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PSC calls for study of Pinnacle Wind Farm noise

CHARLESTON – Citing noise readings inside a nearby home that exceed limits set for the outdoors, staff for the West Virginia Public Service Commission have recommended that a citizen-protest case move forward against the Pinnacle Wind Farm.

In a memo to the three-member Commission, John Auville, a staff attorney for the PSC, wrote that information about noise levels submitted as part of the original certification for the 23-turbine wind farm on Green Mountain may not have accurately represented the true noise that would be created by the turbines, warranting continued examination of the complaint. The owner of Pinnacle wind farm, Edison Mission Group, had requested that the motion filed by nearby resident Richard Braithwaite be dismissed.

“Legal Staff asserts that while the complaint does not allege a violation of one of the terms and conditions in the (approval order), the complaint does allege violations of representations made by Pinnacle in its application and violations of Findings of Facts and Conclusions of Law contained in the Certificate Order,” Auville wrote. “Staff argues those types of violations are within the Commission’s discretion to review and this case should be permitted to continue for further investigation of those potential violations.”

Citing information provided by Braithwaite in his complaint to the PSC, Auville notes that sound readings exceeding 60 decibels are frequent in the Braithwaite home and often exceed 80 decibels outside the residence.

He said the PSC in approving the project did not expect noise levels of that magnitude, with the approval order envisioning a “maximum operational noise level for the most affected landowner” at 56 decibels, and all other nearby residences below 55.

“If noise levels are actually as high as the Complainant alleges, Pinnacle is exceeding the noise levels inside a person’s home that the US EPA believes is safe in the areas outside a person’s home,” Auville wrote. “Had the Commission had this information before it when deciding whether to issue this certificate or not, the Commission very well may have placed further conditions on this certificate to avoid exceeding the EPA’s noise guidelines for residential areas.”

Auville took strong exception to Edison’s argument that the case should be dismissed.

“It is ludicrous to argue that because the Commission possibly had incorrect information before it when it made its decision, it cannot now review that decision,” he wrote in his staff recommendation. “Therefore, Staff believes Pinnacle’s argument that this issue is beyond
Commission review should be rejected.”

Braithwaite filed his complaint with the PSC in February, complaining that since the startup of the Pinnacle Wind Farm late last fall, noise levels both inside and outside his home have been intolerable. He asked the PSC to either shut down the operation or require the turbines to be stopped at night.

“The constant droning makes me have a bad headache like a migraine almost all of the time,”Braithwaite wrote in his complaint. “It is impossible to rest or sleep.”

Pinnacle officials attributed the noise not to the turbines themselves, but to cooling equipment housed in the bus-sized “nacelles” atop the turbines. Edison noted in its response that the turbines at Pinancle – manufactured by Japan-based Mitsubishi – are in use at two other locations and have not caused problems at those sites.

However, officials have noted that topography, as well as distance, can play a role in either reducing or enhancing noise issues.

Even before Braithwaite took his case to the PSC, Edison had directed Mitsubishi to develop a muffling system for the nacelles in a bid to reduce the noise created by the cooling equipment, which had prompted complaints from numerous residents in addition to Braithwaite. A prototype has been installed one one turbine at Pinnacle, and company officials are currently collecting data on the effectiveness of the device.

PSC officials plan to review that information as part of their investigation into the Braithwaite complaint.

In addition to the noise issue, PSC staff also noted that residents have alleged that Edison did not repair nearby roads that were damaged during construction of the wind farm. That issue is also being addressed under the ongoing review.