To the Vermont Public Service Board

From: Annette Smith 

Subject: Georgia Mountain Wind, noise and icing, etc.

Date: January 3, 2017 at 11:23:58 AM EST

To: PSB – Clerk <PSB.Clerk@vermont.gov>

Dear Chair Volz, Board members Cheney and Hofmann,

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment in the Public Service Board’s regulation of wind turbines.  VCE has been involved in this issue since 2009, and we have borne witness to tremendous harm being done to neighbors of these projects.  We are also aware of environmental degradation that is being swept aside.  With the change in administration, it is time for a change in approach.

We, members of the Vermont public, have been put through an Electric Generation Policy Siting Commission (in 2011 that led to nothing), a Sound Standard Investigation (in 2014 that led to nothing) a Temporary Rule Making (in 2016 that made the standard better for developers and worse for neighbors) and now a Permanent Rule Making.  In addition, we have watched the PSB approve Lowell, Georgia Mountain and Deerfield Wind for construction.  

During the Lowell Wind technical hearing, neighbor Robbin Clark asked the Board what would happen if the projects are not in compliance, or if there are problems for neighbors.  After GMP was found to have violated the sound standard for the Lowell wind project, Robbin Clark again spoke to the Board about the inequity between the wealthy developers and the towns and neighbors who must pay to participate even in enforcement dockets.  And in Jan. 2014 at the prehearing conference for Docket 8167, Robbin Clark again spoke to the Board about the lack of confidence given past experiences.  This short video compiles those statements.  Please watch it:  https://vimeo.com/85038340.

Currently, all three operating wind projects have compliance issues before the Board.  In every case, it is the neighbors who are being put on trial, not the wind developers.  While these dockets play out over years, neighbors are being subjected to high levels of unregulated noise pollution.

In Lowell, neighbors have witnessed a farce of continuous sound monitoring.  Required by the PSB, with agreement of neighbors, the experts hired by the Department of Public Service have managed to produce contaminated data that is useless.  As soon as the monitoring equipment was in place, photographs showed that the background monitor was in a bush.  This violates every basic standard for the placement of microphones that exists.  VCE reported this to DPS and sent photographs.  The equipment was left in place the entire time, with no changes.  We documented a broken window that was left unfixed for months, with a window shade banging in the wind and guaranteed to contaminate the interior monitoring data.  We also noticed that the interior monitoring was moved from a more distant room (away from the broken window) to a closer room (to the broken window) and right above the furnace, maximizing the contamination of the data.  We then witnessed neighbors regularly requesting the results, as the whole goal was to provide increased protection for neighbors.  Instead, DPS began releasing reports without any analysis, one year after the monitoring was complete.  These data dumps are useless and insulting to ethical noise control experts.  We are also aware that DPS has released those reports only for the periods through Nov. 2015, yet they have produced the reports for Dec., 2015, Jan and Feb. 2016 in response to public records requests.  DPS has had those three reports since the end of Sept., beginning of Oct. 2016 but for some reason have not released them to the PSB.  Ethical noise control experts have reviewed the reports and while there is the ability to pull some data that shows there are levels of infrasound with a pattern of amplitude modulation inside the home, the data is otherwise useless.

In Sheffield, Paul Brouha filed a complaint at the end of 2011.  His complaint was initially dismissed so he hired his own expert and after years he was able to bring this issue to the PSB in a manner that resulted in opening an investigation.  However, the wind developer was able to use this PSB activity to get Brouha’s nuisance lawsuit in federal court stayed, pending action by the PSB.  Reports by DPS experts and Brouha’s expert both show there was a violation of the interior noise standard.  However, instead of simply making that finding and issuing a penalty, the PSB has allowed the developer’s arguments to proceed and are breaching the protocol by requiring monitoring at the Brouha home.  This ridiculous exercise is costing tens of thousands of dollars.  At the same time the Brouhas have been fighting just to get their complaint heard at the PSB, the Therrien family’s complaints were completely brushed aside.  We helped them file a motion to intervene because they were not parties and they thought maybe if they were accepted as intervenors their complaints would be taken more seriously.  Instead, they were denied standing with the PSB claiming the docket was closed, while the Brouha noise complaint was actually pending and the docket was clearly open.  DPS conducted a sound study that Commissioner Recchia admitted to me three times was gamed by the developer who knew about the monitoring, and they dialed back the turbines during high winds which otherwise would have shown high noise levels at the Therrien home.  However instead of submitting the report with that fact to the PSB, DPS chose not to mention that they knew that Vermont Wind gamed the testing.  The Therrien family abandoned their home (such that the Therriens are now in debt more than $50,000 and almost lost their property in Sheffield to tax sale this year) and are still recovering from the harm to their health that occurred living too close to the big wind turbines for three years.

At the May 2014 Docket 8167 Sound Standard investigation workshop for neighbors, many neighbors of the operating wind turbines spoke to the PSB about the problems they are experiencing with the noise.  Some said they hate their homes, some said their children will not play outside, many said they could not sleep, some said they did not enjoy being outdoors anymore.  The wind developers were overheard congratulating each other for the good job they did turning out neighbors to say they do not have any problems with wind turbine noise.  

As a result of that very painful public hearing (which was not a workshop and was extremely disrespectful to the members of the public who are having serious issues living near wind turbines), I will not turn out anyone for a PSB public hearing.  In particular, as part of your Sound Rulemaking for wind turbines, I will not participate in encouraging the public who are being harmed by wind turbine noise to be again exposed to the kind of ridicule that they were subjected to in May, 2014.  It is virtually guaranteed that VPIRG, REV, and the industry will turn out people to speak at those hearings — which will likely be in the daytime in Montpelier, far from and at a time when working Vermonters living near Sheffield, Lowell and Georgia Mountain can attend  — and make claims that there are no studies showing harm, and we have to have wind energy to save the planet.  No, I will not encourage anyone who has been victimized for too many years already to once again participate in such a charade.  

Please watch this video of the May 2014 hearing, which excludes the wind proponents and is only the neighbors https://youtu.be/4nB3jgGIIfQ.  It is 1 1/2 hours and it is imperative that you watch it and listen this time to what people are saying.  

I am especially appalled that Reggie Johnson was cut off at three minutes.  He was the former chief psychiatric nurse for the Waterbury mental hospital, is an accepted expert witness in court who the Board should have shown great respect for and been interested in hearing from, and instead he was cut off just as everyone else was.  Adding to the problems this workshop presented was the fact that neighbors sought out VCE to put on a presentation that was abruptly cancelled a few hours before the hearing.  VCE had prepared topographical maps showing where each of the speakers lived, and we learned a lot from those maps, including why some people are bothered and others aren’t based on terrain and topography.  The Board chose to not receive that valuable input, and we once again wasted our time attempting to bring good information to the Board in a manner that would have been effective and efficient.

Now comes Georgia Mountain Wind, which has two active investigation/enforcement dockets at the PSB.  While wind developer David Blittersdorf (90% owner) can afford to pay lawyers to fight, neighbors Scott and Melodie McLane (on behalf of other neighbors who are also very bothered but have chosen to attempt to live their lives rather than engage in the very expensive, frustrating and obviously useless PSB process) have taken days off work, filed numerous documents at their own expense, and are still dealing with noise pollution on a regular basis.  The Board has already found that the project violated its CPG over operating the turbines under icing conditions, but is allowing the developer to continue to litigate rather than issue a penalty.  

Sleep deprivation is a serious health issue, one that can lead to a host of health problems.  There is no question that wind turbine neighbors, including those living near Georgia Mountain, have been exposed to sleep deprivation for four years now, while the PSB has done absolutely nothing to address or resolve any complaint.  The March icing complaint by the McLanes was accompanied by a noise complaint which the Board has chosen to completely ignore.  The McLanes experienced noise levels higher than anything they have ever experienced before as a result of the icing, and it was witnessed by Sen. Brian Campion.  Yet the Board is silent.  Now it has happened again, on a night of extreme stress for the entire McLane family due to a murder scene in which their family members happened to be witnesses.  The wind turbines operated iced for hours, adding to stress, annoyance and inability to sleep.  Why are you allowing this to happen?  The PSB is the sole regulator of these facilities and it is your responsibility to protect public health.  That Georgia Mountain Wind operates its turbines under icing conditions should come as no surprise. Please make it stop.  Now.

Under Gov. Shumlin, DPS hired three firms as experts.  The first firm, Acentech, has botched the Lowell continuous monitoring.  They also took more than a year to produce a report on the Brouha inside/outside test, when results were known the same day of the test.  We do not know the reason why DPS has stopped using Acentech, but they have switched to Aercoustics, and they have also brought in Dr. Ollson as an expert.  All of these firms are well documented to be experts for the wind industry.  Dr. Ollson is especially an advocate for wind developers, and he made statements at the workshop held recently on the wind turbine noise rule that were blatantly false — such as claiming that Germany does not have a 35 dBA noise standard, when in fact they do have a nighttime noise standard of 35 dBA, or claiming WHO does not use LMax when it says right on the WHO chart that it does.  

Please see this document by Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, who has testified in Environmental proceedings in Canada.  http://vce.org/15-04-15%20Nissenbaum.Witness.Complete.pdf.  Dr. Nissenbaum has conducted a real study that has been peer reviewed and published that clearly documents harm to health for neighbors living near big wind turbines.  The first 42 pages of the document discuss and respond to some of the usual arguments we hear from wind developers.  The rest of the document contains studies and other information referenced in the first 42 pages.  You will find a discussion about Dr. Ollson’s claims, and you will find a transcript in which Dr. Ollson’s claims are challenged.  There are also studies about the well settled science surrounding the health effects of sleep deprivation.  It also addresses the medical term “annoyance” which has real meaning for health.  It discusses the inappropriate references made by DPS’ experts to the Health Canada study, which clearly states it should not be used to extrapolate or draw conclusions elsewhere, but does make findings acknowledging health issues for neighbors of wind turbines.   It also addresses the alleged “nocebo effect” claimed by wind industry proponents. I have excerpted out each section and will be supplying the sections to the Board later, but for now I would like you to please review the document in its current form. 

Please help me understand why it is so hard for you to protect neighbors from noise pollution caused by wind turbines.  In Vermont we have wind projects built in some of the quietest places on earth, with nighttime exterior decibel levels of 20 dBA.  All ethical noise control experts acknowledge that an increase of more than 10 dBA above background will result in complaints.  That is the basis of the Massachusetts standard that has worked well for decades (for other industries but is not working for wind due to political bias).  You have allowed noise levels well above 25 dBA above background noise levels, and for years.  You have never done anything to shut down a project for any reason or hold a company accountable.  

Is noise a problem?  See this recent article

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/12/city-noise-pollution-health-school-learning

Does noise affect children?  See this recent article

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/11/28/what-types-of-sound-experiences-enable-children-to-learn-best/

Is wind turbine noise a problem?  See this website which contains the programs for the bi-annual noise conferences held in Europe

https://www.windturbinenoise.eu

Note that every year more and more papers are being presented.  

Is low frequency noise an issue for health?  See this 12/14/16 presentation by a doctor and researcher (you can turn on the subtitles)

https://youtu.be/l5BV8QSR2Ic

We are long past the time when the public has reason to have confidence that participating at the Public Service Board in a rule-making or docket for wind turbines is going to provide anything meaningful for neighbors.  We are asking you to take decisive action now to protect neighbors, and take responsibility as required by Vermont statute to hold the wind turbine companies accountable.  Neighbors cannot and should not police these operations, yet that is what you are requiring.  Neighbors should not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to participate in dockets where the PSB has already received compelling evidence that violations have occurred, repeatedly.

Three more big wind projects are coming before you.  The towns and neighbors impacted by these proposals are now faced with having to raise and spend tens of thousands of dollars to participate, with no reason to believe that their concerns will be heard.  Please do your job.  Vermonters are out of patience.

Thank you for listening.

Annette Smith

Executive Director

Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc.

789 Baker Brook Road

Danby, VT  05739

(802) 446-2094

www.vce.org

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About vermontersforacleanenvironment

VCE's mission is to raise the voices of Vermonters and hold corporations accountable for their impacts on our people, our land, our air and our water. We are united in the belief that Vermont's future lies in conserving its clean, rural, small-town environment. We have joined together to pursue the common goals of encouraging economic development with minimal environmental impacts and preserving Vermont's natural beauty. VCE is committed to providing facts and information so that people can make informed decisions. We encourage your participation.
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One Response to To the Vermont Public Service Board

  1. Pingback: PSB response to VCE’s letter about wind turbine noise | Vermonters for a Clean Environment's Blog

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