidly changing nature of wind technology. “All [the current and currently proposed facilities] are going to be obsolete in five years anyway,” she said.
Rainville agreed the new rules are a step forward, but said they miss the point — in regards to infrasound above all.
Infrasound is low-frequency sound, below the normal limit of human hearing. Citizens and advocacy groups arguing for stricter industrial wind regulations have identified infrasound as the leading cause of industrial windrelated adverse health effects.
Scientists dispute that assertion, arguing that peer-reviewed research into industrial wind-related adverse health effects determined the effects were psychosomatic, an anxiety disorder caused by heightened awareness of the turbines. In one case, investigators discovered an anti-wind organization in Australia, the Waubra Foundation, was funded by the fossil fuel industry to further its own energy enterprise.
Citizens and advocacy groups that spoke before the Public Service Board in December argued that no scientific proof is necessary. “We have devalued human hearing,” Stephen Ambrose said at that workshop.
Rainville said that infrasound is misunderstood, if understood at all, because it cannot be heard. “Other sounds are easily understood,” she said. “Anybody who’s human and has ever been annoyed by a sound can understand it.”
The Public Service Board said in its final report that the board received more than 100 comments from individuals criticizing its proposed rules as being too restrictive. But Rainville said the issue is not about numbers, but about knowledge.
“Whatever the legislation turns out, it needs to show an understanding of what’s really happening,” she said.
The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules is now considering the Public Service Board’s proposal. The committee will announce its determination by July 1.
The rules, if approved, will not retroactively affect already existing or proposed projects.