Several neighbors of the Antrim wind turbines have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, the rulemaking body that governs wind farms, alleging they unlawfully changed interpretation of the rules around noise limitations on the Antrim Wind project.
Eight citizens and New Hampshire Wind Watch filed the lawsuit in Merrimack Superior Court. The group is asking the court to find a recent ruling of the SEC concerning how it interprets its noise rules void, and that it violated state law by failing to adopt rules “that address health and safety impacts.” It does not seek monetary relief, but asks the court to order the SEC to make rules that establish a time interval for assessing the compliance of noise requirements of wind energy facilities.
The nine-turbine project creates 28.8 megawatts of energy, and is located along the Tuttle Hill ridgeline. Lisa Linowes, one of the filing parties, said neighbors filed noise complaints immediately after the project came online in 2019.
Neighbors say the crux of the disagreement comes down to how the sound is measured. The wind farm is limited to a limit of 38 decibels at any residence in the evening hours. Antrim Wind Energy has submitted reports to the SEC indicating it is meeting that standard, when the sound is averaged over the course of an hour. Neighbors, however, say the SEC’s rules do not specify that the readings can be averaged, and there are moments when the sound peaks well above the limit.
The SEC charged a subcommittee in 2021 to review the current laws and rules to determine the existing requirements related to how sound should be measured. The subcommittee recommended the SEC consider initiating a rulemaking process to establish a definitive time limit where sound would be measured, after concluding the current rule wasn’t definitive. The SEC ultimately decided to allow averaging based on expert recommendations, in increments of five minutes or more. The suit alleges the matter should have gone through a rulemaking process which would have allowed for public input.
“Turbine noise is a real thing,” Linowes said. “It is actually highly disruptive to everyday life of people who live near them.”
Petitioner Lori Lerner said in the initial hearings for the wind farm, it was always her understanding that the sound standard was a hard cutoff.
“There was never any discussion of any level of averaging in the sound regulation. It was always to be an absolute noise standard,” Lerner said.
Petitioner Barbara Berwick said that “many, many times” sound has been above 40 decibels at her property at night.
“We live out here in the middle of nowhere on dirt roads because we wanted the quiet and peacefulness of it,” Berwick said.
Petitioner Janice Longgood said she is sometimes woken in the middle of the night by the noise.
“The entire atmosphere living here has changed dramatically,” she said. “They roar sometimes. I’m not trying to be obstructionist to the SEC, but I want them to follow the rules.”
“It’s really the sound that’s the problem. It just becomes unbearable,” said petitioner Erin Morrison. “It’s so loud, so jarring. Our house in on cinder blocks, and sometimes I think the sound is going to blow us right off the cinder blocks.”
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