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Vinalhaven begins month-long “experiment” in reducing noise issues

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines Add comments

The Fox Islands Electrical Cooperative on Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine, has begun a month-long experiment as a first step in trying to come up with a local solution to noise issues from three wind turbines that began operating in November.  About two dozen people within a half-mile of the turbines have reported annoying levels of noise, with six property owners claiming that their lives are severely impacted.  Others in the same area who can hear the turbines are not particularly bothered by the noise.

Shortly after the turbines started operating, and some residents (including some who were excited about the wind farm, and some who had been skeptical) reported unexpected noise issues, neighbors began noting the times that the sound was most troublesome, in an effort to identify what wind directions or atmospheric conditions might be most to blame.  At its January meeting the Board of the electric coop decided to conduct a month-long “experiment” during February, in which the turbines would be slowed down in random patterns.  Sound measurements will be made throughout the month, and the 38 households within a half-mile are being asked to log their sense of the noise on a regular basis (half these households are summer people, so are unlikely to be participating). In a letter to coop members, the board said the experiment “will enable us, as a community, to figure out what to do and come to a solution that works, as well as possible, for everyone.”

A very detailed article in The Working Waterfront, a local paper, features a variety of comments from a locals about the process that is underway to find a community-based solution to the noise problems. Some find that the noise is moderate enough to be tolerable, easily drowned out by other sounds such as the TV or a car passing by, or being no more bothersome than a dishwasher running in another room; one person remembers the noisy generator that used to provide power to the town in the 60s and 70s, which people got used to.  Some who have been disturbed share their perceptions, as well;  Ethan Hall notes that “I’ve never heard anything in my life that sounds like it.”  Both he and Lindgren (another neighbor being affected) believe that current sound measurement standards do not take into account the complexity of turbine noise and its true impact. “The nature of the sound is so unique, that to try and quantify or qualify it with a strict dBa [decibel] measurement is an entirely inadequate way of describing the effect on people and surroundings,” Hall feels.  An hour-long radio interview with Hall and others being affected, recorded this past December, is available on the WERU website.

4 Responses to “Vinalhaven begins month-long “experiment” in reducing noise issues”

  1. Steve Eveans Says:

    Who has the final say in this issue? Didn’t they
    vote to allow the wind turbines on the island in a previous zoning and planning approval process?

    Aren’t you being a fire engine chaser or a Johnny come lately?

    By the way don’t shoot the messenger. I may want to hire your group to help us find the truth of the matter.

    One thing is though, what about the other parts of the sound environment?

  2. aeinews Says:

    HI Steve

    Yes, they surely did approve it in a community-wide process and most people were (and are) pretty excited about it, as it brings the electricity rates down substantially. The community was told by the turbine manufacturers, and by the electric coop and company building the 3 turbines, that they’d be inaudible; this is, as you may know, the conventional wisdom about wind farms (that the ground-based ambient drowns out the sounds of the turbines). Unfortunately, that’s actually not always the case, and indeed often not the case within a half mile or so. Some wind companies are starting to tell communities that they will hear them, but at moderate noise levels; this is pretty much the case, though what is “moderate” is pretty subjective and variable, by situation and the individual listening.

    The article in Working Waterfront, linked from the post, has a pretty good cross-section of community response. See also an earlier post on AEInews.org, from just after the wind farm started operating, sharing both the community’s enthusiasm and initial surprise of the neighbors that they heard it so much.

    I”m not sure what you mean by being a Johnny come lately; AEI is basically a niche editorial service that covers these issues (in some depth), so i’m not generally in on planning projects or anything like that. Our work can hopefully inform those working on the issues, and does: citizens, agency staff, and scientists all make use of what we write/edit/publish.

    Also, what is your question about other parts of the sound environment?

  3. Steve Eveans Says:

    How about the sound of the wind in the trees?

  4. aeinews Says:

    There are definitely times when the wind in the trees drowns out the turbines, but it doesn’t always happen. The sounds from the turbines are not similar to wind-in-trees, so it’s not right to say that if the tree sounds are OK, so are the turbine sounds. (Though it’s important to note that some people who hear the turbines aren’t all that bothered by their noise–there is a well-known individual variability in annoyance to noise.)

    There are also seasonal considerations. The winds in winter have totally different patterns than in summer. Winter: much more high winds and few leaves on trees, but people more inside their houses….this is what they’ve been dealing with so far, and apparently many “problem times” are in high winds. Summer: few high winds, but perhaps more nights when winds are quiet at the ground but high enough aloft to turn on turbines (this is true in some other locations, and is often the main “bad time”, but we don’t know yet about here), more leaves on trees but people tending to be outside more, and have windows open at night.

    Since the wind farm just began operating in November, some of the neighbors feel that the community should be sure not to design any permanent “solution” until they all experience what it’s like in the summer as well. That appears to be the intention of the wind company, but so far not everyone is comfortable that they’ll take their time.

    Complicating things is that some residents are pushing for a quick fix (or at least action of some kind), and some want to wait til after summer before the community commits to a fix. Whatever they decide might help with the winter winds may be irrelevant to summer conditions.

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