VINALHAVEN, Maine – Residents expressed grievances about turbine noise at a Thursday meeting that allowed islanders to ask questions of two wind professionals who will be collecting noise data in an attempt to identify specific mechanical perpetrators.
The experts then will come back to the community with options and prices for noise mitigation.
It has been about two years since Vinalhaven voters, with a 383-5 vote, approved the construction of three wind turbines. It has been about a year since wind started producing power on Vinalhaven and North Haven.
At Thursday’s meeting, held in Vinalhaven School’s auditorium and hosted by Island Institute in Rockland, some residents among the more than 100 in attendance complained of unusual sounds generated by the turbines. Some said they felt vibrations and others were worried about health risks.
Cathy Frierson said she was sitting in her home working on her computer last week when noise from the turbines disrupted her.
“All of a sudden I felt a sternum vibration and felt ill,” she said. “I had to leave my home and go to the other side of the island.”
Resident Ethan Hall said the sounds the turbines make never fade into background noise.
“The complaints I’m hearing and everyone else is hearing are very real. It’s a remarkable sound like nothing I’ve ever heard,” Hall said Thursday night after the two-hour meeting. “It affects everyone in the community. We were promised sound wouldn’t be a problem. It is a problem.”
The people who spoke out at the meeting are part of a vocal minority, according to a recent island study. In May, the Fox Island Electric Co-op distributed a survey to 1,447 customers. Of the 515 who responded, 13 people said they could hear the turbines from their homes. When asked about the possible curtailment of the sounds, 64 percent of people wanted to reduce noise “no more than state regulations.” Another 31 percent said they would reduce noise if the impact to their electric rate is minimal. The remaining 5 percent said they wanted to reduce noise, no matter the cost.
“Ninety percent [of people] here were supporters – on the island it’s 98.5 percent,” said resident Bill Alcorn after the meeting. Alcorn owns land where the turbines are.
At the Thursday night meeting, Ben Hoen and Brian McNiff – who both work at laboratories under the Department of Energy – gave a brief presentation to inform islanders that the men, along with a team of engineers, a sound expert and a team manager, are going to study the sounds of the turbines and will ask islanders to log the sounds and effects on them each day in September. Using this, they will come back to the island to present options for noise mitigation.
According to McNiff, no researchers have worked to trace wind-related sounds to their mechanical source, which would better enable engineers to work on the cause of the noises.
Several in the audience thought the 30-day qualitative study would not be sufficient.
Vinalhaven summer resident Joe Fletcher works as a seismologist, studying waves. He said a study asking people how sounds make them feel throws science back a few centuries.
“It’s like seismology in the 1800s, asking people how they feel,” he said. “It’s the quantitative data that matters.”
When questions focused on Department of Environmental Protection regulations, which limit turbine noise, no one seemed to know if Vinalhaven is in compliance with the standards.
“We’re working with the DEP to comply with state regulations,” said George Baker, who serves as the CEO of electric company Fox Island Wind and as vice president for community wind at the Island Institute. “We will be in compliance with state guidelines. We believe we meet state regulations now.”
A strict timeline for the turbine noise study has not been established. The information will be collected through September, but data analysis will take longer. The good news, Hoen said at the meeting, is that “we have the resources to do something about this.”