A thick fog has settled in on Green Mountain in Keyser, W.Va.
“I can’t live with this. You can’t sleep.”
All day, people keep pointing into the trees, telling us there’s something in the fog.
“It’s just rumbling the whole mountain.”
And then, just like that, the wind blows and you can see what Don Ashby is talking about.
Ashby contacted the News 4 I-Team after the Pinnacle Wind Farm turned on its turbines for the first time in November.
“We were basically told you would hear a swishing sound like the waves of the ocean,” he said. “Like that which would calm you and put you to sleep.”
But Ashby and his neighbors say the low-frequency rumble is much worse than they expected.
“I think I was misled,” he says.
According to documents obtained by News4, the wind farm presented a noise study to the West Virginia government saying the sound would be quieter than “average speech.”
When News4 visited Ashby and his neighbors, we heard what it sounds like instead. A mix between a train rumbling by and a plane flying high overhead.
But unlike those sounds, the turbine noise never stops.
“I can get out of it from a factory, once in a while, go home,” says Richard Braithwaite. “Get away from it. Here you can’t get away from it.”
Braithwaite lives about a half-mile from the turbines. He bought an inexpensive sound meter to keep a log of readings outside his home: 60 decibels, 68 decibels, 70 decibels.
“They can argue how accurate it is,” he says. “They can bring their thousand-dollar machine and take it.”
Prior to building, the wind farm’s noise study stated “the highest level of predicted operational noise was 56 dBA.”
Jim Cummings runs the Acoustic Ecology Institute, an independent non-profit that studies wind farm noise. He says, “55 decibels or so is very uncommon. So, these folks are dealing with the high end of what’s allowed in other places.”
Cummings says there are no federal guidelines but state and local governments typically impose limits between 40 to 45 decibels. He says Oregon has the lowest limit at 36 decibels.
West Virginia, however, doesn’t have a limit.
“You can go to every neighbor I’ve got right now,” Ashby says. “They’ll tell you they’re unhappy.”
He and his neighbors are circulating a petition asking for the machines to be turned off at night.
Pinnacle’s parent company, Edison Mission Group, tells News4 it can’t do that because it’s contractually obligated to provide two-thirds of its power to the State of Maryland and the remaining third to the University of Maryland.
In a statement, the company says it “takes issues raised by residents seriously” and is “currently testing technology that could reduce noise from the turbines.”
Back on Green Mountain, the sun is starting to set as Ashby points to two other wind farms. He then points across the valley. That, he says, is Western Maryland.
He says there’re plans to build even more wind farms on both sides of the valley.
But before they do, he wants people to know just because it’s clean and green, doesn’t mean it won’t come at a cost.
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