Recently the Vermont Senate voted against protecting Vermonters who live near industrial wind turbines.
The Senate voted against requiring sound monitoring to ensure compliance with noise pollution standards. Green Mountain Power’s lobbyist Todd Bailey, of KSE Partners, told senators that GMP could not afford to pay an unsubstantiated cost of $264,000 for sound monitoring for its industrial wind project in Lowell. As reported in Seven Days, “they (the army of energy lobbyists) got their message to Senator Bray and other senators in a hurry. The Senate voted 18-8 to strike sound monitoring from the bill.”
It is enlightening to understand GMP’s opposition to the cost of sound monitoring at industrial wind projects in comparison to other costs at Green Mountain Power. For instance, annual sound monitoring costs, estimated by ethical experts to be $50,000 to $75,000, pale in comparison to the annual compensation for company CEO Mary Powell.
According to the Valener Energy Company Management Proxy Circular, included with the March 22, 2016, stockholders’ meeting notice, total annual compensation to Powell for the fiscal year ending September 2015 was $1.9 million. Her total compensation for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was over $5 million. Her total compensation consists of base salary, annual and long-term incentive plan (bonus pay), current pension value and other compensation. Her current retirement benefit is $3.3 million.
Gaz Metro owns GMP and has determined that Powell’s long-term incentive compensation will be based on a program that “takes into account cash flow, asset base growth, and achievement of Merger savings.”
“Asset base growth” occurs whenever GMP completes a new energy project. Utilities make money by earning a return on the equity portion of their assets, called asset base in the proxy report or, more commonly, “rate base.” Rate base increases whenever a utility builds anything. Intermittent (renewable) generation assets such as wind and solar projects are extremely capital-intensive. It makes sense that GMP’s parent corporation would want to increase asset base, because it increases corporate income. The more projects GMP builds, the more money Powell makes.
The problem is these industrial wind projects are located close to Vermont families who feel their negative impacts. People who live near an industrial wind project, according to the Vermont Public Service Department, will experience “a significant impairment of quality of life,” and unlike the CEO of GMP will not be compensated by a higher bonus in their paycheck. Instead, Vermonters who live near industrial wind projects will see their quality of life deteriorate and their home values decrease. I have met with Vermonters who have abandoned their homes, are sleep deprived, get headaches, have been hospitalized, are awakened in the middle of the night with their heart racing due to a panic attack, get dizzy and nauseous or have sold homes at a loss, all because of the impact of unregulated industrial wind turbine noise pollution.
The GMP financial incentive to increase rate base resulted in a provision added to the proposed 30 megawatt Deerfield Wind power purchase agreement. GMP negotiated the power contract with Iberdrola, the entity that would develop and own the wind power project on U.S. Forest Service land that is poised to destroy critical bear habitat and the high elevation headwaters of Wilmington. It is no wonder that this agreement includes a provision that allows GMP to buy the project for $50 million in 10 years. After GMP’s long and ugly battle to build its Lowell industrial wind project, it may have found a new way to own wind projects without all the problems of building them. It contracts with a developer to build wind projects and buys the projects later, which adds assets and increases compensation for CEO Powell. Neighbors get the noise pollution and significantly impaired quality of life.
The opposition to continuous sound monitoring at Vermont industrial wind projects is also not consistent with established utility practice. The McNeil wood chip generating plant, part of which is owned by GMP, is required to maintain a Continuous Emissions Monitoring System. The CEMS equipment provides hourly data. The McNeil plant is smaller than the Lowell industrial wind project. Despite the wind industry’s well-funded denials to the contrary, it has been proven that industrial wind projects emit harmful sound emissions.
Sound generated by a wind turbine is directly related to its power output. More power output equals more sound. The real cost of continuous monitoring to the wind companies is that they would have to shut down when they are out of compliance, which would mean that the developer would make less money.
The Legislature must act to require third-party continuous sound monitoring to ensure compliance for all industrial wind projects. Legislators, please put people over profits.