Lowell wind project nears completion amid noise complaints

The Lowell Mountain wind towers as seen from Irish Hill. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 11-28-2012

LOWELL — All 21 turbines of the Kingdom Community Wind project have generated power, a spokesman for Green Mountain Power said Tuesday.  And with the project making power, it has beaten the December 31 deadline to qualify for federal production tax credits that should total between $40-million and $48-million over the next ten years, said the spokesman, Dorothy Schnure.

She emphasized that “every penny” of the tax credits “goes to lower the cost of power for our customers.”

Ms. Schnure stopped short of saying the project is complete.  “We still have some fine tuning work to do on them,” she said of the turbines.

Meanwhile complaints about noise continue to be heard from the project’s neighbors.  And the distances the turbines’ sound can travel continues to surprise people.

Mary Davis, who lives about four miles east in Albany, across the valley of the Black River and a little east of Page Pond, said she heard them early Monday morning.

“I was taking the old dog out for a three o’clock stroll,” Ms. Davis said.  “She’s almost 15, and when she’s got to go, she’s got to go.”

Ms. Davis found the sound novel, but hard to describe.  “It was just something different,” she said.

“It must be awful” for the project’s close neighbors, Ms. Davis commented, “if you can hear it this far back.”

On the other side of Lowell Mountain, on the Farm Road, one such neighbor arrived home from his overseas job late last week.

“At approximately 3 on the morning of November 25 I along with four of my house guests were woken by thumping noise that lasted for over two hours coming from the wind turbines behind my home,” Kevin McGrath wrote in an e-mail to Susan Paruch, a consumer affairs specialist at the state Department of Public Service.

“The noise was similar to a heavy object rotating in a clothes dryer,” Mr. McGrath wrote.  “Later on that morning at about 10 the noise levels penetrated my home and sounded like a waterfall gushing directly behind my home.”

Mr. McGrath lives in one of about 50 structures that sit inside a “1.5 mile buffer” drawn around the project by RSG, Inc., the White River Junction firm that drafted the final sound monitoring protocol for Green Mountain Power.  His home is also one of about 19 structures within a smaller zone where, RSG estimates, turbine sound will reach between 40 and 45 decibels outside the home.

In granting the project a certificate of public good, the state Public Service Board set sound limits at 45 decibels outside neighboring homes, and 30 decibels in their bedrooms.

The extended family of Don and Shirley Nelson celebrated Thanksgiving in their farmhouse, which also sits well inside the 40-to-45-decibel zone.

Among the 19 people present, Mr. Nelson said Monday, two suffered migraine headaches, and some thought their ears were going to pop.  “Some of their stomachs didn’t feel right,” Mr. Nelson said, “and I don’t think it was Shirley’s cooking.”

“Shirley can hear it in the house,” he said of the turbine sound.  “Her ears are ringing all the time now.  They never did before.  If we go away two or three hours, it stops.”

Mr. Nelson, who was one of the migraine sufferers, said it’s impossible to know what causes such a headache.  He added that he expects complaints from his household to be discounted by Green Mountain Power and state officials, because the couple has fought to stop the project since it was proposed.

At Green Mountain Power, Ms. Schnure said the utility has received two more noise complaints since a particularly noisy weekend surprised many Albany residents in early November.  Both of the recent complaints came from hunters, she said.

“If people have concerns about undue noise they should talk to us,” Ms. Schnure said.

The Public Service Board imposed strict noise limits on the project, she said, “and we will meet those standards.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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