Case closed on Georgia turbine neighbor’s noise complaint

The Georgia Mountain Community Wind installation. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger
State regulators have closed the books on a resident’s complaint about noise from wind turbines on Georgia Mountain after further analysis of recordings found no need to investigate any longer.

The four turbines have drawn sustained opposition from some neighbors, who have accused Georgia Mountain Community Wind of violating noise conditions in its permit.

The Public Service Board’s ruling last week stems from a complaint made in September 2015 by Melodie McLane. She lives with her family about 3,800 feet from the nearest turbine.

The turbines aren’t allowed to produce more than 45 decibels outside the homes of close neighbors or 30 decibels inside. If they’re found to have exceeded 40 decibels outside neighboring homes, the project’s permit requires further testing to determine whether they’ve violated the interior limit.

Sound modeling by the Department of Public Service and Georgia Mountain Community Wind after McLane’s complaint found that the turbines didn’t exceed the overall outside limit.

However, Public Service Board officers have said the turbines may have been loud enough to trigger further testing to determine indoor levels.

That conclusion was based on a series of test measurements during the first year of the turbines’ operation in 2013, several of which exceeded the 40-decibel threshold requiring indoor testing.

Based on analysis of those recordings, PSB hearing officer John Cotter said last fall that there was a “reasonable possibility” the turbines had exceeded their indoor sound limits in September 2015, as McLane alleged.

But Georgia Mountain Community Wind said the 2013 measurements were contaminated by sounds the turbines didn’t produce.

Based in part on that argument, the PSB reached a preliminary conclusion in January that the company didn’t need to do more testing to see if the indoor sound was too loud.

However, the board gave McLane and the Department of Public Service the option to challenge that conclusion.

McLane has said several times that she does not want Georgia Mountain Community Wind’s contractors testing sound levels in her home, and she didn’t challenge the board’s findings.

The Department of Public Service contracted Aercoustics, of Mississauga, Ontario, to further analyze recordings from the turbines. The acoustic consulting firm determined sound levels didn’t exceed 40 decibels.

Based on that, the department declined to seek additional sound measurements inside the McLane home.

McLane was not immediately available for comment on the closing of the case.

David Blittersdorf, a principal in the Georgia Mountain wind project, said he was pleased by the ruling but dismayed by the additional time and expense the investigation had required.

“The process from the state and regulatory agencies is expanding, I call it exponentially,” Blittersdorf said.

Large numbers of complaints from a small number of residents living next to wind and solar projects have unreasonably slowed the development of renewable energy, he said, and have created a litigious and expensive environment for entrepreneurs.

Compared to five years ago, he said, “everything takes three times longer and is three times more expensive.”

“It’s the wrong way to get energy reduction and to meet our renewable energy targets,” Blittersdorf said.

“By having a very few people constantly bringing up stuff over and over, it gets very costly,” he said. “If it were thousands of people, that would be different, but it isn’t.”

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  • suz seymour

    Blittersdorf said:“By having a very few people constantly bringing up stuff over and over, it gets very costly,” he said. “If it were thousands of people, that would be different, but it isn’t.”

    Could that be because these projects are often built in rural communities where there are NOT thousands to complain, but only a percentage of neighbors that can’t sleep with these things in their backyards? How convenient for you to use that logic in your statement!

    Mr. Blittersdorf, there absolutely WOULD be thousands if you started building Industrial Wind Turbines in Chittenden County. Come on, now, maybe right off a beach in Charlotte?

    • Glenn Thompson

      Blittersdorf may get his wish but on a smaller scale. If the Swanton Industrial Wind farm gets approval from the PSB and built, there are dozens of properties within a mile of that proposal. What happens after those turbines start operating, there are numerous complaints from nearby residents? The McLanes have a legitimate claim, but it is obvious to this writer, many in Montpelier, wind developers, and special interest groups such as VPIRG just don’t care.

      • suz seymour

        since I’m one of those homes in the Swanton Wind project circle of doom, Glenn, the concern is a real one for me and my neighbors. I HAVE been up to the McLanes and I have heard the noise eminating just from the blades alone….would assume if I stayed there long enough would have felt the infrasound as well…very frightening that we would subject ANY Vermonter to such loss of peacefulness. ALL Vermont Lives Matter, in my humble opinion.

  • Stephen Whitaker

    First, I’d like to cut through the corporate marginalization techniques.
    I’m not one of the “few people” living near a wind turbine.
    Nor am I anti-wind. Nor am I naive, or dishonest about simple science.

    The Department of Public Service and now the Public Service Board have both decided that they will use the blatantly dishonest strategy of A-weighting the measurements of wind turbine noise to deeply discount or deceive people into ignoring the unheard but bodily felt very low frequencies which are the most disruptive and foreign to our relatively quiet Vermont experience.

    These infrasonic frequencies below 20 Hz are more akin to our internal organ rhythms, and are less often heard or felt save in the experience of a tsunami or earthquake. No good is associated in our animal brain with these frequencies outside of our bodies.

    Unless we are genuinely and honestly going to measure all of the frequencies emanating from these massive machines and scientifically correlate those impacts with both the obvious and the subtle effects on wildlife, hikers, nearby residents, sleep disturbance, etc., these government agencies that are supposed to be protecting and representing the “public good” are merely deceiving and further eroding the public trust. It may even rise to the level of reckless endangerment!

    The final rule published today fails to even cite and ‘incorporate by reference’ the international standard which recognized infrasound and proper measurement techniques, clearly disclosing that infrasound is felt and measurable at much higher and more significant levels than A-weighting measurements will show.

    Lets get real. We’re embarrassing ourselves as Vermonters for tolerating this charade.

  • Ray Gonda

    Why not have developers offer buyouts (willing seller/willing buyer) for those living with a certain sound envelope such as is true of FAA/Burlington buyouts near the airport. Blittersdorf pointing out that it is a small number of people complaining, compared to thousands of others not complaining, is a non-starter. Do all of those other thousands live as close to the turbines as those most affected by the noise. If not then his statements are pointless.

    • Luann Tenney Therrien

      Short answer, to buy people out would be admitting there is a noise problem and it would set precedent leaving them open to litigation.

  • Teddy Hopkins

    The McLanes decline to allow indoor testing? Seems to me that was the best path to choose rather than deny access. Whether personal knowledge is true or not it baffles me how individuals believe their mere speak is evidence enough to change the world.

    • Steve Woodward

      Before you denegrate the McLanes, maybe you should know the whole story first. They didn’t oppose indoor testing, they opposed indoor testing done by RSG. A company that works closely with developers, who has a reputation of always siding with the industry. Also, did the PSB ever visit their home to see for themselves what the McLanes are experiencing? Or did they just go by testimony by industry lawyers and so-called experts. If we’re going to go the route we have been, there should be a neutral government entity, that can do these tests. Something so controversial should have a site visit. Vermont is not that big.

    • Melodie McLane

      To be clear, we would decline to allow the firm RSG to do the testing. RSG works for a number of wind companies and most always gets a result that favors the wind company. This is akin to letting the fox guard the hen house. We would however consider allowing an unbiased firm do the testing, but we did not get that choice. If I’m going to allow a perfect stranger into my bedroom, I’m going to make sure it’s someone I can trust, and the results of the testing will be valid.

      • Teddy Hopkins

        Given the choice of one firm versas not putting up a valid fight at all I would have ultimately agreed to the RSG firm. Can you imagine how horrible the developer would have appeared if, by your measure, their own firm measured the noise level inside and found the level too high? Now the McLanes appear to be stuck going no where. As for perceived denegration by others I suggest the anti wind groups change their tone for it appears to mimicking a child who cant have matters their way.

        • Jeff Noordsy

          Right. But by all of the known data, RSG would NOT have found the noise level too high. So your point is moot. Why not have an “independent” group do the measuring? Are you scared of something?

        • Melodie McLane

          Easy to say if you are not in our shoes (or bed). I suggest that you educate yourself before you make any accusations about neighbors mimicking a child. Your arrogance is appalling.