Recent media attention about wind energy development in Vermont, misses a critical reason why so many communities around the state are saying “no” to utility-scale wind on Vermont ridgelines. It˙s not just about the view.
When you focus solely on the view, you miss some of the other issues that are driving opposition. After working on the subject for three and a half years, Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) knows there are numerous other complex issues – impacts to water quality from stormwater runoff, wildlife habitat fragmentation, bird and bat mortality, reductions in property values, and health impacts from noise in particular. Wind proponents condescendingly state that “people just don’t like to look at them,” in an intentional attempt to marginalize Vermonters who are concerned about wind projects’ impacts. Rather than address the issues, proponents belittle people who are directly affected.
These concerns are not based on selfish hysteria, but science. The Society for Wind Vigilance www.windvigilance.com is focusing credible, peer-reviewed science on the health impacts of wind turbines. They held a forum of doctors, acousticians, victims, and other interested people in October 2009, which I attended. Wind turbine noise is not a new story, making it all the more frustrating to see the noise problems left out of almost all the reporting being done in Vermont this fall about wind energy.
The wind industry is in denial about the noise impacts from their huge machines, and refuses all requests to hire experts that are acceptable to neighbors rather than the usual firms who are paid to defend developers’ interests.
There are thousands of wind opposition groups all over the world. The story is the same everywhere. The audible noise and inaudible low frequency and infrasound are driving people from their homes. People do not abandon their homes for no reason. Noise from these big machines can extend three to six miles in mountainous terrain, with residents within 2 miles most at risk.
Wind turbines pressurize the air, making homes act like a drum. The noise gets inside people’s homes and bodies. Sleep is disrupted, leading to other conditions including heart problems. Despite hearing directly from Vermont doctors concerned about these impacts, our Department of Health has shown no interest in protecting neighbors’ public health.
A Sheffield family has been advised by their doctor to move because their children’s sleep and behavior is being disrupted by wind turbine noise. A neighbor of the Lowell project reported that with just two turbines turning, “it sounded like a 747 was flying overhead and never landing.” Noise experts tell us that noise on both sides of the Lowell wind project is going to be unduly adverse. A ridgeline array plus turbines too close together plus using 3 MW turbines with 4.5 MW blades equals a formula for excessive noise.
The sad part is that there is no mitigation for noise issues after the fact. Either someone turns the turbines off, or people have to move. Wind proponents like to say it is only those who oppose projects who object, because they are not being compensated. That assertion has been disproven by numerous studies and experiences in Vermont, where project supporters are among the victims.
By January, more than 1,000 Vermonters will be threatened with wind turbine noise and its accompanying health effects around Sheffield, Lowell and Georgia Mountain. Wind developers will deny there are any problems. They will hire their own experts who will find everything is fine, as they have in Sheffield.
When you have invested everything in your home or business, and you are threatened with losing everything, and with no compensation, the scenario is desolate. Around these wind projects, the story is heartbreaking as hundreds of people are being sacrificed.
Meanwhile, more towns are feeling frustrated and put-upon by developers who suggest they play “hosts” to these massive industrial projects. The Town of Newark was just sued over their Town Plan revision by a wealthy landowner who has leased his land to Eolian Wind.
We do have alternatives to respond to climate change. Solar cost is on a steep downward trend. Vermont has 30 percent more sun than Germany and Japan, both of which have heavily deployed solar. It is a better environmental option.
The tide has turned in Vermont where big wind is concerned. Environmental degradation, corporate take-over, aesthetic impacts, the noise and no proof that it will make a difference in addressing climate change make big wind a poor choice for Vermont.
If you want to find out about the noise for yourself, we know of several families in “host” communities that would be glad to swap houses with you for a while. Just let me know.
Annette Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment Inc., based in Danby.
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