Commentary

Juliet Cuming: Renewable energy proud

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Juliet Cuming, of East Dummerston, who is the director of the Mark Shaw Photographic Archive. It is a shorter version of the letter she submitted to the Public Service Board. The PSB is taking comment on new wind turbine noise standards until Thursday.

Dear Public Service Board,

In 1995 my husband and I moved to Dummerston Vermont, pregnant with our first child, dreaming of the good life. We had bought a parcel of land which was too expensive for our modest budget, but was perfect for the solar and wind powered home we planned on building. Located at the top of a hill, in a class 7 wind site, with south facing solar exposure and an open field, we had the ideal location to use the complementary technologies which make renewable energy possible in climates like ours. When the sun is not shining there is likely to be wind, and when the wind is silent, the sun is often blazing, so one source of power is generally working when the other is not.

While we were not experienced builders, I became the contractor and my husband the “stacker” of the first “all natural” straw bale home in our area. Even in Vermont, most of our neighbors (and all our parents) thought our mud and straw structure sounded insane, but feature stories in the Boston Globe, Solar Today, Metropolitan Home magazine and a host of regional publications gave us, and our experimental home, credibility. In fact, our “Earth Sweet Home house” quickly became a mecca for natural building enthusiasts and scientists from all over the world.

When I look at my wind turbine or my solar panels, or any wind and solar arrays around our state, I feel immensely proud. I find these technologies beautiful because I know that the electricity they produce is not only powering Vermont homes cleanly and efficiently, but they have also created Vermont jobs. If Vermont is to continue to lead the nation in forward thinking, and if we truly want to be energy independent, we need the mixture of energy technology that wind and solar provide.

Most of us have seen solar panels, but not as many are familiar with wind technologies. Residential wind turbines are typically smaller, and louder, than the beautifully sculptural commercial turbines which we see while traveling to Bennington via Route 9. However “loud” is a relative term. When we sit outside all summer looking at our household sized 5KW Bergey, usually all we can hear is the sound of the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, a sound which is typically quite a bit louder than the peaceful whirring of our wind turbine.

Vermont has led the nation in many initiatives and if corporate interests can prevent wind in Vermont from taking hold in a more meaningful way, it could immobilize renewable energy efforts in other, larger, energy markets.

 

Not so peaceful is a noise we used to hear every month, without fail, for most of our 20 years here in Dummerston. The jarring monthly “test siren” necessitated by the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear power station. Once a year the test siren was accompanied by an evacuation drill, which, as a first responder and firefighter (my husband is also the rescue chief for Dummerston), my husband was expected to participate in.

The annual drills, which simulated a full evacuation from our area, never successfully managed to evacuate everyone safely (even in the land of pretend, nuclear power was not safe), a fact that contributed to our family’s involvement in the movement to close the Vermont Yankee plant. Thankfully, Vermont Yankee is now closed and we are not quite as worried that Southern Vermont will be rendered uninhabitable by a cataclysmic accident like the one that has destroyed the area around Fukushima, Japan.

Since Vermont Yankee was decommissioned, the state imports much of its energy, and in doing so, sends over a billion dollars out of state to massive, and often international, fossil fuel corporations. These pipeline building, water poisoning, corporate monoliths have little interest in protecting tiny Vermont, but they have a great deal of incentive to meddle in the laws that our small state might adopt. Vermont has led the nation in many initiatives and if corporate interests can prevent wind in Vermont from taking hold in a more meaningful way, it could immobilize renewable energy efforts in other, larger, energy markets.

By now it should be clear that my family is committed to clean, reliable energy as well as to the safety of our local community, so imagine my shock when I heard that the Public Service Board was contemplating sound standards of 35 decibels for all wind in the state, which would effectively mean the end of the use of this efficient and benign technology. Thirty-five decibels is the sound that my solar and wind powered dishwasher makes, it is the sound of a room full of people sitting in silence, it is far quieter than “psithurism” — the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the trees.

I worry that this new attempt to ban wind energy has been driven by a very active and loud minority who is not only fueled by “alternative facts” but most likely supported by the dirty energy corporations who have a great deal to gain by preventing Vermont from becoming energy independent via renewable technologies.

I fear that the Public Service Board has not heard from enough people with positive experiences and I would like to invite you, the PSB, to my home in Dummerston to hear what my wind turbine sounds like — you won’t hear exactly what I hear, however, because when the wind blows I hear not only the pleasant sound of psithurism, I also hear the absence of an electricity bill!

I urge the Public Service Board to reconsider these proposed rules, to ask who is served by this 35 decibel rule and to find out who really supports it? My hope is that Vermont, her citizens and my family can continue to produce our own energy, using Vermont’s plentiful, safe and renewable resource, the wind!

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