Commentary

Chris McKay: Sound regulations restricting wind power

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Chris McKay, a resident of Waterbury who has worked at Northern Power Systems in Barre for over 16 years.

I‘m proud to say that I work at Northern Power Systems where we design and build wind turbines right here in Barre. There are dozens of people down in the factory floor building wind turbines and getting them ready to ship around the U.S. and the world. We work to make a living and make a difference.

Every Vermonter deserves to be happy, healthy and have a well-paying job, and that is what wind energy allows. In a day and age when political pundits and candidates alike bemoan the days of well-paying trade and manufacturing jobs, they certainly do a lot to eliminate them. That’s what the most recent rules by the Public Service Board will do: kill wind in Vermont. In my view, these rules aren’t really about sound; it’s really about trying to stop wind. Legislators must see that unreasonable sound levels and arbitrary setback restrictions in the proposed rule will prevent the use of wind technology in our state.

Wind energy is a Vermont trade. In Vermont, Northern Power Systems is just one of the four local businesses in wind manufacturing. There are just as many trade jobs in wind that are not manufacturing related in this state. We’ve been in business for 40 years; another well-known Vermont company working in wind, NRG Systems, has been here for 35 years.

Vermont needs to take a more balanced approach to respecting our citizens while allowing wind to keep working here in Vermont.

 

Over the past four decades, wind has been able to work and operate in peace. It has only been in the last few years that as the price per unit of wind energy outcompetes fossil fuels, some opposition has grown. This is not a coincidence, and indeed peer reviewed research shows a greater reception to wind technology and fewer complaints after construction when communities are not primed with false narratives about wind before projects are installed.

There have been a lot of comments about Europe in the public debate around wind sound. My company has turbines in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and elsewhere in Europe, and you know the decibel number is only part of those rules. If you go to Germany and Denmark, there are thousands of wind turbines. There’s more subtlety to regulations than the opposition would lead you to believe, and much of that subtlety enables wind to work in those countries. I can tell you if this rule that’s being proposed was the status quo in those countries, we would not have been able to provide the technology to generate pollution-free energy.

Vermont needs to take a more balanced approach to respecting our citizens while allowing wind to keep working here in Vermont. Northern Power Systems a small business, and I wouldn’t want to see any other small business prevented from making a living by giving rules that were outliers and very different regarding what they can do compared to everybody else.

Vermont needs wind energy to stabilize and lower electricity costs, and keep our state competitive for jobs and local manufacturing to keep our economy growing. It is now time for the Legislature to object to the board’s rule as it is clear that the full economic implications were not considered. Furthermore, our state made a commitment to achieve energy independence, and create a better Vermont for generations to come by generating 90 percent of our energy renewably. Shorting future generations of Vermonters a future with sovereignty over their own, homegrown, clean energy sources has never been the intention of the Vermont Legislature, and these rules are out of touch with reality.


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  • Willem Post

    Chris,
    It would take about $33 billion for Vermont to have 90% of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2050, as estimated by the Energy Action Network, a pro RE organization.

    That is about $1 billion per year, not counting interest on borrowed money, or return on investment and many other costs.

    The wind and solar systems have service lives of about 25 years, so most of what is built now would need to be partially replaced with new systems before 2050.

    Hydro Quebec has 5000 MW of unused hydro capacity, and is building another 5000 MW over the next 10 years. Their output could provide about 40% of NE’s electricity at a much lower cost than ridge line wind and offshore wind.

    • bob Zeliff

      Opponents to wind power, any wind power like often reference Hydeo Quebec as cheap power. They never mention the thousand, and thousand of acres of land damed up and flooded to build the hydro generating stations, the hundreds of miles of power lines, and the wasted energy, to get this power to the US. They ignore these environmental impacts!

      Now the era of cheap Hydro Quebec power is ending. Several companies are building power line to bring this power to New York, Boston and other southern New England areas. This new areas will greatly increase the demand for Hydro Quebec power…driving up the price. Who will be able to afford the resulting higher prices, New Yorkers or Vermonters?

      In the future wind power prices are going down, hydro power is going up.

      • Matthew Davis

        “They ignore these environmental impacts!”

        That’s because those impacts are not obvious here in VT….

        Opponents of energy development in VT should be working towards forcing VT legislators to enact laws to force VT utilities to buy more HQ power because the utilities are not going to do it…..

        With a republican gov. keen on authoritarian mandates, it seems like now is the time. What are you waiting for?

      • Michelle DaVia

        Bob,
        Have you worked out what wind will cost per kilowatt hour when you have to add $1 billion a year in transmission expense for 10 years to get that additional 50+/- megawatt hours a year of new wind? It’s a whole lot more expensive than hydro.

        So let’s not destroy thousands and thousands of acres of land again, this time for wind.

        • JohnGreenberg

          Please document your $1 billion per year figure. I suspect you just made it up.

        • bill_christian

          A new transmission line from northern Quebec will require clear cutting far, far more land than an equivalent wind farm will require right here in Vermont. Far far more.

        • Willem Post

          Michelle,
          The transmissions lines will be privately owned, as is already the case in New England.
          Owners charge about 1 c/kWh to transmit power.
          Hydro energy is about 6 c/kWh, for a total of 7 c/kWh
          That is MUCH less costly than ridgeline wind, offshore wind and PV solar in New England.
          Read URL for more info.

      • Willem Post

        Bob,
        About 5000 MW of H-Q plant and reservoirs is already built and not used. GMP etc., should start using the 200 MW that is reserved for Vermont, for starters.

        That hydro energy, MUCH cleaner than wind and solar energy, would be STEADY, 24/7/365, and would be much less costly than wind and solar which would require ruining pristine ridgelines for noisy, 500 ft tall wind turbines and covering several thousand acres with PV panels.

        http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/increased-canadian-hydro-energy-to-grow-new-england-s-economy

        http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/gmp-refusing-to-buy-additional-hydro-energy-from-hydro-quebec

        http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-turbine-noise-adversely-impacts-nearby-people-and-animals-1

    • Ken Egnaczak

      Would we be trading high power electric transmission lines for ridgeline wind towers ? There would be transmission lines to Vermont but also transmission lines through Vermont to supply Massachusetts and Connecticut. There has been strong opposition to these lines in the past.

      And on the financial side, Vermont like most of New England, sends most of its energy money out of state. With Hydro Quebec we send it out of the country, for big hydro technology that is much despised by Environmentalists. I agree that hydro from Canada has its benefits but it also has some serious issues.

  • Stewart Clark

    I salute Northern Power Systems for their fine work producing wind turbines and shipping them around the world. Never-the-less, their world-wide success, does not make industrial-scale wind reasonable or proper for Vermont ridgelines.

  • bob Zeliff

    Chris Mckay, very well said.

    We need to have more wind power installed Vermont. Sensibly sited, yes!

    Wind power has the potential to be lower cost than natural gas. In Texas, which has the largest installed base of wind power in the US, it is so inexpensive, the natural gas plant owners are complaining about the competition.

    Every watt of wind power can displace a watt generated by fossils fuels!

  • Michelle DaVia

    Chris,
    An industry cannot stay static.

    I’m sure Northern Power Systems does research and development to improve the efficiencies and power production of your products. Now it’s time to design a turbine system that meets the new sound standards and you could literally dominate the wind turbine manufacturing industry.

    Someone will do that and that company will own the market, they’ll be the ones putting you out of business. Think of the time and expense saved by a developer if they could offer a community a turbine system that fit the community and was not being fought.

    Linear thinking ends up being a straight line down for a business. Make the product that grows with the demands of the times instead of trying to make time stand still for you.

  • Ray Gonda

    “In my view, these rules aren’t really about sound; it’s really about trying to stop wind.”

    No, it is about keeping wind off of our mountaintops and protecting the peace, tranquility and health of those near unfortunate enough to be near wind emplacements.

    “Vermont needs to take a more balanced approach to respecting our citizens while allowing wind to keep working here in Vermont.”

    This is precisely why the new regs have been proposed.

    “Northern Power Systems a small business, and I wouldn’t want to see any other small business prevented from making a living by giving rules that were outliers and very different regarding what they can do compared to everybody else.”

    The Vermont market for wind is such a small fraction of the global market these Vermont small businesses serve that the total elimination of wind energy in Vermont would be hardly noticeable.

  • Rod West

    First build industrial power production facilities in industrial areas. After you have exhausted those areas, and haven’t met demand, you can reasonably move to less dense areas. Starting the other way around is just straight exploitation, of farmers and the soil (solar), of wildlife and aesthetic beauty (wind).

  • Willem Post

    Ken,

    Neither do I

  • JohnGreenberg

    Ken and Willem:

    Bob Zeliff’s reasoning isn’t that recondite. In the past, due to limited transmission lines, power from HQ flowed into the VT market but not further south.
    HQ isn’t stupid. They’d rather sell excess power, even at low prices, than not sell power. Till now, that was their choice.

    If and when the new lines are built that WILL reach southern New England, they will have a third choice: sell power to customers in CT, MA (and RI?). Vermont represents about 5% of the New England electricity market. Since there is far more more demand in southern New England than there is here, and since each line can only carry so much power, the laws of supply and demand suggest that the price is likely to rise to accommodate the new customers.

    The price of wind power has fallen and is expected to fall over time. Zeliff is merely noting that fact.

    DISCLAIMER: I don’t know or speak for Bob Zeliff. But I thought his reasoning was obvious enough to add my 2 cents. These are points I’ve made here myself in the past.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    Also, Texas is not exactly a good model for environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

    • Glenn Thompson

      FYI, a wind turbine placed in Texas will have far less of an environmental impact than placing them on Vermont Ridgelines which does have a negative environmental impact. In Texas, they are mostly located in vast open land areas where you don’t need to worry so much about negatively impacting upper watersheds, wildlife, and having them placed to close to one’s home.

      Given the fact, here is Vermont we are placing wind turbines on scenic ridgelines, placing them in a National Forest, and placing Industrial Solar alongside busy highways and not triggering the Anti-Billboard law…..I would hardly classify Vermont as good model for environmental stewardship anymore!

  • Jason Brisson

    “Should we plant a tower in the middle of Waterfront Park?”
    Yes we should! Chittenden County is where the energy demands are most, siting of projects should be done accordingly.

  • bill_christian

    Norway has vast hydro and uses it. Denmark has vast wind and uses it. We have a moderate amount of each but we are burning millions of cubic feet of natural gas every day for our electric power. Not right.

  • JohnGreenberg

    Repeating your lies won’t make them come true.

    1) “Norway has 98% of it electricity from hydro.”

    It’s true that most of the power Norway PRODUCES comes from hydro. Naturally, Norway
    exploits a natural resource that is abundant within its borders.

    BUT, Norway is tied to the Nordic grid, and hydro constitutes only 36% of what average Norwegians consume.

    In fact, Norway’s consumption fuel mix isn’t all that different from Vermont’s: 42% fossil, 36% hydro, 21% nuclear. Apparently, unlike Willem, Norwegian utilities, like ours, believe in diversifying their fuel sources. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Norway#Production_and_Consumption

    We had this discussion over as year ago here: http://vtdigger.org/2016/04/21/vernon-gas-plant-project-on-hold/#comments and here: http://vtdigger.org/2016/08/28/mary-mccoy-kind-community-will-windham/

  • Paul Drayman

    Yes, first and foremost, solar, wind and other RE options where the demand is. Siting and variety to be determined by towns and citizens of the towns along with guidance from industry, the PSB and an act 250 type process. A steady effort toward a goal of energy independence using renewable sources may take longer than the current proposal, but it will be devised by a body of Vermonters.

  • Paul Drayman

    Full speed ahead!! Before it’s too late!!. Before even the current campaigners for the wind and solar industry open their eyes and ears and realize that in their zest to “save the planet” they have destroyed their own home. “…fooled by these liars again.”

  • Paul Drayman

    Yes, that’s also why our newest flying technology, like the F-35 is so quiet. One of the main goals of the wind machine design is increased output in marginal wind regions such as Vermont. Sound and vibration are also major factors to be dealt with since there has been so much controversy on that subject.
    The design of the blades, with deference to public concern, and the adjustment of the pitch is to gain the maximum electrical output from the wind that is available.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    Longtime opponent, yes. Professional, no. It’s purely voluntary work, with no financial or in-kind reward of any kind. But more importantly, my arguments are based on facts, not ad hominem innuendo.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    Thanks, Mac. My information was from a survey only up to March 2014.

  • Glenn Thompson

    “Big wind turbines are designed to be as efficient as they possibly can be.”

    And there lies the problem. You can only push this technology so far and a wind turbine’s Capacity factor is low to begin with.and never will reach a point where this method of producing electricity will ever be classified as anything more than a supplemental power source who’s benefits don’t come close to the drawbacks. The only way to produce more power from a wind turbine is to build them bigger.

  • Stewart Clark

    Opponents of industrial-scale ridgeline wind are not necessarily opposed to all scales of wind-generated electrical power in Vermont.

  • Eric Rosenbloom

    The change that occurred with the substantial leap in size around 2000 turns out to have been increased production of low-frequency noise, even infrasound, which travels farther and penetrates walls. It was actually documented by NASA engineers in the 1980s who investigated complaints of neighbors of a large experimental wind turbine. The size of that experimental machine was not attained commercially until around 2000. The claim that large wind turbines are actually quieter is simply ludicrous.

    The apples-to-oranges comparison of noises is also ludicrous. It is a clumsy attempt to dismiss the uniquely intrusive nature of wind turbine noise, especially at night when one expects to sleep.

    (Using actual sound pressure instead of the logarithmic decibel scale that reflects perception is also clumsy drama that (along with the equally clumsy straw man challenge) only underscores the lack of serious concern: a 10,000-fold increase in sound pressure is represented by a increase in sound level of 40dB. Since the sound level in the countryside (where large wind turbines are erected) at night may be as low as 20dB, the new PBS rule allows an increase of 19dB (nearly 100 times “louder” in terms of actual sound pressure, about 4 times as loud in terms of human perception).)

  • Matthew Davis

    “At least a couple of analyses have shown that carbon emissions from gas +
    wind are no less than gas alone and in some scenarios more”

    And what analyses are these?

    “Again, natural gas capacity has grown in almost perfect parallel with
    wind, because it is the best means of backing up the unsteady output
    from wind.”

    Not quite. Natural gas capacity in the ISO-NE system has increased due to the loss of several large generators, VY for instance. The loss of more plants will cause this trend to continue. However, as more RE is added, which is well complemented by high efficiency gas peaker plants, less gas will be burned. This is what ISO-NE predicts and is planning for.

    It is already happening in several of the largest grids in the US.
    https://www.sciencealert.com/california-grid-smashes-record-gets-67-of-energy-from-renewables

  • Glenn Thompson

    At one time, Bolton Valley posted upto date performance of this wind turbine. Presently the link comes up blank. Willem is correct. That turbine was under performing and at times in the past was offline weeks at a time. Perhaps someone should ask Bolton Valley why the information is no longer available to the public?

  • Ken Egnaczak

    Hello Willem
    But then we have this: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Offshore-Wind-Costs-Towards-A-Zero-Subsidy-Era

    What are we to believe ??