St. Albans Messenger Editorial, May 19, 2017
Opponents to the indiscriminate location of wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines have made their voices heard. The Public Service Board has proposed limits on the noise that could be generated from the turbines and the distance from a turbine and the nearest neighbor.
Opponents are encouraged by the board’s direction; wind power supporters are upset and claim the rules are the industry’s death knell.
What the board’s proposal does is reflect the understanding that wind power developers ought not build the massive turbines in people’s back yards, that people have a reasonable expectation not to have their quality of life disrupted.
Wind power proponents are perturbed because they view the renewable energy source as a vital part of the state’s pledge to have 90 percent of its power be renewable by 2050. They contend power from wind is a vital part of any comprehensive package to combat climate change.
But the reason the PSB was put in this position is because those who favor the large turbines, and wind power in general, never took proximity into consideration and believed that if the land were available and a developer was interested, that all other considerations were without merit. They pushed to the limits and those who were affected began to push back.
This is what happens when the need for balance is ignored. It’s what happens when the shrillness of the argument is found to be hollow. Sound levels do matter. So does proximity to a 500-foot turbine. Saying they don’t just makes the proponents look self-centered and shut off from any effort to consider other options.
This heavy-handedness isn’t playing well with Vermonters. This was proved in Windham and Grafton last November when Iberdrola Renewables, a Spanish energy conglomerate, tried to push through its proposal for a 24-turbine wind farm – going so far as to offer to pay residents if they would vote for the project.
This sensitivity is what the PSB reacted to with its proposed rules. Decibel levels were set at low levels, and projects, according to the new rules, should not be within 10 times a turbine’s height. This has prompted groups like the Vermont Public Interest Research Group [VIPIRG] and Renewable Energy Vermont to react with alarm, insisting that the proposed rules will kill the industry.
But the PSB’s rules are sent to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules and it’s the legislative committee that must approve them for them to go into effect. The committee can only make that decision if it’s convinced the rules don’t shut the industry down. When the Legislature approved its comprehensive energy plan, the plan included wind power. It would be counter to legislative intent to approve rules that would make the state’s energy plan unachievable.
Obviously, what’s being proposed is more limited than what is currently in place. The very clear message being sent is that it would be prudent for developers to look for sites that are removed from the public. Proposing wind farms with 500-foot turbines near residential developments probably won’t work.
Do the rules make it more difficult for wind power to be developed to its fullest in Vermont? Of course. But Vermont cannot set itself up as the standard for how wind power should be developed. The development has to be proportionate to our space, and to our populations, and to our wants.
It’s crucial that our energy policy reflect the need to move away from fossil fuels, but it’s less important how we get there than getting there. Our topography is not well suited to large-scale wind power. Neither is our small size and lack of open spaces. We will have better luck through solar and hydro.
That said, there are many areas in Vermont that are not populated, where wind power is suitable. They may not allow for the production of as much wind power as the industry would like, or the VIPIRGs of the world want, but they would be significant contributors nonetheless. In the process, showing a little regard for those who are directly affected by such projects will go a long way in solidifying the public’s support.
In the interim, it would be prudent for the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules to allow board’s recommendations to be put in effect. The rules allow for reasonable development of wind power and protect the rights of those directly affected. That’s the balance that’s required.
by Emerson Lynn