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Public Service Board To Review Noise Standards For Energy Projects

Toby Talbot
Wind turbines on Lowell mountain.

Vermont’s Public Service Board is looking into whether the standards it sets for noise created by energy generation, including wind turbines, are stringent enough.  

The Board is not planning to re-set the bar for any wind projects already operating in Vermont, but it does want to re-examine the noise level criteria it has been using for approval.  

Geoff Commons is the public advocate for the Department of Public Service, and represents rate payers before the board.

He says that until now projects have been held to a 45 decibel level consistent with the World Health Organization. But he says further study is warranted because neighbors of large-scale wind projects have continued to complain about the sound produced by the whirring blades.

“The science around health effects from wind turbine noise for example, has not been well settled, and there are still open questions in that regard and so the Board is just trying to get the best information it can and we are as well,” Commons said.

Commons believes energy project planners—both in wind and natural gas—could benefit from this review.  

“So in my view this would actually be helpful to developers by trying to create a standard that will be applicable going forward and hopefully reduce the amount of litigation that would be expected in a particular case  in the future,” he said.

But supporters of wind power say the PSB has already created a rigorous noise standard that is being met by Vermont’s wind power developers.  So Gabrielle Stebbins, Executive Director for Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade association, expects the investigation will not lead to any changes in those requirements.

“Quite frankly all the Vermont projects are under very, very strict limits. So I think what will ultimately come through is that we will find that indeed the Public Service Board has done a very solid job with—doing their job,” Stebbins said.

But Dave Snedeker, incoming Executive Director for the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, says it makes sense for the PSB to revisit its noise standard.

The NVDA has called for a three-year moratorium on industrial wind projects pending further study of a wide range of issues.

“And we have had complaints from people living near the existing wind facilities in our region in Sheffield and Lowell, that have complained about noise issues, now we are looking potentially at a project in the town of Ferdinand so I think study would be appropriate,” Snedeker said.

The PSB investigation will begin with a pre-hearing conference on January 8 at the Pavilion Auditorium in Montpelier. The Public Service Board invites interested parties to submit written comments in advance and will post them on a website created for the new docket.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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