PSB would cap night turbine noise below ‘levels in a library’ - VTDigger

PSB would cap night turbine noise below ‘levels in a library’

The Public Service Board has relaxed its proposed limits on wind turbine noise, and a key senator says lawmakers could order further changes if the rules prove too strict.

Wind energy supporters say Vermont is unlikely to see turbines put up under the new sound standards the board sent to legislators Tuesday for a final review.

Chris Bray

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison.

If that turns out to be true, the standards could be replaced, according to the chair of the Senate committee on energy, Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison. He wrote the bill directing the PSB to develop the limits on noise from future wind projects.

Wind energy opponents say the standards won’t protect Vermonters against a host of ailments they allege turbines cause.

The new limits for sound measured 100 feet from nearby homes would be 39 decibels at night and 42 during the day. Originally the Public Service Board proposed a nighttime limit of 35 decibels.

At 39 decibels, the turbines would be quieter than “sound levels in a library, or those produced by a stream or a refrigerator,” board members wrote in documents submitted with the rules.

The rules can’t go into effect unless the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules believes they will allow future wind development, said Bray. That’s because both the state’s comprehensive energy plan and the law that called for the new PSB standards — Act 174 of 2016 — reflect an intention for wind development to continue.

LCAR largely deals with technical matters — such as whether the rules are arbitrary — but also looks at whether they follow legislators’ intent.

Cheney Hofmann

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

Bray said he trusts at this point that board members arrived at defensible sound limits, expressing confidence that the three-person PSB has the knowledge to come up with reasonable standards that also protect turbine neighbors from unreasonable harm.

Beyond that, it will be lawmakers’ job to make sure the dire predictions of some wind energy supporters don’t come true, Bray said.

“It’ll be up to us as legislators to keep an eye on the real-world implications of that rule,” he said. If the rules institute a de facto moratorium, legislators would have a variety of options, Bray said. The Legislature could rewrite the rules entirely or specify different sound limits, or ask some other entity such as the Department of Health to write a different set of rules, he said.

But Bray said a similar furor was raised over recently adopted rules governing net-metered renewable energy production, with opponents of the rules predicting they “would kill the solar industry in Vermont.”

Since those rules went into effect, Bray said, Vermont has seen a near-record number of applications for net-metered energy projects. They’ve largely been located in just the sort of places — brownfields, disused landfills and parking lots, for instance — that legislators hoped they’d be.

“I think that’s good news,” Bray said. “Maybe two years from now we’ll look at the [wind turbine sound] rules and say, ‘This represents good news.’”

Industry supporters not satisfied

Rules substantially similar to the PSB’s are already in effect in several European countries, which Bray said leads him to believe the rules submitted to LCAR “are probably appropriate standards and probably achievable.”

A recently closed case in which a neighbor accused the four-turbine Georgia Mountain Community Wind project of exceeding the 45-decibel limit in its permit found that the project hadn’t exceeded 40 decibels outside the neighbor’s home 3,800 feet away.


A view of the Georgia Mountain Community Wind project. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

But wind energy advocates say the new 39-decibel limit won’t be achievable.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” said Sarah Wolfe, a clean energy advocate at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “This is a clear ban on wind. The board chose to ignore the evidence and take this important resource off the table.”

Currently Vermont has a very limited number of areas where it’s feasible to install wind turbines, Wolfe said. Appropriate sites require a confluence of technical, meteorological, topographical and other conditions that aren’t common.

The new standard “constricts that [number] dramatically,” she said. “There are maybe a handful of sites that could have one or two turbines.”

“With this [set of standards], I’m going to be shocked if anybody comes in and proposes wind [projects] in the future,” Wolfe said.

Wind power is likely essential to meeting the state’s goal of producing 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, Wolfe said.

The board states in documents submitted with the rules that its first priority in devising them was to protect public health. Second among the board’s priorities was reducing annoyance experienced by neighbors.

“Lastly, the board sought to balance those two goals with the state’s policy, as evidenced by several legislative actions, to encourage renewable energy development and to significantly reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels,” the board wrote. “The board believes the two new [sound] levels strike the right balance between these competing interests.”

At sufficient levels, sound can harm public health, Wolfe said, adding that it’s appropriate for public health to be the board’s foremost concern.

But while wind turbines’ ability to annoy some people is documented, health officials say the same isn’t true of harm to public health. Wolfe said the board overstepped its charge in putting the annoyance of neighbors ahead of the state’s policy of getting away from fossil fuels.

“That’s a huge policy shift, and it’s highly concerning from a state agency that’s supposed to be looking out for the public good of the entire state,” Wolfe said.

Other wind energy advocates said the board should have given greater weight to the significant majority of people who testified in favor of wind turbines at the PSB’s recent hearings.

Around 80 percent of the roughly 700 people who testified to the board spoke in favor of sound standards that would let the industry grow, said Austin Davis, communications and operations associate for the industry group Renewable Energy Vermont.

Davis took issue with another provision in the standards requiring that turbines be no closer to neighboring homes than 10 times the turbines’ height, unless those neighbors agree. Most large-scale wind turbines in the state measure around 500 feet to the tip of their highest blade.

Requiring a setback of that distance will kill Vermont’s wind industry, Davis said.

“Under the proposed rule, regardless of community support, a single person’s objection within 1 mile of a potential wind site would prevent any project going forward,” Davis said.

‘People are being harmed’

One of the most vocal critics of Vermont’s wind industry said the new standards are “certainly an improvement over what we had,” but that she’s “disappointed” the sound from turbines will be allowed to reach 39 decibels outside neighbors’ homes.

annette smith

Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. File photo

Annette Smith, executive director of the anti-wind-energy group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said the Public Service Board erred in failing to account for illnesses some people blame on turbines.

Smith said the sound of wind turbines causes a variety of ailments, including cardiac disease.

However, then-Health Commissioner Harry Chen told legislators last year that no such connection has been found.

“To date, no scientific research has been able to demonstrate a direct cause‐and‐effect link between living near wind turbines, the noise they emit, and physiological health effects,” Chen said.

When asked for evidence of the link between sound from wind turbines and illnesses, Smith said plenty of it is available through the internet.

Smith also said the most commonly accepted method of evaluating scientific research is of limited value in her cause.

“I don’t need any peer-reviewed study to tell me people are being harmed,” Smith said. She has “real-world, anecdotal, on the ground” evidence of these harms, Smith said, “and I don’t need an industry-sponsored study that says there are problems.”

Smith accused the Canadian government of falsifying a 2012 report that found no causal connection between human ailments and wind turbine noise.

“This is a corrupt industry, and it has corrupted our governments, and it’s very sad,” Smith said.

Mike Polhamus

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  • bobzeliff

    Annette Smith quote from above.
    “I don’t need any peer-reviewed study to tell me people are being harmed,” Smith said. She has “real-world, anecdotal, on the ground” evidence of these harms, Smith said, “and I don’t need an industry-sponsored study that says there are problems.”

    It is so sad that a long term activist who has been consistent in trying to preserve the Vermont status quo, resisting the change, who in the past relied on facts to make her case, has joined the ranks of fake news, alternate facts.

    Climate change is real. We need to change our energy consumption and generation habits. Wind must be a component of that. Status Quo of carbon consumption is bad for Vermont and the World

  • bill_christian

    “When asked for evidence of the link between sound from wind turbines and illnesses, Smith said plenty of it is available through the internet.” And the same is true for the many alien abductions of Elvis. There is plenty of evidence for this as well, available through the internet. The internet is in need of a wise and kindly librarian to keep us out of the wrong aisles. Just because your brother-in-law knows someone who says he saw Big Foot does not mean that Big Foot exists, in or outside the internet. Science will acknowledge Big Foot instantly when someone brings in a tiny speck of DNA. This is how science works. Proof from real data.

    • Glenn Thompson

      How about the McLanes and Therriens for example? Are they a non-existent internet made up fake news stories? Come-on Bill, Big Foot and alien abductions? Is this what you are comparing sound issues with? Seriously!

      • bill_christian

        Yes, I am, seriously. 35% of Americans report having sleep problems. Most of them do NOT live near wind farms. So if only 17% of people near a wind farm report sleep problems, then the wind farm may actually be lulling them to sleep and reducing the incidence of sleep problems in the area, whether or not the McLanes are among that 17%. I am not claiming this is true. But it very easily could be true. A few people reporting sleep problems means absolutely nothing. Are there more or less than normal? That is very hard to evaluate. But almost everyone lives with noises that are SO much louder than a wind farm. Do you watch TV, for example? My concern is that when a wind or solar project is proposed, outsiders come in and spread fear and anger, using scientifically unproven claims and political ideologies, then some of the people that buy into that story WILL have sleep disorders. That is pretty obvious. We are humans and this is human nature.

        • Glenn Thompson

          “Do you watch TV, for example?”

          Yes I do, but I don’t leave the TV on when I go to bed at night. I turn it off. Can we turn off wind turbines at night? I used a recent example in a similar topic about having to switch rooms at a resort due to a constant humming sound coming through the walls. Switched to another room problem solved.

          As a disclosure, one of my projects while employed in a manufacturing facility was to go around the plant with a sound meter and take sound measurements and then come up with solutions to the issues. So I’m not entirely naive on the subject. Our solutions to the sound issues was

          1. putting sound enclosures around certain equipment.
          2. Use Acoustic Insulation.
          3. If 1 and 2 weren’t feasible, require employees to wear hearing protection.

          Bottom line, type of sounds vary along with dBa levels, and duration is a major factor, and not all people react the same to sounds. So continuing to bring up TV’s, refrigerators, etc as an excuse to ignore wind turbine noise just doesn’t cut it.

          The only solution to the wind turbine problem is to set standards to the point where we can eliminate potential problems. Why can’t we agree on that?

          • bill_christian

            One thing I know: in a manufacturing plant, no sane person would put an enclosure or acoustic insulation around something that produced 39 dB. You couldn’t possibly even hear it. I carry hearing protection with me on the job site and wear it around screw compressors and vane-axial fans. That’s because 90 dB over time can cause real harm. Since 90 dB is one million times more powerful than 40 dB.

          • Glenn Thompson

            In a manufacturing plant employees don’t attempt to sleep several hours at a time as people do in a rural setting which has very little other sounds other than having to listen to several hours of a constant pulsating sound coming from those wind turbines. Either you don’t understand the problem or don’t want to understand the problem?

            PS. as it turned out, Employees were eventually required to wear hearing protection through out the entire manufacturing area. What would you suggest people like the McLanes, and others do, wear hearing protection at all times around those wind turbines?

  • Ray Gonda

    Ms. Smith is correct in stating that low frequency sound is being ignored, the frequencies at which the internal organs are affected bringing about illness. The dBA scale/method cannot detect these frequencies although it detects noise we can ordinarily hear. So we are getting a half a solution from the PSB even at the lowest noise level thresholds they have proposed. This is not alternative facts as one commenter suggests. This is what many of those near the windmills are living with.

  • Liz Leyden

    Have the Army Corps of Engineers build the wind farms. Then any opponents can be called military-hating traitors who need to move to Canada. It worked with the F35.

  • jan van eck

    Propellor blade noise is well understood; it has been studied by aircraft builders for decades. The problems arise with tip speeds reaching up towards the speed of sound. Those tower builders could cut way back on the noise problem by making the blades shorter, going to a different design of prop, and a different design of blade. They don’t do that because the costs are currently externalized; “somebody else” outside the Limited Partnership crowd that installs these machines and reaps the tax credit ocean of cash is bearing the cost – by personal discomfort and health problems.

    The current parameters of tower and blade installation has a parallel in a coal plant without a baghouse collector. The generator does not spend the money on the baghouse as the costs of bearing particulate matter discharges are borne by persons living downstream – in some cases, several States away. Simply put, why spend the money if the burden is on somebody else’s back? These windmill propellor guys are analogously not motivated to think about you; their motivation is that fat 30% tax-credit check. So they go for maximum extraction and your tough-luck to live nearby. Too bad.

    Aircraft builders supply sophisticated six-blade props so that high-output jet turbines can use prop drive and the passengers can travel inside in comfort. That technical knowledge is widely available. These are technical issues that are easily enough addressed. There is a certain effrontry in the wind industry to refuse to apply this knowledge to their installations; basically, the attitude is, “Up yours, Jack.”

  • Andy Davis

    Wind is unpredictable? Actually wind is very reliable. Like sunshine we can actually predict the amount of power wind and sun will produce over a period of time despite fluctuations. That is why investors have faith in wind and solar power. They work with less risk to the environment and the community than many other forms of electrical generation. It seems terribly clear to me that the noise issue is very subjective. There are people who live near wind turbines who do not experience any health problems. Some people find them ugly and some people find them beautiful. Subjective judgement. I live in a Vermont town within a couple blocks of the interstate highway that is a constant source of noise. The brook that flows through the neighborhood also provides a steady sound – except when it is frozen over. My neighbors have a generator that runs at a godawful noise level. These are all audible sounds. I am not yet convinced of the problem of sub-audible sounds. Still waiting for peer reviewed scientific data. Yes, renewable energy changes land use patterns. So did sheep farming and charcoal burning.

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