The developer of a wind farm proposed for northern Washington County told state regulators Wednesday that noise levels from the massive turbines are expected to be well within legal limits.
Representatives of UPC Wind Management described Stetson Mountain – located between the communities of Danforth and Springfield – as an excellent location for a wind energy facility because of the remote location, existing road network and steady winds.
“No site is ideal in every respect, but from our perspective, Stetson comes as close to ideal as you can get for wind energy,” Dave Cowan, vice president for environmental affairs with UPC, told members of the Land Use Regulation Commission.
Cowan delivered his glowing assessment of Stetson Mountain one day after UPC’s plan for a 38-turbine wind farm on the ridgeline was criticized by a small but vocal group of local residents. The $100 million project is expected to generate enough pollution-free energy to power 27,500 Maine homes, although the electricity would actually feed into the New England power grid.
One concern that came up repeatedly Tuesday night was whether the 400-foot-tall wind turbines would be audible to the point of disruption at nearby houses.
Underscoring the local residents’ fears, several unhappy neighbors of UPC’s wind energy facility in Mars Hill told the commissioners during Tuesday night’s public hearing that the noise ranges from a steady swooshing sound to a thumping sound like a boot in a dryer.
While that may not appear severe to a casual visitor, it is loud enough to disrupt some people’s sleep, said Merle Cowperthwaite, who lives about three-quarters of a mile from the turbines.
“Live with it. Don’t just come for a half an hour or an hour,” Cowperthwaite told board members Tuesday night.
UPC officials responded Wednesday by presenting sound estimate studies that put the noise levels at Stetson Mountain below thresholds set by LURC and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
R. Scott Bodwell, a consultant with Resource Systems Engineering in Brunswick, told the commissioners that, according to his conservative analysis, sound levels at full power would range from 49 to 52 decibels on the edge of the 4,800-acre parcel that UPC is seeking to rezone for the wind farm.
That is below the 55-decibel level established for nighttime and well below the 65-decibel level during the day.
Sound levels at the nearest houses would range from 40 to 44 decibels, Bodwell said. When pressed by commissioners for a comparison, Bodwell said a car traveling about 50 mph several hundred feet from a person would be around 55 decibels.
At one point, Commissioner Gwen Hilton asked Bodwell why the noise issues at Mars Hill seemed to catch people by surprise. Bodwell replied that he believes there was a false perception that wind turbines operated with little to no sound.
A study conducted by UPC now under review by state officials determined that the Mars Hill facility is operating within its permitted sound levels. The company also paid to have engineers from General Electric, the turbine manufacturer, inspect the machines for any problems.
“I think we have been responsive, and I think we have been transparent,” said Paul Gaynor, president and chief executive officer of UPC. “We have voluntarily committed to spending money so that if there are issues, those issues are addressed.”
Bodwell also told commissioners that sound travels differently depending on the temperature, humidity level, surrounding terrain and wind direction. Houses near the Stetson site are also farther away than those near the Mars Hill facility, he said.
The commission also heard presentations on the Stetson Mountain facility’s impact on scenic views, particularly those from nearby Baskahegan Lake, and on local wildlife populations. In both cases, presenters said the project would not pose “undue adverse impacts,” although some scenic views would undoubtedly change.
Linda Pagels-Wentworth, county manager for Washington County, told the commissioners that the project was an “almost ideal example of a multiple-use forest.”
“We see no negatives to this project that are not vastly outweighed by the benefits,” Pagels-Wentworth said.
Representatives of the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Independent Energy Producers of Maine also testified in strong support of the project Wednesday.
LURC will continue to accept written comments on the Stetson Mountain wind project through Aug. 20. Comments should be sent to the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, 22 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0022 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the project, go to http://www.maine.gov/doc/lurc.
By Kevin Miller
Thursday, August 09, 2007 – Bangor Daily News
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