RIGA, Mich. – For 200 area residents immersed in southeastern Lenawee County’s contentious battle over wind turbines and their anticipated noise, a dueling lecture in audiology was disguised as a special Riga Township meeting Tuesday night.
A-weighted decibels. C-weighted decibels. Infrasound vs. audible sound. What does it all mean?
Quite simply, the future of Riga Township. And, to some degree, that of neighboring Ogden, Palmyra, and Fairfield townships.
Plans to erect some 200 turbines in that part of Lenawee County – the sum of projects discussed by at least three companies – would be an enormous infusion of cash, millions of dollars, to that area’s tax base. But several residents – many who attended and reacted at Tuesday night’s meeting – also fear it would disrupt their peace and quiet, possibly hurting property values and maybe even their health.
So now, among other things, leaders are trying to make heads and tails of conflicting noise studies as they try to decide how much humming and swishing sounds will be generated by those rotating turbine blades.
With the prospect of wind-power developers making a historic economic investment in this rural area limited in its ability to attract other types of industries, officials in Riga, Ogden, Palmyra, and Fairfield townships are weighing the pros and cons of ordinances that would foster or fend off the sight of gigantic, commercial-scale turbines across their countryside.
Riga is generally seen as the pace-setter. Those four townships are admittedly more handcuffed than others when it comes to economic development because they lack access to major rivers, streams, and other bodies of water.
Tuesday night’s joint meeting of the Riga Township Board and the Riga Township Planning Commission wasn’t billed as a debate, but it could have been.
Noise experts Peter H. Guldberg and Rick James, representing Exelon Wind and the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, Inc., respectively, verbally sparred over each other’s personal credentials and studies.
Both seemed to agree 45 decibels is some general threshold that should not be surpassed, but differed wildly over how much cushion Riga Township should build into its ordinance. The coalition, a citizens group formed in opposition to the turbines, submitted a recommendation for the noise limit to be set at 40 decibels from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 35 decibels from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Its many other recommendations included strict limits on low frequency sounds – sounds which Joshua Nolan, the group’s director, equated to the distant thumping of a loud car stereo.
Mr. Guldberg said the group’s proposals are so restrictive, they “would absolutely prohibit any wind [power] development in Riga Township,” a statement which drew applause and jeers. But he also hinted at legal action, saying it effectively would be an illegal “exclusionary” ordinance.
“Don’t threaten, sir,” scowled one woman. “Don’t threaten.”
Even though Riga is the apparent pacesetter, these controversies don’t seem to be played out often. Planning Commission Chairman Reg Karg kept order with a hammer he used as a makeshift gavel.
The citizens group called for the meeting. Officials granted Exelon’s request for equal time. In addition to Exelon, Great Lakes Wind, Juwi Wind LLC, and Orisol Energy US Inc. have made inquiries about putting up turbines. Many turbines under consideration in those townships are Danish-built Vestas V100 models that stand 493 feet tall, 80 feet taller than downtown Toledo’s highest building and 25 percent taller than the four turbines American Municipal Power installed in the Wood County landfill southwest of Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004.
Exelon research along Riga Highway near Horton Road and Thompson Highway near Weston Road reaffirmed the utility’s belief it can erect the turbines without going over 43 decibels. The turbines produce their greatest noise when wind blows at 23 mph and greater, Mr. Guldberg said. “The maximum sound levels are comparable to the existing sound levels in Riga Township,” he said.
He and Mr. James cited studies by NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other expert sources, but disagreed over their conclusions.
Mr. James said noise pollution can affect people at 6 decibels or less. “The characteristic of wind turbine noise is that people are annoyed by it at lower levels,” he said.
He likened the swishing sound of turbine blades to the dripping of a water faucet. “It isn’t that it’s loud,” Mr. James said. “It’s repetitive and does not stop.”
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