Wind noise comes as a big surprise
Credit: By Chris Braithwaite | the Chronicle | November 7, 2012 ~~
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ALBANY – The sound woke Ray Giroux and his wife up at three o’clock Saturday morning. “It sounded like a jet plane taking off,” Mr. Giroux said in an e-mail to the Chronicle. The couple’s home is on the Eden Road in Albany, less than a mile and a half from the new wind turbines erected on Lowell Mountain by Green Mountain Power.
Waldo Potter described it as “the goddamnest roar you ever heard in your life.
“I thought at first they were testing the F-35 fighter, roaring right over the mountain,” said Mr. Potter, who estimates that he lives between a mile and a half and two miles from the turbines.
“It sounded like a jet airplane over there,” said Frank Coulter, a town selectman who lives three miles east of the turbines on the Center Hill Road.
A half mile further east in Albany Center, David Lawrence resisted his wife, Delia’s, suggestion that the sound was coming from the wind turbines. “It was like a jet plane all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Lawrence said.
“I hated to agree with my wife,” he continued. “I said ‘No no, it’s a pending storm.”
“I had to agree with my wife, finally, that it was not just the wind over the mountains.
“If that is their sound it’s totally unacceptable,” Mr. Lawrence said of the GMP turbines.
As GMP’s 21-turbine project nears completion, its neighbors have been waiting to find out what it will be like to live with the 460-foot machines working overhead.
Only ten of the turbines were spinning Saturday and Sunday, according to those who could count them through the clouds that hung low over Lowell Mountain.
But a light wind from the northwest brought a sound that a considerable collection of Albany residents found almost unbelievable, and pretty much unendurable.
Carl Chaffee, who is chairman of the Albany Selectmen, heard them when he stepped outside at 6:30 Saturday morning. He described it as “a steady whoof whoof whoof – constantly.”
If just ten of the project’s turbines make that much noise, Mr. Chaffee said, “I don’t see how in hell we can live with it. I can’t imagine how people in the village are ever going to stand it. If they operate all 21, I can’t image what it’s going to be like.”
“My biggest concern is the health of the people in this village,” Mr. Chaffee continued. “I’m two miles away. I just wonder what it will do to the health of some of the people in this town.”
Don and Shirley Nelson, who live just across the Albany town line in Lowell, nine-tenths of a mile east of the turbines, were in perhaps the best position to hear them. And though they’ve vigorously opposed the project since the idea of harnessing the Lowell ridgeline’s wind was first proposed, the noise surprised them.
“I knew it was going to be bad,” Mr. Nelson said Monday. “1 had no idea it would be this bad.”
“It was just like being tied to a chair with a train going by,” Ms. Nelson said. “And that train took all weekend to go by.”
Inside her home, Ms. Nelson added, “it sounded like a terrible chimney fire.”
On Sunday Mr. Nelson canvassed the town, asking those who shared the experience to sign a copy of a letter he had composed for the state Department of Public Service (PSD).
By Monday he had collected 31 signatures. The noise is unbearable, the letter says. On Saturday, it adds, “there were only about ten turbines operating but the noise was a constant roar like a speeding truck passing next to us that never went away.”
That letter reached the PSD early this week via e-mail. “We will gladly take complaints, and we are keeping a record,” said Geoffrey Commons. the department’s director for public advocacy.”
“Noise monitoring will be done according to a plan … that will not start until all the turbines are in operation” Mr. Commons said.
When it issued the project a certificate of Service Board set “a strict, objective standard” for maximum turbine noise. It limits sound to 45 decibels outside a neighbor’s home, and 30 decibels inside their bedrooms.
“If they’re not meeting that,” Mr. Commons said of GMP, “the board has been very clear that they’ll have to make changes in order to meet it.”
He added that, since the complaints arrived from Albany, his department has been in consultation with the state Health Department.
Contacted late Monday afternoon, GMP spokesman Dorothy Schnure said she was not aware of any noise complaints from Albany.
On Tuesday she e-mailed this statement: “The Public Service Board requires us to meet certain sound levels. As part of our permit, we have protocol for responding to complaints. People who have a complaint should contact us because we want to know about it. If there is an issue, we will address it.”
While noise complaints about wind power projects tend to focus on the subtle effects of low-frequency sound that isn’t generally measured by sound-testing instruments, the weekend’s reports from Albany suggest that the sound was loud by any ordinary standard.
Mr. Potter said that he and his son Jethro were working about 110 feet apart in their sugar bush Saturday. When he tried to communicate with his son over the turbine noise, Mr. Potter said, “I was roaring, but he couldn’t understand me.”
“It was atrocious,” Jim Goodrich said of the sound. “I could hear it in the house just as clear as a bell.”
He and his wife, Kathy, live about a mile from the turbines. Ms. Goodrich called the State Police to make a noise complaint. But she was told that noise complaints arc only taken from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and that police would not respond to a complaint about a noisy wind turbine at any hour.
Mr. and Mrs. Giroux were unable to get back to sleep after the noise woke them at 3 a.m., and both suffered headaches, according to Mr. Giroux’s message. “We could even feel vibrations accompanying the noise.”
Mr. Coulter could not hear the turbines from inside his house on East Hill Road. “It’s all closed up for the heat,” he said.
“But as soon as you stop outside you can’t miss it,” he said of the weekend’s sound. “I can guarantee if there was somebody standing in my yard wondering whether or not to buy my property, I’m sure they wouldn’t,” Mr. Coulter said. “I wouldn’t buy it.”
The noise had subsided by Monday, by all accounts. On Tuesday morning an observer in Albany Center couldn’t pick up a sound that was clearly coming from the turbines, which stand 3.5 miles across the valley of the Black River.
And when she stopped her car to find out whether a reporter had broken down or was just admiring the view, Dorothy Mason made it clear that the objections to the turbines’ noise are not unanimous.
“I’d rather see them up here than live where my niece lives in Vernon near the nuclear plant,” Mrs. Mason said. “They’re scared to death, and I don’t blame them.”
Mrs. Mason said she lives nearby with a good view of the turbines, and she’s happy to share it.
“You can come up and watch them from my kitchen table – or from my kitchen sink and the the dishes, I don’t care.”
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