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.

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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

    • Glenn Thompson

      Bob Zeliff,

      “who in the past relied on facts to make her case, has joined the ranks of fake news, alternate facts.”

      What “fake news” and “alternate facts” are you referring too? It’s crystal clear that placing wind turbines in close proximity to people’s residences and the negative effects documented can be classified as anything but “fake news” and “alternate facts”.

      As for your other statement, wind turbines will have no impact on Climate Change. That source of energy produces very little power…power that is unpredictable, unreliable, sporadic, including a low Capacity Factor and needs to be backed up by another source of power, currently mostly by NG. Wind power also takes up a large footprint for the amount of power produced. If you wish to cut back on CO2 emissions the only viable option now for generating electricity is Nuclear.

      • Matthew Davis

        “If you wish to cut back on CO2 emissions the only viable option now for generating electricity is Nuclear.” And that’s why every utility and energy investor in the U.S. is getting in line to build a new nuke plant…wait that isn’t happening at all, and the plants that are under construction are massively over budget and behind schedule.

        The reality is that solar and wind, even without subsidies, are quickly becoming the cheapest options for electricity generation.

      • bill_christian

        Wind takes up a much SMALLER footprint than nuclear, when you include the uranium mines. No uranium mine, no nuclear power.

        • Glenn Thompson

          If you are going to go down that road, then you MUST include all the mining of raw materials used in the manufacturing of wind turbines!

          Here is a good example. The Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant outside Phoenix produces just under 4000Mw of power sitting on a 4000 acre site. Given just the Industrial Wind facilities currently operating in Vt. and their acreage compared to the piddly amount of power produced, your argument doesn’t pass the smell test.

          Here is a good link that shows what materials goes into the making of ‘pieces parts’ required for wind turbines.

          “No raw materials, no wind turbines”.

          • JohnGreenberg

            “If you are going to go down that road, then you MUST include all the mining of raw materials used in the manufacturing of wind turbines!”

            Not so. If your comparison includes “all the mining of raw materials used in the manufacturing,” then you need to include that for nukes as well.

            Nukes require fuel (mines + enrichment facilities + fuel fabrication facilities + nuclear power plants + nuclear waste sites) in addition to the mines and other sites to manufacture all their component parts. Wind turbines require the land for the turbines + sites to manufacture all their components, and to the extent the components are not recyclable (which is pretty small), landfills.

            Put differently, nukes require more than a reactor to run; no fuel, no power. Wind turbines require only the plant (i.e. turbine + tower) itself plus the wind itself.

          • Glenn Thompson

            You miss the point that nuclear puts out a lot more power and does it 24/7 (baseload) consistently. Wind power is unpredictable, unreliable, sporadic, and inefficient. The argument that wind power takes up a smaller footprint per amount of power produced is just not true. Forget the raw material argument for a minute and just compare the amount of power produced by these two energy sources?

          • JohnGreenberg

            I didn’t miss the point; it wasn’t raised.

    • Luann Tenney Therrien

      Pardon me, but your statement shows you do not know much about Annette Smith, you have also pinned the givers of “fake news, alternate facts.” on the wrong side of this issue. Annette Smith is not against renewable energy, she herself lives off grid, has solar panels, cows, chickens, a green house as well as an outside garden, and a small apple orchard. You are putting down a person who has an extremely small carbon footprint, a person most of us could learn a thing or two from. She is against the destruction of intact Eco systems that do their part in consuming carbon as well as being a natural wildlife habitat. She is also against big corporations that get to write all of their own rules while running rough shod over their neighbors all in the name of greed. These corporations can only survive off of government subsidies and are willing to go to any length to ensure their payment. With that said, why on earth would anyone trust an industry-sponsored study?

    • Luann Tenney Therrien

      It is apparent to me that you do not have an understanding of the negative health issues that occur when living in too close proximity to an industrial wind power plant. And I am with Annette on “I don’t need any peer-reviewed study to tell me people are being harmed,” You see, we lived it first hand. We spent over three years living next to the Sheffield project. Over three years of noise filled days and nights. Before the turbines started my two year old son slept through the night in his own bed, after they started he awoke so often that he end up in bed sleeping with us. I had my daughter a few months after the turbines started, and for over the three of her life while we lived there she slept through the night exactly once. Our family were the unwilling participants of an undocumented health study that no government agency cares enough about to properly investigate. They will say the noise causes annoyance, and that the annoyance can cause sleep deprivation, but they refuse to go that extra step and connect the dots and flat out say that an industrial wind power plant can cause sleep deprivation, and all of the other negative side effects that come along with it.

    • Oh please.

      You attack Annette Smith because she says she knows families
      who are adversely impacted by turbines? That’s fake news?

      Do you know any turbine neighbors? You can meet a few here:

      We will be posting more neighbor videos. Check back often.

      Mr. Zeliff’s response to climate change is irrational. He wants to degrade
      our natural defenses against the impacts of climate change by
      industrializing our mountains. All for puny amounts of intermittent
      energy and insignificant reductions in carbon emissions.

      His plan has the added advantage of driving Vermonters from their homes.

      Pretty good plan, eh?

      • bobzeliff

        There is just so much poor understanding shown in several of these responses.

        Mr. Gonda, dbA is one of several methods of measure sound sound levels, it is a ratiometric tool. It can be used for low frequency as well as any other frequency equally as well. The way you stated you position makes it clear you do not understand the metric or technical specifics

        Mr. Whitworth my direct neighbor (Blue Spruce Farm) has a substantial will turbine on her farm, not far from her home. I can easily see it and another neighbor turbine from my back porch. Both obviously support wind energy as they make use of it.

        Ms Therrien, I understand there is NO medical peer reviewed journal that document negative health effects of wind turbine. If you know of one point me to it! I do understand that some one may dislike noise, “any noise” and be upset by it. I do not like diesel truck jake brakes but that does not make them a health issue.

        • Luann Tenney Therrien

          If you lived it first hand, then you would understand. The noise you are referring to is intermittent, diesel trucks and jake brakes are not at a constant 24 hours. Furthermore, we did not protest the turbines being built, we didn’t understand the possible repercussions. Out of the 18 years we lived there, we only experienced continual negative health issues in the last three years we resided there. I do not require a study.

          • Glenn Thompson

            Your family’s medical documentation should be prove enough for those with an open mind. But when you are attempting to convince people who compare your complaints about noise from wind turbines to that of Alien Abductions and Big Foot, you know you might just as well be talking to a wall.

  • 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.