PPM Energy's Horse Creek Wind Farm proposal, now suspended
while NY State officials evaluate the potential high bat mortality from the turbines, is the center of a sobering debate concerning preconstruction sound study reports. The proposed project consists of sixty-two industrial wind turbines
spanning the towns of Clayton and Orleans in upstate New York. Over 1000 residents reside within the project's proposed footprint.
In January 2007, shortly after the Town of Clayton adopted its Wind Energy Facilities Ordinance (Local Law 1) governing placement of turbines in the town, PPM released its Noise Analysis report on the project prepared by Global engineering giant CH2M HILL. The report's summary states: "The facilities steady state noise levels are predicted to comply with the Town of Clayton's Wind Energy Facilities Ordinance limit of 50 dBA at offsite residences." It further adds "the facilities noise level may exceed the existing levels by 6 dBA at lower wind speeds but maintains compliance with the Town of Clayton's Wind Energy Facilities Ordinance limit of 50 dBA". New York State guidelines suggest that sound level increases over existing background should not exceed 6 dBA.
Serious and substantial complaints filed by Clayton residents regarding possible excessive and harmful noise impacts from the turbines prompted the Planning Board to hire acoustic engineering firm Cavanaugh Tocci Associates (CTA) of Sudbury MA to evaluate the CH2M HILL report. CTA was specifically requested to "re-evaluate noise impact per NYSDEC guidelines and Town of Clayton Local Law 1 2007 Wind Energy Facilities".
The completed CTA report was received by Clayton officials, Town Supervisor Justin Taylor and Planning Board Chairman Roland Baril, on or around February 15, 2008 but never released to other Planning Board members or the public. Apparently, CTA's report was deemed "too complicated" for review. Three Freedom of Information requests were filed with the town, including one from the local newspaper, and all were denied. Clayton Supervisor Mr. Taylor announced through the Town's engineering consultants Bernier & Carr Associates that CTA's report was sent back with the request that an executive summary be provided to help explain CTA's findings. CTA complied and delivered a 2-page summary on August 25. This summary was again held by Taylor and Baril.
During the Oct 1 regular meeting of the Clayton Planning Board, Planning Board Chairman Baril informed the attending residents as well as the Planning Board that it was the recommendation of Bernier & Carr Associates that CTA's report again be refused as too technical for public review and that CTA's executive summary would be the ONLY document released to other Board members. Taxpayers were welcome to a copy of the summary via a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Clayton Town Clerk.
According to the CTA executive summary, there are serious problems with the methodology employed by CH2M HILL in conducting its noise analysis whereby estimated background sound levels were overestimated. CTA also makes clear that participating property owners, those who've entered into lease agreements with PPM, should update their real estate deeds to reflect noise easements. CTA is clear that noise emanating from the turbines, even if compliant with Clayton's Local Law 1, will affect future property owners who might occupy a dwelling.
The problem of Wind Turbine noise is becoming more pronounced as turbines are built close to where people live. Windaction.org is tracking noise issues in numerous locations including Mars Hill, ME, Lowville, NY, Brownsville, WI, McLean County, IL, and Blair County and Meyersdale, PA, in the UK and Canada. In each of these cases, the question of noise was either never raised prior to the towers being erected or the residents were informed there would be no issue. It's remarkable the lengths PPM and some Clayton officials are going to just to avoid the question. Denying a problem exists in the face of growing evidence is unproductive and will ultimately harm the wind industry and its proponents.
Update: At Clayton's town board meeting on Oct 8, Supervisor Justin Taylor announced the CTA report would now be released to the public.