New rule on volume of wind turbines now in effect

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) How loud wind turbines can run has been whipping up debate for years.

A rule on the volume of newly constructed wind turbines goes into effect Wednesday.

The Public Utilities Commission just ruled turbines can run 42 decibels during the day and 39 at night. State leaders say that’s like a quiet suburban neighborhood, a quiet conversation or a library.

The numbers are below the World Health Organization's guidelines for noise, but not some say the drop in decibels isn't enough and isn't the only problem in play.

"It’s a very complicated noise spectrum," said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Smith says low-frequency levels, like the vibrations of a boom box, ruin people's sleep.

"The turbines are sending out vortexing-pressure waves and so it pressurizes and hits the house and turns the house into a drum," said Smith.

Smith says it's not just annoying. She says there are reports of people actually becoming sick, including cardiac issues.

"So, you've got this womp, womp, womp and you can't get away from it and it's a fear," said Smith. "It gets into your body and your breathing rhythm and it affects your whole central nervous system."

But several studies, including by health organizations and state departments, say there's no direct health effect from wind-turbine sound.

Smith says she thinks those studies are biased, but others say they've been proven around the world.

"It's been seen time and time again that there are-- 45 decibels is actually a recommended standard," said Austin Davis, a representative of Renewable Energy Vermont.

Renewable Energy Vermont also had a stake in the ruling, and their side isn't pleased with the 39/42 decibel-decision either. Davis says these numbers are unreasonable.

"This will certainly have a chilling effect on wind-energy in the state," said Davis. "However, the fact still remains that wind-energy is the cheapest new renewable energy available to New England. So, we'll have to see where things go from here," said Davis.

Davis says he’s not sure if the ruling will hurt future development.

He says the renewable energy sector supports about 20,000 jobs in Vermont.