GRAFTON – Noise is a little-recognized danger from wind projects, a physics professor told more than 100 Grafton area residents Monday night.
The residents packed The White Chapel to hear both the personal and theoretical reasons against ridgeline wind development in Vermont, as Grafton and neighboring Windham consider a proposal by Atlantic Wind LLC to build three wind measuring towers in their towns.
Ben Luce, a professor of physics from Lyndon State College, said he was a “pretty reluctant convert” to concerns about audible noise associated with wind projects.
But he said the low-frequency sounds and vibrations coming from the giant turbines create disturbances that can be felt miles away.
He said that there is peer-reviewed research showing that noise was a little-known problem associated with wind turbines. The noise can disturb more than people’s sleep, he said.
“You can’t tell from a single visit to a wind facility,” Luce told the gathering. “We are just beginning to really deal with it.”
Some research has recommended that no wind projects be located within 2.2 miles of any dwelling, “unless mitigated,” he said.
The gathering was organized by a group calling themselves Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, and it was standing room only at the small chapel. Many people left rather than stand in the cramped space.
Another speaker, Justin Lindholm of Energize Vermont, who also happens to own property in the town of Lempster, N.H., where Atlantic Wind already has a project, said the noise can be heard from as far away as three miles and over ridgelines.
Lindholm said a visit to the Lempster wind project at first left him shaking his head about the concerns over noise, but he has since learned that two kinds of noise, which he compared to a jet, and the other a constant “whoop whoop whoop,” are both destructive to people’s quality of life.
Luce said he believed that ridgeline wind development was wrong for the Northeast, and said that solar development was a better fit for northern New England.
Luce, who moved to Vermont about five years ago from New Mexico, said he was involved in pro-wind projects out there, where wind development makes much more sense with less environmental impact.
“Wind is a big issue out West. In this region, I don’t see it,” said Luce.
Luce also said the cost of wind power had not declined as much as Department of Energy studies had projected, although the recent recession had driven down costs of turbines.
Grafton would be the site of one meteorological tower along a north-south ridgeline that separates Grafton from Windham. Two of Atlantic Wind’s towers would be in Windham, but that municipality’s town plan specifically forbids any wind development, and some Grafton residents hope to follow their neighbors to the west in banning wind development.
Atlantic Wind is a subsidiary of Iberdrola LLC, one of the world’s largest energy companies, with holdings in nuclear, hydroelectric and alternative energy, according to Liisa Kissel, of Grafton, one of the organizers of the event.
Kissel noted that Grafton would be on the lee side “or the noisy side” of any turbines, since the prevailing winds are west to east.
Also speaking at the session were a group of Northeast Kingdom residents, all opponents to wind projects in their region. At least two of them have been arrested protesting the wind developments, and all said the Lowell Mountain and Sheffield wind projects had destroyed beautiful mountains and turned once-rural vistas “into industrial parks” with flashing lights all night long and noise.
The environmental impacts of the wind projects have put an “interstate highway on top of Lowell Mountain,” said Steve Wright, of Craftsbury, who was fish and wildlife commissioner during the Kunin administration in the 1980s.
Kissel said that members of Friends of Grafton’s Heritage were working to get a townwide review and vote on the town plan to prohibit any commercial or industrial-size wind projects in Grafton. And she defended not inviting representatives from Iberdrola to the meeting, saying they had their own informational sessions.
The Atlantic Wind project, if it is approved by the Vermont Public Service Board, would be the first commercial wind facility in Windham County.