On July 20, 2007 Ruth & I decided to drive from the Gulf Shore to Elmira, which is on the northeastern tip of PEI, to visit with Dwayne Bailey and his father, Kevin, and view the new local wind farm. Both abandoned their lifelong homes because they could not tolerate the noise from this facility.
The Elmira wind farm uses Vestas V90 turbines. Each is approximately 120 meters high with blade diameters of 90 meters, average rotational speed of 16 rpm and power outputs of three megawatts each. Vestas turbines were used at Pubnico, and are also proposed for the Gulf Shore. Initial plans here were for 30 turbines, so far 10 have been placed. This could be the first of several proposed projects along the northeast shore.
We met Dwayne and Kevin at their old homes in Elmira. Their farm is across the road from the wind turbines, about 1 km away. This is traditional farmland with fields and scattered woodlands. Their farm was set on a slight hill rising from the road to the fields behind the homes. The Baileys are lobster fishermen who rent their farmland out for crops “so that the weeds do not take over the place”. Dwayne is a volunteer firefighter as well.
Dwayne reported that the wind farm was a PEI Provincial Government project. There were two initial community information meetings. Approximately $40,000 was offered for a community centre, and bonds were issued for those residents who wanted to invest in the project.
He said that a transmission line was constructed from Souris to take the power from these and other proposed turbines to the Maritime Electric Power grid. The plant was operational February 2007. Except for some basic construction and excavation work, plus crane work by Irving, Vestas did the majority of the installation. The site now has two to four employees. There was very little local employment as a result of this project.
Breakdowns and repairs were common. It was rare to have all 10 turbines working together. Dwayne stated that a few months ago, a portion of a rotor flew off one of the turbines and landed on a company vehicle’s hood.
When we first drove into their yard, our initial impression was that their one kilometer setback distance should be fine. However, their problems began within weeks after the turbines started operating. When they were downwind from the turbines, and the air was moving just enough to turn them, (12-15 knots from the northeast), the noise was loud. It was a repetitive modulated drone of sound. Dwayne and Kevin both claimed it sometimes was loud enough to rattle the windows of their homes. The sound was even worse in the field behind their homes. Distances from 1 to 1.5 kilometers were the areas of the most annoying sounds. This spring the winds created constant misery.
Dwayne developed headaches, popping and ringing ears, and could not sleep. He tried new glasses, prescription sleep aids and earplugs, to no avail.
Dwayne’s two year old was sleeping well prior to the wind farm, but began waking up, 5-6 times a night.
Kevin Bailey stated, “When you are outside working and absorbed in what you are doing, you are OK. If inside, resting or reading, it’s a problem. Forget about sleeping at night. The repetitions would go away, you think that it is gone, and it comes back again.” Kevin tried sound dampening by draping the front walls inside his house, and sleeping in the back, but this did not work.
Kevin had problems with his electrical appliances. The fridge, water heater and power meter all vibrated. He purchased a new fridge, and it was just as bad. When the fridge was moved to the new house, the vibrations were gone.
They complained to the province and the municipality, but no one would take them seriously. One official suggested it was too quiet there which is a funny kind of problem to have. There was not enough ambient background noise to block out the sound.
Both families moved two weeks ago and they are feeling better. “We had to move back into town to get away from the noise.”
They could not in all good conscience sell the homes, but if they did, they felt new purchasers would soon be demanding their money back.
Dwayne said, “We have had six generations of little feet running through the grass, but now that is gone.”
Kevin noted, “All we ever had here was peace and quiet, and poverty. Now we only have poverty.”
We toured the wind farm site. Initially the winds were 12-14 knots. Downwind at 500 meters there was a loud rhythmic whooshing sound coming from each of the turbines that could be easily identified with their rotation. At least three or four turbines could be heard at once. The sounds were out of sync and confused. At 300 meters each turbine was very noisy from any direction. There is absolutely no way you could live next to a turbine at this distance. We stood at the base. There were many sounds. Electrical high pitched humming, the deep whoosh of the sails or rotors as they sweep past every 5 seconds, a steady swish of the rotor tips, which are cutting through the air at 240 kilometers per hour. When the wind changed, the rotors made a sound like a jet engine taking off, until they were in position again.
Within 300 meters, the towers and blades were incredibly imposing. Not something you would want to be around, or see. Looking up and watching the blades spin, hearing all the noise, was frightening. In winter ice throw anywhere within range of these units would be a huge concern. Dwayne had told us that the fire department was warned that in winter if they were required, they were to be very careful where they parked.
We went 1 km downwind and the loud rhythmic sounds could be heard from various turbines at different speeds, again, all out of sync with each other. A curiosity for a few minutes, but you could never live with this noise.
The wind picked up to about 18-20 knots and when downwind 700 meters to 1.5 km away, standing outside, you could not hear the noise. However, inside our car with the window down and out of the turbulence of the outside air the sounds returned.
Wind turbine setback bylaws for Cumberland County are clearly inadequate for protection of the rights of residents who will be living adjacent to wind turbines. They desperately need to be re-examined and amended.
Paul and Ruth Downing
23 July 2007