CLARKSBURG – News that noise coming from the wind turbines in the Hoosac Wind project exceeded state standards has some of the project’s neighbors calling for action, and others shrugging their shoulders.
“My expectation is for that project to comply with state standards,” said Larry Lorusso, who lives about a mile from the project in Clarksburg. “During the day, the noise is a nuisance. But at night it’s worse. At night, it goes from being a nuisance to making me really angry. And when the wind’s out of the east it blows (the noise) this way.”
About a mile down the road, across the border in Stamford, Vt., Peter Haviland doesn’t really notice the noise much.
“When I can hear them it’s sort of a gentle ‘whooshing’ sound, and it’s very faint,” Haviland said. “You have to stop and listen for it.”
He said he can hear the turbines when he’s outside his house, which is a little over a mile from the Hoosac Wind turbines, about 5 to 10 percent of the time. When he’s inside, he can’t hear them at all, even with the windows open.
“I have never, ever heard them while I was in the house,” Haviland said.
Both Haviland and Lorusso said many of their neighbors are not bothered by the noise.
Responding to noise complaints, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requested that an independent noise study be conducted, according to Edmund Coletta, spokesman for the DEP. With 19 turbines capable of generating 1.5 megawatts, Hoosac Wind started operating in Florida and Monroe in December 2012.
The 2013 noise study didn’t show any violation of the state standard of 10 decibels over the ambient noise level from Hoosac Wind.
But it did show the need for another test under different weather conditions, which was conducted during January and February 2014.
Of these tests, there were three instances where the noise exceeded the 10 decibel level by as much as 7 decibels.
“That is a violation under state standards,” Coletta said, noting the project’s owner, Iberdrola Renewables, will “have to mitigate – put in practice a policy that will bring (the noise level) below state standards.”
On Jan. 9, at a site near Tilda Hill Road in Florida, ambient – or background – noise was 32.2 decibels. With the turbines operating the noise level was measured at 42.4 decibels, or 0.2 decibels above the state standard. On Moores Road, ambient noise was 26.7 decibels. With the turbines on, it was 37.5 decibels – or 0.8 decibels over the limit.
On Feb. 20, at the Tilda Hill Road site, ambient noise was 27.8 decibels – with turbine noise it was measured at 44.8 decibels. That is 7 decibels over the state standard.
On Moores Road, ambient noise was 27.5 decibels. Operating turbines brought that up to 44.4 decibels, 6.9 decibels over the limit.
According to information posted by the American Academy of Audiology, leaves rustle at 20 decibels, a whisper averages about 30 decibels, the noise in a quiet library averages about 40 decibels, and a normal conversation will register at 60 decibels.
In response to notification of project’s exceeding the state’s noise standards, Iberdrola Renewables notified the state that mitigation plans will be implemented by the end of the year.
Because the louder noise generation was caused by icing on the turbine blades, the project owner will be introducing “trailing edge serrations” on the blades to reduce the affects of icing and a new “operational protocol” during icing events.
“The Hoosac Wind Farm has a strong commitment to being a good neighbor and a partner with our community,” said Paul Copleman, spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables. “In the normal course of trying to be a good neighbor we have been working closely with the Massachusetts DEP and Resource Systems Group Inc., an independent sound consultant based in Vermont, and conducting sound studies.”
He said as a result of the sound studies, a plan has been implemented.
“The Hoosac Wind Farm will deploy various technologies in the coming months,” Copleman said. “These include modifications to the blades of the wind turbines, implementation of a sound reduction protocol when ice is present on the blades, and a study to address any mechanical noise sources. We’ve shared all of these efforts with our neighbors and partners and are committing to having these initiatives completed prior to the winter of 2014.”
The idea that one neighbor can hear more noise from the turbines than another neighbor nearby was addressed in an independent Health Impact Study commissioned by the DEP and issued in January 2012.
“Propagation of sound is affected by refraction of sound due to temperature gradients, reflection from hillsides, and atmospheric absorption,” the study reported. “Propagation effects have been shown to lead to different experiences of noise by neighbors.”
The study goes on to say that the “audible, amplitude-modulated noise from wind turbines (’whooshing’) is perceived to increase in intensity at night (and sometimes becomes more of a ‘thumping’) due to multiple effects.”
Those effects include a more stable atmosphere at night and a lower level of ambient noise “both because of the stable atmosphere and because human generated noise is often lower at night.”
Coletta noted that for many homeowners neighboring a wind project, the transition from undisturbed environment to a developed power source can be difficult.
“We understand that and hope that mitigation will allow folks to reach common ground – that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.
For Haviland, who retired from teaching language arts and history at Conte Middle School six years ago, since he hardly ever hears the turbines, the noise violation was not a big deal.
“The way the climate is changing, we have to do something,” Haviland said. “And I see these turbines as the Model T. Can they get better? Yes. Will they get better? Yes.”
Lorusso, a retired photographer, laments the loss of habitat due to the development of the wind project, and hopes society in general will eschew industrial wind for more small-scale solar opportunities.
He heats his home with wood he gathers on his property and runs his diesel Mercedes with used vegetable oil when he can.
“We as individuals have to take control of our lifestyles and conserve our resources,” he said.
As for reported health risks associated by some with nearby wind turbines, the Health Impact Study determined that “none of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood-pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine.”
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