SEARSBURG, Vt. — Wind energy developer Avangrid Renewables has proposed sound level protocols for its Deerfield Wind Project in Bennington County, and as it’s written now, second-home owners would be excluded from being able to report noise violations.
“What the developer submitted for their protocol specifically excluded nonresidents,” said second-home owner Tom Shea, whose Searsburg property would be the closest in town to at least three of the proposed 420-foot-tall 2-megawatt turbines.
The project is to be located on U.S. Forest Service land in Searsburg and Readsboro. Searsburg has 11 turbines already, going back to 1998. Avangrid is proposing a total of 15 new turbines for the area.
Lisa Linowes, executive director for The WindAction Group, an advocacy organization that provides information on industrial wind energy, filed comments jointly with Shea to the Public Service Board concerning Avangrid’s sound protocol proposals. The Department of Public Service issued its own comments as well.
Linowes told True North Reports that when the project was approved in 2009, the certificate of public good required noise levels of 45 decibels outside a home and 30 decibels inside. Avangrid was instructed to put together a sound monitoring plan to prove its compliance, and now Shea and Linowes are expressing concern about the company’s protocols.
Linowes said Avangrid seems to have misinterpreted the PSB’s definition of residency.
“It says in the order that the decibel limits apply to ‘residences.’ The board did not say part-time or permanent residences — there’s no adjective at all,” Linowes said.
In the most recent census, Shea said, the town had about 100 total residents and around 160 homes, meaning half of all homes likely are occupied by second-home owners.
“It’s high country, so it’s a lot of snowmobilers and people that just like to get up and get out of the way,” he said.
Another point of conflict is Avangrid’s insistence that the company choose the third-party organization which will oversee the sound monitoring. The Department of Public Service issued comments to the PSB stating that Avangrid must stay at arms-length from the oversight process.
“All sound monitoring should be conducted by a sound monitoring expert selected by and supervised by a state agency designated by the Public Service Board,” DPS stated.
“The only way we can make sure these noise studies are properly done is to make sure an independent party is overseeing them,” Linowes said.
As for noise measurements, Avangrid wants monitoring only for the outside of homes. Under that approach, if noise measures 45 decibels outside, it is proposed that noise inside the home will attenuate 15 decibels, bringing it down to the 30-decibel indoor limit.
“Vermont is well aware, because of our own studies with acknowledgment by the Department of Public Service, that houses don’t attenuate that much,” Linowes said.
Moreover, Avangrid has indicated that it wants sound monitoring only for homes within a mile and a half of its turbines. Homeowners that live farther away would be responsible for proving violations. The sound protocols are still up for debate.
“For people that live in the area, (it’s important) that the developers are actually forced to comply with what they claim the limits are going to be,” Shea said.
On May 24, Shea asked the PSB to halt construction construction until Avangrid got all its transportation permits. The board denied the request.
“They were moving a steamroller from two different work sites down the state road, which is illegal,” he said. “Because they were driving so slow — the thing’s got a max speed of 7 miles per hour — they were blocking traffic, so they pulled over onto my property to let traffic by.”
Shea, a long-time critic of the project, said he doesn’t see it producing a lot of power into the local grid.
“The demand is actually lowest when the wind is blowing the strongest. The analogy is when you have a really nice breeze, you probably turn the air conditioner off,” he said.
He added that during the PSB hearings, Avangrid refused to state how much of the electricity from its existing 11 turbines goes into the grid, “because it would be embarrassing to them.”
Avangrid representatives did not return True North’s requests for comment on this story.