Editorials and opinions

Editorial: Energy projects have a real and significant impact

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copyright the Chronicle October 15, 2014

by Tena Starr

Vermont’s siting process for renewable energy projects so lacks planning that it may have the unintended effect of turning people off renewable energy, despite the fact that they support it in theory.

To date, there’s been this: The Nelson family has said that the noise from the Lowell wind towers has made them sick. In Sheffield, the Therriens say the noise from the wind turbines has made them sick and irreparably altered their lives.

They didn’t initially oppose the turbines and had lived on the isolated property full-time for 19 years listening to noise from the Interstate. Now, Ms. Therrien says, she welcomes the noise from big trucks because it breaks up the noise from the turbines.

The Interstate was there before they were, she says. So it was a choice to live near it. What the turbines brought wasn’t a choice.

In Barton, neighbors to the huge solar project going up on Route 16 between Barton and Glover want to move. Actually, they’d prefer to be exactly where they are, but without having to look at 10,000 solar panels.

The community reaction, so far, to that project has generally been shock.

Vermonters support renewable energy. But since the state does not have a sensible policy about siting projects, they go up one by one, and are fought, one by one, by the people who will have to live with them. People who will have their views altered, their property values altered, their peace of mind altered, and their vision of home permanently changed.

That’s not right.

It seems to us that the state should take a very good look at how close big renewable energy projects and homeowners should be to each other. It sounds admirable when the Public Service Board concludes that a project will have an aesthetic impact, but not an “undue” one. Or that a project is in the interests of a greater good.

Tell that to the longtime homeowner who likes his or her home, for whatever reason — the view, the quiet, the location — and suddenly finds it changed beyond recognition.

At the least, a cost of doing business should be an offer to buy out the neighbors who are going to be most immediately affected.

We don’t know what’s an acceptable noise level from a wind turbine, nor does anyone else seem to know. Basically, it’s a level that someone finds intolerable, but how that’s defined seems to be as subjective as the aesthetics of wind towers, or solar panels, or power lines.

The Therriens say they hear noise from the wind turbines. Whether it’s a scientifically, or regulatory, acceptable level isn’t really the issue. The issue is that they’re having a hard time with it.

In Barton, the issue is that the solar project is a visual monstrosity that two families have to look at every day. Some of us may have to drive by it every day, but that’s a few minutes, not 24/7.

For immediate neighbors, quality of life and love of their home is sometimes permanently changed by these renewable energy projects. And for most Northeast Kingdom families, simply abandoning a home and finding a different one is not an option. They’re stuck.

We can’t say no to renewable energy, but we must have more respect for the people who neighbor those projects. We must have a sensible policy about siting them. A balance can be found, but only if we acknowledge that there are very real impacts on people’s lives, and begin to consider them far more seriously in the siting process. — T.S.

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