Public brings its hopes and fears to hearing on turbine noise

Cheney Hofmann
Vermont Public Service Board members Margaret Cheney, left, and Sarah Hofmann at a past hearing. File photo by Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
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.

Lowell wind
The 21-turbine wind project on Lowell Mountain. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
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.”

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  • Donna Lauzon

    So, just ignore the people suffering? Is that seriously what these developers are saying? This is not a nimby issue, this is a quality of life issue. And if you can watch the video linked below and have no compassion for the people being forced to live like this, you are the lowest form of a human being. Stop pretending developers are environmentalists. They are not- and expecting generation after generation to suffer for the prophecy of saving the planet doesn’t pan out if the people on the planet are living in hell.

    • Matthew Davis

      How exactly does the case in Kingston, Ma relate to wind turbine sound standards in VT? How far is that(those) turbine(s) from neighbors? It seems as though this family is struggling with shadow flicker, which is not related to sound…

      • Donna Lauzon

        Matthew, it all clearly relates to quality of life in regard to turbines. These issues are not mutually exclusive. I’m sorry you seem to want to minimize or deny others’ suffering. It’s pretty clear in every post I’ve seen from you that you refuse to believe the possibilty that people are being negatively affected by both sound and flicker. Perhaps, you should reach out directly to those who have been affected in order to gain some perspective. Our negligence in the past of people dimissing other’s and saying, “oh that’s not harmful” has not always been accurate. If we are going to set standards, we need a total set of standards for sound, flicker and siting. All turbine issues. I’m not sure how else to spell it out to you.

        • Matthew Davis

          “I’m sorry you seem to want to minimize or deny others’ suffering.” I have no interest in minimizing others “suffering” if there is suffering occurring. I still haven’t seen anything more than anecdotal evidence that perhaps a few people in VT are “suffering” from wind turbine siting. Annoyed perhaps, but nobody is suffering from health issues as a result of wind turbines.

          “If we are going to set standards, we need a total set of standards for sound, flicker and siting.” We already have standards. What is wrong with them?

  • Marshall Rosenthal

    In ADDITION to unwanted noise that promotes ailments and discomfort in people that live and work near IWTs, there is the often overlooked SENSITIZATION of ANY PERSON by the fields of electromagnetic energy that results from the spikey power that must be “grounded” from the wind turbines and power lines that carry their electricity to transformers. ELECTRO-MAGNETIC HYPERSENSITIVITY (EMH) can be found in people living miles from wind turbine arrays. It manifests medically in many of the symptoms that have already been described by the acoustic sources of illness, as Wind Turbine Syndrome, except that EMH inducing fields travel at the speed of light, and for great distances. The wind power industry would prefer not to discuss this.

    • Matthew Davis

      I don’t see how this is an issue related to wind turbines….By your logic anyone living near power lines or electronic devices is suffering from “EMH”….

      • Marshall Rosenthal

        It’s not my logic. You can find it for yourself in the electrical engineering literature. Your lack of information is “scary”. EMH is strong near power lines and near wind turbines. Both locations make people ill. Why is this acceptable to anyone? (Pardon me for being naive.)

        • bobzeliff

          Marshall, I am an engineer. I believe I’m fairly well versed in the facts. I’m guessing but you might have been caught up in some of the “fake news” that is far to common today.
          I note that no one has responded to my challenge to present point me to a peer review medical journal confirming health impact.

    • bobzeliff

      If you are concerned about EMH….don’t ever use and electric blanket or heated seats in your car! Also just think about all that wiring in your house…all around you…radiating electrical and magnetic fields? Woah! Scary!!

  • bobzeliff

    To my knowledge there is NO peer reviewed Medical Journal that documents adverse health effect due to sounds of Wind Turbine Installation. Wind turbines may irritate some visually and some may find their sounds also irritating …but this is not make a health issue.
    Jake brakes on diesel trucks irritate me….but they are not a health issue.

    Please respond if you can point me to any.

    The draft 35db and 40 db levels are absurdly low. They will be an effective ban on Wind Power development .

    FWIW Wind power is displacing Natural Gas usage in Texas of all places, because it is cheaper! The Gas Plant owners are complaining!

  • Marshall Rosenthal

    I can see that this is going to be a long lasting fight. It is a matter of scale. Just because some of you haven’t seen any “peer reviewed” papers about the EMH effects produced by power lines and wind turbines, it does not mean they are not there, just scrupulously unreported.