State Says Sheffield Wind Towers Might Be Violating Noise Standard

Oct 27, 2015

Debate continues to swirl around how well wind project developers monitor the sound their turbines produce. One pending investigation into possible noise violations focuses on towers atop a ridge in Sheffield.  

The 16 turbines erected by Vermont Wind started spinning in October 2011. By December, Paul Brouha, who lives a mile from the project, was convinced that the turbines were louder than developer claimed. Vermont Wind insisted noise levels met state standards. But they never measured decibels indoors with the windows open.  

Brouha hired his own sound expert to monitor indoor levels over several months.

“After we realized that we had violations, we used First Wind’s or Vermont Wind’s own data," Brouha  said. "Extrapolated it as had their noise expert to our house and showed that with the windows open, in fact there was a significant amount of time during certain seasons that the project was operating in violation. Up to 14 percent of the time in the spring.” 

In July 2014, Vermont Public Service sent its own noise expert to test Brouha’s claims and found his data to be plausible. Department of Public Service attorney Geoff Commons says the Public Service Board – which regulates utilities – must now decide the next step to take in addressing Brouha’s complaint.

"Our analysis does show at least the possibility of violations and we believe there needs to be further investigation into that." - Department of Public Service attorney, Geoff Commons

“Our analysis does show at least the possibility of violations and we believe there needs to be further investigation into that,” said Commons.

Vermont Wind, which is now owned by Sun Edison, emailed this statement about the Brouha dispute:

The sound protocols for wind projects in Vermont were established by the DPS after an extensive public process with significant public input.  The Sheffield project has been in compliance with those standards as established by the DPS.  We will continue to cooperate with the DPS as they determine next steps in this matter.

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie believes Brouha’s case demonstrates the need for better and closer monitoring of wind projects, and speedier accountability when violations are found.

“When there’s a certificate of public good issued to a standard," Dubie said. "Well, that project should be held to a standard, and that’s going to take some resources. And these projects generate enough revenue so they should be assessed a fee, and there should be continuous monitoring with third party enforcement.”

Dubie also believes that Vermont’s sound standards for wind projects are too lenient, noting that Maine has stricter noise regulations for wind towers. Vermont's standards are also being reviewed by the Public Service Board.

Correction 10:40 p.m. This post has been corrected to note that Geoff Commons is an attorney with the Department of Public Service, not the Department of Public Safety. An earlier headline stated the Public Service Board said the Sheffield wind project may be violating noise standards. In fact, the Department of Public Service has raised those questions.