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Michigan PSC disbands wind farm noise work group that was poised to recommend 40dB limit

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This is somewhat old news, but a recent article brought it to my attention. The Michigan Public Service Commission’s Wind Working Group, an advisory committee, appointed a Wind and Health Technical Work Group in 2010 to look at siting standards; they were charged with making recommendations regarding physical safety and noise limits.  Dr. Jerry Punch, an audiologist and professor emeritus at Michigan State University, was chosen to chair the panel. Kenneth Rosenman a professor of epidemiology (occupational diseases) at MSU was co-chair.

Over the course of their first year of meeting and discussions, it became clear that Mark Clevey, a manager for Consumer Education and Renewable Energy programs with the State Energy Office, didn’t agree with the direction in which the panel seemed to be heading.  “He (Clevey) came to a few meetings and then stopped coming,” Punch said. “Later, we were contacted and told that they had reorganized and that the work group was no longer needed.”

Soon, Clevey was presenting the work of the Wind and Health group under his name; this March 2011 presentation is the final mention of the project in the records of the Wind Working Group, which has met three times since then. In that presentation, Cleavy stressed the role of community engagement to alleviate concerns, and posited that there is insufficient evidence to spur any changes in current noise standards, which stand at 55dB.

However, Punch, Rosenman, and one other member of the Technical Working Group released their own report, summarizing what had been the emerging recommendation of their group before it was disbanded.  The key recommended change in Michigan standards is that noise from wind turbines should be limited to 40db at night, as measured outside homes. It’s not entirely clear if they’re recommending a 40dB annual average, or a 40dB average over a number of 10-minute periods.  Their recommendations also include the option for wind developers to obtain waivers from homeowners, to allow sound levels higher than 40dB; but they recommend an absolute maximum of 55db, which is the current state noise limit for wind farms.

UPDATE, 7/22/12: A followup report from the same source as the above article details a bit more of the behind-the-scenes conversation among Michigan regulators.  This followup details an email sent by John Sarver, who had recently turned his State Energy Office job over to Clevey, written to Clevey and Julia Baldwin, who was moving to the Michigan PSC as Renewable Energy Section Manager.  Sarver advocated that the Technical Work Group be allowed to complete its process, but that they should be made aware that Clevey was not planning to make regulatory changes based on the report; he also encouraged them to delete their internal emails on the topic “because of the possibility of FOIA requests.” (And, indeed, it was a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed this email.)

 

 

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