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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  • Melodie McLane

    Juliet Cuming, you cannot possibly be comparing the noise from a small home wind turbine to that of an array of industrial sized turbines? Have you ever tried sleeping downwind of an industrial project, 3600 feet away? Do small home wind turbines make a deep, throbbing, rumble all night and day long when they are running at full capacity? I’m very happy for you, that you are able to sit outside and enjoy your property because your turbine isn’t noisy. I do not have that luxury anymore, since the Georgia Mountain Industrial wind project was installed next to our home.

    My husband and I were born in Vermont and bought 25 acres of land on this rural mountain 30 years ago that was most likely too expensive for our budget as well. We cleared the land and built our beautiful timber frame home with our own hands. We designed our home to take advantage of the nice southern exposure and wrapped our home in stress skin panels, which has served us well in heating our home for years, along with our wood stove. Now we cover our over sized windows on the south side with sound and light insulating shades, in an attempt to block the noise and flicker from the wind turbines. By the way, that doesn’t work – we wasted several thousand dollars in custom shades. The low frequency rumble penetrates walls, windows, shades and white noise, such as fans. We’ve tried it all.

    You had to listen to a “monthly” test siren once a month from the nearby Vermont Yankee. We have to listen to constant wind turbine noise, sometimes for days and nights on end. I’d kill for just hearing it once a month. So not every person was successfully evacuated in the Vermont Yankee drills? Would they not be considered “collateral damage”, such as neighbors of industrial wind turbines who have been labeled as such? Some of our homes are also rendered uninhabitable, does that not make you feel uncomfortable?

    I can assure you that my participation in the active and loud minority who is against foolish siting of wind projects is not driven by alternative facts or a dirty energy corporation. I have nothing to gain, in fact this new proposed rule will not help neighbors here on Georgia Mountain at all. My only motivation is to prevent neighbors of future industrial winds projects from sleepless nights and the inability to enjoy their rural homesteads. In the interest of full disclosure, what is your motivation in preventing that from happening?

    • SJ Seymour

      sorry for your pain, Melodie. Some of us understand what you are going through, and are doing what we can to educate Vermonters who just don’t know. Shame on those who would scorn your situation…they’d never last a month living under your circumstances.

  • Bill Murray

    Nicely stated. If we don’t work to develop alternative renewable energy we continue to support power sources that while perhaps out of our sight, pollute and have a negative impact in someone’s back yard. If we are using the power don’t we have an ethical obligation to accept some of the cost of that power? I’ll take the sight and sound of solar panels,wind power and wood pellet systems over petroleum drilling, gas fracking, coal mining and a nuclear industry that we have never held accountable for the true cost, hidden but expensive and dangerous for a long time.

    • SJ Seymour

      it’s all about small-scale renewables, Bill. Vermont is NOT SUITED for industrial wind. That is the science of it. We should ALL have small-scale renewables and that WOULD have a profound impact on what we consume.

      • Matthew Davis

        And by this new standard, small scale wind would likely not be possible in VT….

  • Kathy Leonard

    I’m glad your dream home works for you, Juliet. If you were one of the hundreds of people who have been forced to abandon their dream home because of proximity to large turbines, you would have a different tale to tell. Empathy is something you either have or you don’t.

    If you can’t empathize with those who are suffering or have had to abandon their homes, you might at the least have considered not pouring salt in their wounds with this commentary that only represents your particular situation.

    • Matthew Davis

      “If you were one of the hundreds of people who have been forced to
      abandon their dream home because of proximity to large turbines” How many people in VT have been forced from their homes? This commentary is about a standard for wind siting here in VT. It seems we have some experience with the current standards so why not discuss that?

  • george boomhower

    I read Juliet Cuming’s commentary, about her experience with small wind and solar with pleasure. Very nice, but then, she had to take shots at those opposing industrial wind in their back yard, accusing them of using alternative facts and operating with bad intentions. The 35 decibles being discussed could be too restrictive or too loose depending on wheather it is dBA or dBC. dBA elliminates most frequencies below 500hz(cycles per seconds) and that is where all of the turbine noise, over distance, is. dBC removes that filter and defines the lower frequencies. dBC should be tested with a frequency analyzer so that each individual tower can be identified, instead of the mush of a needle movement or a digital readout. Probably this would be a good idea using dBA as well.
    One other point. Fukushima survived the monster 9.0 earthquake quite nicely and apparently survived a 45 ft tidal wave but not the bureaucratic delays and bungling that followed. Just saying.
    George Boomhower. Essex.