Lawmakers OK Limits on Turbine Noise

Published: 10/28/2017 12:04:16 AM
Modified: 10/28/2017 12:04:26 AM

Strict new noise limits will apply to future wind development in Vermont, after a legislative committee gave the controversial rules the go-ahead on Thursday.

The approval marks a major victory for opponents of large-scale wind energy, whose ranks include Gov. Phil Scott.

Environmental advocates have decried the limits as a guarantee that wind energy has no future in Vermont.

Yet the sound limits aren’t the country’s most restrictive, Public Utility Commission member Margaret Cheney told legislators on Thursday in defense of the rules.

The eight-member Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules was reviewing whether the limits were arbitrary and whether they met the intent of the legislation, now known as Act 174, that directed the PUC to write them.

The committee had met at least twice before and engaged in some tense discussion while reviewing the resulting rules.

Cheney told the committee there are rural portions of Oregon and Massachusetts where sound standards in those states would almost certainly require noise levels below Vermont’s.

She said the Vermont sound limits — 39 decibels during the day, 42 at night, measured 100 feet from residences near wind turbines — will not prevent all further wind energy development.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts wind power will be the cheapest form of new energy generation by 2022.

However, the overwhelming majority of Vermont’s energy comes from fossil fuels, followed by wood and dammed rivers, according to the state’s comprehensive energy plan, published last year.

As a result, Vermont is “nowhere near” achieving its renewable energy goals, and there’s very little currently in place to change that outlook, according to analysts in the Department of Environmental Conservation.

But these considerations were not before the committee on Thursday.

With the committee’s mandate limited, debate instead centered on the PUC’s rationale for the proposed rules, and to a lesser extent on the views of some lawmakers who wrote last year’s legislation instructing the PUC to draft a set of uniform sound limits for future wind development.

The rationale was the same that gave rise to the sound limits the commission has applied to existing turbines, PUC staff attorney John Cotter told lawmakers on Thursday.

In all its sound standards, the commission has intended that turbine noise shouldn’t exceed 30 decibels inside nearby homes, Cotter said.

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