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Wind turbine noise generates controversy

ANCRAM – Wind turbines that were installed on Carson Road in 2011 have been fueling some controversy with neighbors over the past six months. While the windmills were supposed to be quiet, the neighbors say this is far from the case.

The issue first came to the Ancram Town Board’s attention in August 2012, and has been a regular feature of meetings ever since.

“There are still a lot of noise complaints from the neighbors,” Supervisor Art Bassin said Friday. “The town attorney is looking at the literature on wind turbine noise.”

The Zoning Board of Appeals issued special use permits for two turbines, on the property of Michael Gershon, in June 2010. At that time, board Chairwoman Leah Wilcox said she understood the turbines are so quiet that at 300 feet “you wouldn’t hear anything.”

The two were preceded by a third turbine on the nearby Pulver farm on Sawchuk Road. Not long after the Gershon windmills were approved, another turbine was given the go-ahead for the neighboring Crocco property on Carson Road.

Carson and Sawchuk roads are located on Winchell Mountain, on a ridge in a very windy location that faces the entire Hudson Valley, said Carson Road resident Joe Amato.

“There’s nothing to block the wind between here and the Hudson River,” he said.

When the sound waves from Gershon’s and Crocco’s windmills collide over Amato’s house, he said, “you get a clap of thunder. The whole house begins to shake.”

Amato’s house is located 400 feet from one windmill and 300 to 400 feet from another.

“Europe does not allow these within 1,600 feet of the property line,” he said. “(Ancram) does not have a noise ordinance. The town had a problem with barking dogs, so they put in a noise ordinance for dogs. This is a million times worse.”

Bassin said the information given to the ZBA by the applicants was that “the turbines were very quiet, not noisy at all. If that turns out not to be the case, that might be grounds for revoking the permit, if the applicants misrepresented the noise problems.”

The neighbors, he said, “are going berserk.”

He said 12 neighbors will sign affidavits as to the bothersome nature of the noises.

“I went over there on a couple of occasions in heavy wind conditions,” Bassin said. “It was like helicopters hovering.”

Amato said there are now 15 or 20 neighbors involved.

“Now there are people that are like a mile or two miles away that hear this thing,” he said. “One neighbor has horses. He says, ‘My horses are going crazy.’”

Amato said the problem is that these small, residential windmills produce electricity at wind speeds of eight to 15 mph.

“When the speed reaches 15, it is now going faster than the load it can produce on the generator,” he said. The rotor goes into “runaway,” and that’s what creates the noise.

This description was disputed by both the manufacturer and installer.

Doug Passeri of Hudson Valley Wind Energy, the installer of the turbines, said the sound from the turbines is below the town’s zoning requirements.

“The wind turbines will increase in speed with the wind speed,” said Mike Bergey, owner and operator of Bergey Wind Power, which puts out the world’s best-selling residential wind turbines. “About 32 to 40 mph, they will begin protecting themselves with ‘furling,’ turning themselves sideways to the wind. When the turbines are furling, they make more noise; in a choppy wind, there can be a chuffing sound over short periods.”

The problem, Bergey said, is that noise complaints are subjective.

“A sound you don’t consider annoying, others might,” he said.

He said he shipped a $600 noise level meter to one of the neighbors to take measurements. Amato said the neighbor measured 77 decibels at one point; Bergey said he found that hard to believe. He said he’d like to see the background on that reading as far as the measurements, conditions and the like.

“We haven’t seen that anywhere,” he said. “We sent it out because we knew what it would find was three to six decibels above background noise.”

Bergey said one of the Carson Road turbines had an issue with a rattling of part of the shell.

“That was a defect,” he said. “We worked to resolve it and it’s been taken care of.”

He said what the neighbors are talking about is “normal overspeed protection during storms.”

“Yes, during storms they make noise,” Bergey said. “Something in the six-to-eight decibels range noisier.”

He described the turbines as three-blade, upwind, horizontal access, propeller-type wind turbines.

“These are one-quarter the height and one-two-hundredth the size of a wind-farm turbine,” Bergey said.

He described the neighbors as “nimbys,” the acronym for “not in my backyard,” and said, “These are not the first nimbys our customers have run across. They’re like people who don’t want to see Walmart, power lines or cell towers.”

The Bergey 10,000-watt wind turbine is installed in 41 states and 61 countries, he said.

“We have a pretty good body of experience with it,” he said. “If it’s a helicopter sound, it’s a darn quiet helicopter.”

Amato said he would like to see the company put in a braking transformer, which he thought would solve the noise problem. But he doubted the company would do so, due to the expense.