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The crux of the matter: is rural peace and quiet a “right”?

Human impacts, Wind turbines Add comments

I just came across a comment that seems to me to cut right to the heart of the question of rural communities where wind farm noise is an issue. This particular comment is another of several made public after the controversial disbanding of a wind farm noise technical work group that appeared poised to recommend tougher siting standards; see this earlier AEI post for that story.  But it hardly matters who made the comment below, or in what particular context, because it really distills the fundamental point of contention:

“We know that a significant number of persons are annoyed by wind farms. . . . I understand that many people live or move to rural areas for the country views and quiet. But individuals do not have rights to quiet or nice views.”

(For the record, the comment is in a letter from a former manager of the state renewable energy program, to an incoming manger.)

The argument is often made that turbine noise is far less intrusive than what city dwellers live with all the time, or that wind farms are not as loud as tractors, trucks, snowmobiles, or other mainstays of rural life.  These both skirt the central question, which is whether people, or communities, in rural areas can be justified in their complaints about noise, or in adopting ordinances that require significantly lower noise levels than the industry is used to (or perhaps even lower noise limits for turbines than what is accepted in noise from the everyday activities of rural life).

Many of the towns and counties that have recently established larger setbacks or lower sound limits are attempting to protect their residents’ rights to the rural quality of life and sense of place that they live there to enjoy.  The most extreme of these have setbacks large enough (2 miles) or noise limits quiet enough (as low as 25dB at night) to effectively offer absolute protection to existing peace and quiet; in so doing, they may also be effectively banning industrial wind development (though allowing for easements to build closer to willing neighbors may offer a way forward in towns where there aren’t large enough areas of open space to accommodate such standards).  

This is something that is likely to be played out in court, as wind developers, and at times residents wishing to lease their land to developers, have claimed that these strict rules represent illegal “takings.”  This week, the town of Peru, Maine, became the latest to adopt a strict wind ordinance, and the threat of such a legal challenge was a major point of contention as the planning board and Board of Selectmen discussed the proposal.  (The ordinance passed 585-30.  It calls for a 1.5 mile setback to property lines, noise limits of 35dBA during the day and 25dBA at night, and permanent sound monitoring after construction to assure compliance.) 

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