On Nov. 22, new sound rules went into effect for different sizes of wind energy facilities in Vermont.
Earlier this month, the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) adopted a rule that establishes standards for the sound produced by wind generation facilities, as required by legislation passed in 2016 (Section 12(a) of Act 174).
The PUC’s rule sets standards for three categories of wind facilities: small (up to 50 kW), medium (50 to 150 kW), and large (greater than 150 kW). For the small and medium categories, the PUC rule sets a 42-decibel limit 100 feet from nearby homes. For the large category, the limit is 42 decibels during the day and 39 decibels at night.
With their permit applications, project developers will be required to file information representing the expected sound levels at neighboring residences. Once constructed, large wind projects will be subject to sound monitoring to determine if they comply with the sound-level standards, while medium projects can choose to conduct sound monitoring or construct their facilities a minimum distance from nearby homes. For all projects, a neighboring landowner may agree that the limits in the rule do not apply to his or her property, says the PUC.
The adopted rule applies to any facility that files for a certificate of public good on or after Nov. 22. The rule will not apply to any existing or pending wind generation facilities, the commission notes.
In setting statewide standards, the PUC says it sought to protect neighbors’ interests while preserving the opportunity to develop wind projects as part of Vermont’s renewable energy goals.
“The legislature entrusted us with a most difficult task,” says Anthony Roisman, commission chair. “The PUC undertook an extensive process that included a thorough review of scientific research and practices in other jurisdictions, while listening to hundreds of Vermonters with many different perspectives regarding wind projects. We sincerely appreciate the constructive input given by Vermont residents, state agencies, legislators and acoustic experts who assisted us in developing the rule.”
Under Act 174, the PUC was required to adopt a rule “regarding sound from wind generation facilities approved under 30 V.S.A. § 248.” The commission was directed to consider (1) standards that apply to all wind generation facilities; (2) a methodology for determining sound levels and measurement locations for each such facility on a case-by-case basis, or (3) standards that apply to one or more categories of wind generation facilities, with a methodology for determining sound levels and measurement locations for each wind facility on a case-by-case basis.
In response to the new rule, Renewable Energy Vermont says in a statement, “Due to short statutory deadlines, the Public Utilities Commission faced a rushed process, which resulted in several technical errors in the final proposed rule. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted to adopt a new rule governing wind sound after requiring significant corrections. Unfortunately, the new rule will increase the cost and threaten the viability of new wind energy projects in Vermont.”
The group, fearing what could happen to the wind industry in the state, adds, “Given Vermont ‘s commitment to source 90 percent of its total energy needs from renewables and the fact that wind energy is the cheapest source of new renewable energy for New England, it is important that new wind projects remain feasible. The new statewide rule is among the strictest in North America and will have a chilling effect on economic development and new wind projects in Vermont moving forward.”