The state of Maine is forcing a wind energy company to reduce the noise coming from three of its turbines on Vinalhaven. Some residents on the island have complained about the small wind farm from the moment its blades started spinning a year ago. MPBN’s Jay Field looks at whether this demand from the state is likely to quell the controversy.
The order came in the form of a letter from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP. In it, the department says Fox Islands Wind violated regulations on two nights back in July, when its turbines operated at 47 decibels, two decibels above the noise limit agreed to by the company.
“What it does is it verifies what we’ve known for a whole year,” says Cheryl Lindgren. Lindgren and other Vinalhaven residents living near the turbines formed the group Fox Islands Wind Neighbors to fight all the noise.
It was a complaint by the group that moved the DEP to intervene. Jim Cassida oversees land resource regulation at the department. “What we really want them to do is look at their operation and recalulate their sound output.”
Cassida says wind farms operating in coastal areas run into problems with vertical and horizontal wind shear. That’s when the combination of strong winds blowing up high, where the turbines spin, and calm conditions on the ground, produce excess noise.
“And that may mean turning the facility down, from a power perspective, under certain conditions that we’ve identified as being problematic,” Cassida says.
Island residents voted in favor of the wind project in 2008, hoping it would provide a consistently affordable source of power in a place known for the volatility of its electricity prices.
Fox Islands Wind could not be reached by airtime. But Chip Harrington, who runs the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, says he expects the company to comply with the DEP’s demands.
“There’s a center, a data center, a control center over in Schenectady that’s run by General Electric. So we’re going to have to figure out how to measure the period when those conditions exist,” Harrington says. “And when we know that, it will be very easy for General Electric to curtail the turbines during those times.”
But that assurance isn’t good enough for Cheryl Lindgren, and the small minority of weary residents she represents. Lindgren has a different solution. “Turn them down now until they figure that out,” she says.
Fox Islands Winds must submit an initial outline of their noise reduction strategy to the state by the end of next week. The full plan is due in late January.
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