By Nils Behn
Last Tuesday, May 23, the Public Service Board published their final rules on sound level restrictions for wind turbines. The restrictions added up to a rule that is the equivalent of a ban on wind power. Such an action is out of touch with Vermont’s commitment to sourcing 90 percent of our energy from renewables and is contrary to Vermont statute. Furthermore, it threatens a clean energy sector which has brought millions of dollars into the state in the form of taxes, jobs and environmental benefits. The wind industry creates good paying jobs where people are rebuilding our local economies and protecting the planet.
Wind energy has been politicized with erroneous claims and fear mongering taking the place of fact-based science. We are in an age where "alternative facts" are creeping into the everyday dialogue, shaping opinion and policy direction. We need to resist this by holding all of our decisions up to the light of scientific rigor and our conscience.
In a recent story by VT Digger, when a reporter “asked for evidence of the link between sound from wind turbines and illnesses,” the executive director of the dubiously named Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), the organization leading the charge against wind in Vermont, said, “Plenty of it is available through the internet.”
Well, you can find a lot of things on the internet, many of which are not true. That is why policymakers are supposed to depend on peer-reviewed science to make decisions. However, the leader of the opposition to wind went on to say, “I don’t need any peer-reviewed study. ...” If peer-reviewed science isn’t the standard, then what is it? What information are policymakers to use to create sound policy?
Well VCE would rather you use their anecdotal comments; however, even by that yardstick their arguments fall short. At numerous public hearings where citizens, armed with calibrated sound-measuring equipment, showed the Public Service Board that the rooms where the hearings were being held, under a request for total silence, measured 65, 43.8 and 42 decibels. How is that for evidence? At every public hearing on the proposed sound rules, this happened. Then, also remember, peer-reviewed research shows that 45 decibels is the appropriate sound level restriction for wind turbines at adjoining residences and is equivalent to a quiet room.
Even more troubling are the setback standards of nearly 1 mile established in this rule. This standard is so restrictive that if just one person, even a second-home owner within a mile of a project, objects to it, the project doesn’t happen, regardless of community support. This is an insurmountably high bar for anything to clear. Just imagine trying to get every single person in your neighborhood to agree to something as simple as drying your clothes on a line in your yard; the probability is that at least one neighbor would object.
If the sound standards and setbacks of this rule were to be applied to infrastructure such as breweries, dairy farms, roads, ski areas, sawmills, manufacturing plants and auto mechanic shops, they would all be banned in Vermont and we would be sent back to the days of the horse and buggy.
The really sad part of this debate is that the Koch brothers and other oil and gas interests have poured millions of dollars into anti-wind disinformation. Being spurred on by these alternative facts the anti-wind movement is supporting and enabling the pouring of massive profits into the hands of those who would drive us deeper into the disaster that is carbon- based energy policy? We cannot let their profits get in front of our children’s future.
There is a right place and a wrong place for everything and wind power is no exception. So, let’s have a real conversation about energy planning based on fact. Join me in pushing back on this misguided proposal. Make your voice heard. Take action. Make your life more energy efficient and renewable and, please, when it comes to the environment, be a discerning consumer of information and choose fact over fiction.
Behn is the chief executive officer and owner of Aegis Renewable Energy, Inc., Waitsfield. He lives in Fayston.