State of Maine to wind turbine farm on Vinalhaven: turn down the noise – Neighbors of wind turbine farm stand their ground
Last week, the State of Maine affirmed that the Vinalhaven wind turbine farm violates state standards for noise. Neighbors afflicted by the turbine noise are hoping it is a turning point in the year-long dispute between the operation of three 1.5 megawatt GE turbines.
Since the commissioning of the wind turbine project a year ago, the local utility—Fox Islands Electric Coop and Fox Islands Wind—had denied noise violations. During this time, neighbors endured excessive noise on a regular and frequent basis. In its finding, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection calls this a “very serious matter”.
The agency undertook a rigorous analysis to determine its position, based on a July 18th complaint filed by the neighbors. Fox Islands Wind has until December 3rd to outline exactly what its intentions for addressing the problems. Within 60 days, the utility is required to implement a noise mitigation plan. On Nov. 6th, the neighbors filed a second official complaint and have more than a dozen additional complaints cued up for submittal.
From its commissioning in November 2009, neighbors were shocked by high noise levels produced by the turbines. Their efforts to validate noise complaints and the ensuing disagreement with the wind turbine operator has attracted national attention including front page stories in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and AP.
The Vinalhaven neighbors set out to make sure that the utility conformed to state law. This required a significant effort and investment in understanding acoustics and measurement metrics and technologies. The efforts of the neighbors prompted the DEP to reexamine the adequacy of wind turbine compliance procedures. There had been no regulatory mechanism to detect and validate noise complaints from wind turbines. If the Vinalhaven neighbors had not undertaken their own costly efforts, the local operator— Fox Islands Wind, LLC– could have continued to operate in violation of their license conditions.
After filing numerous complaints between April and June 2010, the state, the neighbors and the local utility finally established a formal protocol requiring acoustical proof of violation. On July 18, 2010, the neighbors met the newly established requirements with a single complaint that was representative of excessive noise that could be measured on a regular basis.
The controversy has also triggered harassment against the neighbors, some of which has been encouraged by the local utility. For example, in a mailing to rate payers, Fox Island Electric Coop highlighted the cost of defending against complaints from neighbors, implying that their objections rather than the utility’s violations will increase electric bills. George Baker, the Fox Islands Wind principal, has continued to blame the controversy on a “small minority” despite evidence that he and the utility ignored its own consultant during the development phase of the project that stated wind turbine noise would likely be an issue due to the compact size of the wind farm site and its close proximity to property owners.
In a Bangor Daily News report, Baker also said that the state would allow the turbines to run at faster speeds during storms—creating more noise—if FIW did not contest efforts to slow down turbine speeds during wind shear conditions with the wind coming from the south west. According to the neighbors after meeting with DEP officials, Baker’s claim is pulled from thin air: the State of Maine made no “deal” with FIW. In fact, the state told neighbors that it is receptive to opening its inquiry to all times and under all weather conditions.
The Department of Environmental Protection takes its mandate very seriously and if FIW does not comply in a timely or effective manner, it has a number of methods of enforcement including interim relief, reopening the utilities license application, and issuance of violation notice. If evidence appears that there is any violation of regulatory limits at any time or in any meteorological conditions, FIW is required to comply.
These residents have been attempting to analyze the economics of the wind turbine operation, to discover if the turbines are responsible for lowering the cost of electricity as claimed. But Baker, FIW and the board of Fox Islands Electric Co-op have refused to open their books.
After a long year, neighbors of the Vinalhaven wind turbines are heartened by this movement from the State of Maine to verify their complaint.
From the Maine Department of Environmental Protection
November 23, 2010
Re: DLRR Request for a Revised Operation Protocol, Fox Islands Wind, LLC, Department Order # L-24564-ES-A-N;
Dear Mr. Baker:
On July 23, 2010 the Department received a complaint alleging that the Fox Islands Wind, LLC wind power facility in Vinalhaven, Maine had failed to comply with the terms and conditions of the small-scale wind energy facility certification issued in Department Order #L-24564-ES-A-N on June 5, 2009. The complaint alleged that the facility was operating out of compliance with the 45 dBA nighttime noise standard set forth in department regulations and permit conditions during a nighttime period on both July 17, 2010 and July 18, 2010.
The Department has reviewed the complaint in accordance with the noise complaint protocol, which was agreed to by the permit holder, and Department regulations governing noise Chapter (375 § 10). Based on this review, the Department has determined that during the time period between 11 p.m. and 12:10 a.m. on July 17, 2010 and July 18, 2010, at a minimum, the Fox Island Wind facility was operating with a sound power output of 47 dBA. The Department’s analysis confirms that, as required by the terms and conditions of the permit, the conditions that existed during this time period were most favorable for sound propagation and maximum amplitude modulation, and therefore were optimal for determining wind turbine sound. Further analysis of the operational, sound, and meteorological data collected during the complaint period, as well as other data collected during the period of May 1, 2010 to August 31, 2010, indicate that, at current operation levels, the facility is likely to exceed the required sound compliance level of 45 dBA when there is significant vertical and directional wind shear.
In order to resolve this matter in a manner that ensures that the project can operate in compliance with existing noise regulations and in accordance with the terms and conditions of Department Order #L-24564-ES-A-N, the Department requests that Fox Island Wind, LLC submit, within 60 days of this notice, a revised operation protocol that demonstrates that the development will be in compliance at all protected locations surrounding the development at all times, including under the specific condition identified above. This revised operation protocol must include a time frame for implementation. As discussed at our meeting on November 18, 2010, Fox Island Wind, LLC will submit a preliminary outline of a revised operation protocol by December 3, 2010. The Department will review your December 3rd submission and offer feedback by December 15, 2010 in order to facilitate your further preparation of the revised operation protocol for submission by January 23, 2011. The revised operation protocol must be submitted as a condition compliance application pursuant to special condition #8 of Department Order #L-25664-ES-A-N.
The Department views the compliance issues identified at this facility as a serious matter. Provided that Fox Island Wind, LLC submits a revised operation protocol to the Department for review and approval no later than January 23, 2011, and further provided that the revised operation protocol approved by the Department is fully implemented by Fox Island Wind LLC in a manner that ensures compliance with Department noise standards and permit conditions, the Department can resolve this matter without further action.
If you have any questions regarding this matter please contact me at 592-1864.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
James Cassida, Director
Division of Land Resource Regulation
Bureau of Land & Water Quality
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