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Energy siting bill enters final stretch with wind noise provision under scrutiny

By   /   May 5, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

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NOISE STANDARDS: A bill aimed at promoting better siting of wind and solar energy projects could get snagged on a provision about wind turbine noise limits.

 

MONTPELIER – After the House voted unanimously to send an energy siting bill to the Senate last week, the Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to send it right back. But a provision about retroactive noise limits on wind turbines could create a snag in the House.

With the legislative session expected to end this week, the fate of S.230 is nearing a decision after a long road through all corners of the Statehouse.

One remaining hurdle may involve different interpretations over whether specific language in the bill constitutes a moratorium on wind over the next year. As the bill is currently written, next year the Public Service Board will write specific rules on allowable sound decibels produced by wind turbines. The rules would be retroactive, going back to April 15 of this year.

The retroactive provision could create confusion for what wind turbine companies are permitted to do this year.

“It is a little bit tricky. It would mean they would have to plan to meet a higher standard, to be safe, without actually knowing (the standard),” said state Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans.

State Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, acknowledged there may be some disagreement.

“I think there are some ongoing discussions about the wind turbine sound rules and how they are going to play out,” he said. “There’s discussion about what that means, and I think there’s different interpretations.”

Language stating projects can still be approved “on a case-by-case basis” was taken out via an amendment by state Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison, which brought about the concerns. Others think the modified language adds clarification but doesn’t change anything tangibly.

“The concern is illegitimate,” said John Brabant, regulatory affairs director for Vermonters for a Clean Environment. “The language is just providing fair warning that there is uncertainty for development. If anything, it is the language that came out of the House that creates uncertainty. The language changed by the Senate today does not increase that uncertainty.”

Rodgers was able to share some examples of what he considers more appropriate sound standards for turbines.

“Before we had any wind turbines built in Vermont we should have had a setback (standard) and a noise standard that far exceeds what we have now. In New Hampshire it can’t be over 40 decibels in 10 minutes overnight. (In Vermont), it can average up to 45 decibels over an hour, (and) that means it can spike up to 60 or 65 as long as you drop it back down.

“In Denmark it can’t go about 35 decibels ever, which is a much lower standard because that’s where they’ve determined that it doesn’t affect human sleep patterns.”

Another issue to come up on the Senate Floor was the addition of warning lights on the wind turbines. The Federal Aviation Administration requires lights to be installed on all turbines over a certain height. Radar-controlled lights can be installed on turbines so that lights remain off until there is an aircraft nearby.

Rodgers said he routinely hears from his constituents about light annoyance from turbines.

“One of the biggest complaints about the turbines I hear in my area is to turn off those lights,” he said.

However, radar technology is expensive, and developers expressed it would be better if they would only have to purchase the lights in bulk for projects with a minimum number of turbines.

The House version of the bill determined any project with fewer than four turbines can bypass radar controls and have lights that remain on, unless the certificate of public good determines otherwise.

Contact Michael Bielawski at [email protected]

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Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog. A Seton Hall 2005 graduate, Bielawski has been writing articles for various publications in and around New York City; Seoul, South Korea; and Vermont. He’s a writer for the Hardwick Gazette, keeping track of rising school budgets and rural Vermont issues. He likes to write about energy and the environment, looking for angles not seen in mainstream media. At home, he’s busy looking after two little boys. During free time, he loves to watch Stanley Kubrick films on Netflix.