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Vermont Neighbors Project gives voice to wind turbine noise victims

While the Public Service Board and lawmakers wrangle over decibel limits for wind turbines, residents who live near wind energy plants are turning to the Vermont Neighbors Project to share how they have been harmed by turbine noise.

“We started the Vermont Neighbors Project because we were sick of hearing the wind industry question the sanity, motives and integrity of their neighbors,” Energize Vermont President Mark Whitworth told True North. “We were sick of hearing distant neighbors minimize the turbine impacts in order to protect the tax breaks that they receive at the expense of those who live close to the turbines.”

Energize Vermont says the aim of the project is to “shine a spotlight on the treatment of Vermonters by the multi-billion-dollar wind industry” and expose how state government responds to problems reported by turbine neighbors.

The timing is right. The PSB is contemplating new sound rules for industrial turbines. Whitworth and other industrial-sized wind critics say the government has not protected citizens from harmful health impacts related to sounds and infrasound emitted from the 500-foot structures.

“We were sick of our state government’s failure to provide relief to the people whose lives have been turned upside down by industrial wind plants,” Whitworth said. “We started the Vermont Neighbors Project because people need to know what is happening to Vermonters when wind developers target their towns.”

He added that he is disturbed by videos published by wind industry lobbyists and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) that claim turbines don’t cause health problems. The Vermont Neighbors Project aims to show otherwise.

Gov. Phil Scott has stated that he supports newly proposed sound rules that call for a 39-decibel nighttime limit and 42-decibel daytime limit. Scott ran for office on a platform that called for a moratorium on new industrial wind projects, and he recently said he wanted to “protect our ridgelines in perpetuity.”

The Public Service Board has claimed the proposed decibel levels would be “as quiet as a library.” Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, doesn’t buy it.

“All these commentaries are not based on anything real,” Smith told True North. “If the libraries sounded like what the wind turbine neighbors had to live with, nobody would study in a library.”

She said library noise and turbine noise are different types of sounds in very different environments. For instance, turbines are built in areas with especially low background noise.

“An increase above 10 (decibels) is known to generate complaints, so the board at 39 is allowing an increase of 19. It’s too much,” she said.

In a recent op-ed, Smith cited another turbine problem that can’t be measured by decibel counts: infrasound.

“Infrasound cannot be heard, but it has been scientifically proven by recent studies to be a component of the acoustical profile of wind turbines. The vortexing pressure waves do not dissipate and can go out for miles.”

VPIRG did not return True North’s request for comment. However, the group is calling the proposed noise standards “a clear ban on wind.”

For Steve Therrien, the issue isn’t up for debate. The Therrien family, including two young children, fled their home of 20 years in Sheffield due to noise from a local industrial wind farm.

“It’s worse than they will even acknowledge,” Therrien said. “They really don’t acknowledge anything except for sleep deprivation, which is bad enough.”

Therrien said sleep deprivation was only the beginning of the problems his family experienced by living near turbines. “I started going to the doctors. I was having chest pains, vertigo problems, and I was worried that I was going to have to stop doing my work. I didn’t realize it was from the wind turbines at the time.”

Therrien reiterated the concern that state government has been absent when it comes to helping Vermonters living near wind farms.

“I called the 1-800 we-don’t-care (help number) and they say that they have a winter protocol so that they can avoid these things. That’s total [nonsense].”

He added that he got a text message back saying “everything was running normal.”