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Group questions Pinnacle wind project; hopes to educate public

KEYSER, W.Va. – Frank O’Hara, co-chair of the Allegheny Front Alliance, is asking Edison Mission Energy some questions in regard to Pinnacle property owners who entered into an agreement to participate in the wind project where the sound level was higher than recommended.

Homes located closest to the turbines are project participants in a memorandum filed with the county for each lease, although the actual lease is not on file, according to October 2009 testimony of Dave Friend, chairman and CEO of US Windforce LLC. The agreement provides a revenue stream to the landowner and prohibits them from building a 40-foot building.

Certain things are put into the lease specifically talking about noise and potential flicker, to protect the land owner and the wind company, according to Friend’s testimony to the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Windforce sold the Pinnacle Farm to Edison in April 2011 and it became fully operational in January.

In a noise study, James Barnes, a supervisory consultant of Acentech Inc., whose firm was retained by Pinnacle Windforce LLC, indicated that residents entered into an agreement with Pinnacle to participate in the project where the sound level was 56 decibels, according to his May 26, 2009, testimony with the PSC.

“For the nearest residences to the northeast of the project (and the most affected residences), I understand that Pinnacle had entered into agreements for them to participate in the project,” said Barnes in his testimony. “In particular, Pinnacle has entered into an agreement with the owners of the residence where the estimated Ldn (day-night) sound level is 56 (decibels).”

O’Hara wants to know how many property owners participated in the project and if reduced noise transformers were installed. He also questioned if any developer or other managers entered into any agreements with neighboring property owners where the estimate Ldn sound level is higher than recommended.

AFA is asking questions in order to educate citizens, according to O’Hara.

“AFA efforts over the past few years have been to educate citizens and public servants about noise and other negatives of industrial wind,” said O’Hara in an email to the Times-News. “Now that these issues are playing out to the community in real life, we will not only focus on a remedy for Pinnacle problems, but also ensure the public is aware of the problems so future projects can be more effectively analyzed prior to approval by our elected and appointed officials.”

According to Barnes, all sound levels surrounding Pinnacle, with the exception of one residence, were equal to or below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-recommended sound guideline level of 55 decibels. At one residence, the sound level was estimated at 56 decibels.

Richard Brathwaite, a resident of Green Mountain, filed a formal complaint with the PSC on Feb. 22, citing that the noise inside his home exceeds 60 decibels and exceeds 80 decibels outside. O’Hara has visited Braithwaite’s home and other nearby homes and heard the noise from the wind turbines.

“The noise is disturbing. Unwanted noise level drifts over a distance nearly two miles,” said O’Hara, who noted that the noise can be heard on Liberty Street in Keyser, at houses near Walmart, and at houses on Pine Swamp Road and in Pine Pointe subdivision. “The purpose of AFA is to protect the Allegheny Front’s cultural and natural environment. Mr. Braithwaite and his family live in Mineral County; in that sense we are all neighbors and community members.”

Barnes indicated that some wind turbine noise could be heard if conditions are right. It is anticipated that the turbine sound will be heard at times at the nearest residences, likely when the turbines operate, wind conditions favor sound propagation and local ambient sound levels are low, explained Barnes in the testimony. The ambient sound monitoring program was conducted from November to December 2007.

The PSC says its staff should take another look at noise from the Pinnacle Wind Farm. O’Hara agrees that the PSC should continue looking into noise and other issues involving the Pinnacle Wind Farm.

“If it is necessary, they (PSC) should place further conditions on this certificate and future industrial wind projects,” said O’Hara.

A test louver system, or muffler, has been installed on one of the wind turbines and analysis of that system is being done.

“Suppose EME and the manufacturer, Mitsubishi, located in Japan, installs the muffler but the noise still exceeds the 55 decibels. What is next?,” said O’Hara. “The community should not be expected to be patient, while technicians treat the community as lab rats developing experimental muffler prototypes. The public deserves protection.”

Braithwaite has suggested that wind turbines be turned off at night. Pinnacle Wind LLC’s counsel noted that would “impose new and costly operating restrictions” in violation of West Virginia Code, according to a March 28 PSC memorandum.

EME has had issues with noise complaints at other sites, according to O’Hara.

“The problems that arise at Pinnacle are not new, but are experienced for many years globally,” said O’Hara.

Edison Mission has made a final offer to settle claims for residents near the Big Sky wind project in Ohio complaining of noise, flicker and TV reception problems, according to a 2011 article in the Sauk Valley media.

AFA also questioned EME about other sites that have installed Mitsubishi wind turbines similar to those on Green Mountain. The group wants to know what preconstruction noise studies where done at those sites and if the studies were filed with the PSC.

AFA, which was formed in January 2009, is an incorporated group of community friends, neighbors and regional leaders interested in protecting the Allegheny Front from the destructive development of industrial wind turbines.