On November 17, the island community of Vinalhaven Maine celebrated the dedication of its 3-turbine community wind facility. The $14.5 million project, which was overwhelmingly supported by members of the local electric cooperative, was touted as a grand success. But before the celebratory speeches concluded and the glee of singing children faded, residents living within a half-mile of the facility made it clear the pulsating noise reverberating in- and outside their homes was unbearable.
George Baker CEO of Fox Island Wind LLC, the man credited as the 'creative force' behind the project, admitted in press accounts that "a small - but not insignificant - number of neighbors are concerned about the sound".
'Concerned' is an understatement after listening to some of these neighbors during a WERU 89.9 FM radio interview aired on December 19.
Vinalhaven resident Ethan Hall, who lives half a mile from the towers, described how there is no place on his property where he can get away from the noise, day or night. According to Mr. Hall, Baker reassured him last spring that at 1000-feet from the turbines the noise would be no louder than a "quiet conversation in a living room".
Is it possible Baker could be that ignorant of turbine noise?
Unlikely, considering that Fox Island Wind hired Resource Systems Engineering to evaluate the risks at the site -- the same firm that modeled the sound levels for the General Electric 1.5 megawatt turbines erected in Mars Hill, Maine and who conducted four seasons of post-construction sound surveys after the eighteen families near the project complained of oppressive turbine noise. The Fox Island wind farm uses the same GE turbines.
Fox Island Wind, in collaboration with GE and Maine's Department of Environmental Protection ("ME-DEP"), is now conducting surveys at the affected properties. While we hope Baker will make every effort to mitigate the problem, his only obligation is to determine whether the project is operating in compliance with its State permit. We know that after ME-DEP declared the Mars Hill facility in compliance, the agency dropped all involvement and the families had no choice but to seek relief in the courts.
In their radio interview, the Vinalhaven residents expressed their sincere wish that other communities would learn from their situation and work to avoid the same problem. Windaction.org has the same wish -- and their message is not a minute too soon.
Communities worldwide are working on relaxing their ordinances to allow for turbines, including a number of coastal communities in Maine's neighboring States of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It's time to listen to the voices of experience -- those not monetarily vested in the turbines -- before millions in public and private dollars are spent and the lives of many more people are permanently disrupted.