Lowell wind: Neighbors sick and tired of turbine noise
by Chris Braithwaite
ALBANY — Jim and Kathy Goodrich have a nice home with a porch along the entire west side that overlooks acres of neatly trimmed lawn and, about a mile away, the long, sinuous ridgeline known as Lowell Mountain.
Now that view is dominated by the 21 towers of the Lowell wind project, their blades reaching 460 feet high. And the house is for sale at a discounted price.
“What I came here for is gone,” said Ms. Goodrich, a Wolcott native who worked for IBM in Chittenden County and then spent ten years with her husband in a landscaping business.
“This was going to be where I spent the rest of my life — quiet, peaceful, relaxed,” Ms. Goodrich continued. “But I can’t stay here.”
One of the features their home has lost is the quiet, the couple says.
“Sometimes they’re really loud,” Ms. Goodrich said. In one hot spell, with the bedroom windows open and two fans running, she recalls, “I could hear them over everything. It was some kind of roar.”
“It’s really hard to explain what it sounds like,” Mr. Goodrich said. “To me, it’s mechanized gears, but mixed in with a swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.”
He suspects that the turbines often exceed the limits imposed when the state Public Service Board (PSB) gave the project its certificate of public good. Mr. Goodrich sounds unconvinced by Green Mountain Power’s claim that its turbines have remained within those limits — 45 decibels outside, 35 inside — 99 percent of the time since they began to spin in late 2012.
Ms. Goodrich thinks the noise limits miss the point.
“I don’t doubt that most of the time they’re in compliance,” she said Monday. “But to me, those guidelines are too much for people to handle, hour after hour after hour.”
The couple is not sure whether the turbines are affecting their health. Mr. Goodrich recently experienced blade flicker for the first time, as the sun set behind the turbines and cast their moving shadows into the house.
“That really irritated me,” he said. As a young man, he said, he couldn’t go into a disco club because of the effect strobe lights had on him. “That night it really freaked me,” he said of the flicker.
As for the noise, Mr. Goodrich said, “I’ve got an idea it’s affecting my health, but I don’t know. I know it has an effect on our talking to each other. I get cranky. She gets cranky.”
“It’s frustrating,” Ms. Goodrich agreed. “It’s beyond our control. I can ask him to turn the TV down, but they don’t listen up there,” she added, gesturing to the turbines.
Underlying the couple’s personal concerns is their anger about the project’s environmental impact.
“For me it’s about what they did to the top of the mountain,” Ms. Goodrich said. “I’m a Vermonter. I respect what we have here. Now that it’s there it’s the interrupted views, the noise, the stress it’s brought into our lives. It’s everything.
“I wouldn’t have any problem in the world with green power,” she continued. “But it seems that they took away more green than they’ll ever give back.”
The third member of the household, a small dog named Sophie, “gets really skittish when the turbines are noisy,” Ms. Goodrich said. “At times I can’t get her to take a walk down the driveway.”
Molly Two lives just down the hill, where Goodrich Road meets the Eden Road. The big dog sticks close to Paul Martin if he takes her outside when the turbines are running. She has become gun shy, and she’s started going to the bathroom on the floor of the Martin house.
The Martins’ horses were spooked by the turbines at first, Mr. Martin said, but seem to have grown used to them now.
When the wind’s right they hear the turbines outside. Mr. Martin described the noise as “just a big rumble like a jet.”
“With a lot of that thud, thud thud,” his wife, Rita, added.
When he goes outside, Mr. Martin said, “my ears will start ringing to beat hell. They never did that before.”
As for Ms. Martin, he said, “She woke me up one night and said ‘My heart is pounding terrible.’ I could hear the thud thud from the towers.”
“For some reason my heart wanted to beat in that rhythm,” Ms. Martin recalled.
“We were told we wouldn’t hear them” by the people from Green Mountain Power, Mr. Martin said.
Since they’ve put an air conditioner in the bedroom the turbine noise doesn’t disturb their sleep, the Martins said, though they still hear them on some nights.
When they moved onto the Eden Road in 1974, their place was at the end of the road. Now, the Martins say, people wanting to view the turbines generate considerable traffic past their home.
They say they’ve thought about moving, but are not sure they could sell their homestead.
“Who’d buy it?” Ms. Martin asked with a shrug.
“What most bothers me is the destruction it’s done on top of the mountain,” Mr. Martin said.
“Paul’s taken both our kids up the mountain,” before the turbines arrived, his wife said. “Thank God he did, too. It will never be the same.”
A bit closer to the turbines, at her home on the Bailey-Hazen Road, Shirley Nelson has a list of symptoms that have arrived since the wind project started spinning. She has a ringing in her ears, and sometimes worse.
“This morning it felt like a pin sticking in my ear,” she said Monday. “I have headaches, usually around my temples but sometimes like a band wrapped right around my head.
“One of my daughters gets migraines within an hour of visiting our house,” Ms. Nelson added.
“Both Donny and I wake up in the middle of the night because it sounds like something coming out of the pillow,” she said, referring to her husband, Don. “I never said much about it, because I thought I was crazy.”
Then she found a research paper by Alec Salt, Ph.D., from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, entitled “Wind Turbines can be Hazardous to Human Health.”
He writes about very low frequency sound and infrasound, which wind turbines generate in turbulent winds. “Our measurements show the ear is most sensitive to infrasound when other, audible sounds are at low levels or absent,” Dr. Salt writes.
Thus infrasound can be most troublesome when other sounds are blocked by house walls or even a pillow, he continues. “In either case, the infrasound will be strongly stimulating the ear even though you will not be able to hear it.”
That can cause sleep disturbance, panic, and chronic sleep deprivation leading to high blood pressure, the paper says.
“Some days I am very tired,” Ms. Nelson wrote in an e-mail Monday. It is hard to stay awake on such days, she added, and “it is hard to concentrate and I find I am unable to do simple things like balancing a checkbook.”
The Nelsons routinely see turbine flicker in their home as the sun goes behind the towers. It sends shadows spinning slowly across their refrigerator, their floors and across the lawns outside.
“It’s just really annoying,” Ms. Nelson said.
Dislike of the turbines and their effects is not universal in the neighborhood. Albert and Esther Weber live a little west of the Martins on the Eden Road, just across the Lowell town line.
“I hear them, but they’re not offensive to me,” Mr. Weber said. “I figure the wind should do some good for a change. The wind ripped the roof off my house. It should make some electricity, and it should make our taxes go down.
“I love the windmills,” Ms. Weber said. “I’ve always loved windmills since I was a girl in school, and learned about Holland. When they said they were going to put some up here, I was thrilled.”
She likes to see the towers glowing on the mountain in the early morning light, and finds that the afternoon shadows flickering in the backyard “look kind of neat.”
Further down the road Carl Cowles said he hears the turbines almost all the time, and they bother him. “I think I hear them more at night than in the daytime,” Mr. Cowles added. “I do wake up, and I hear them. I don’t know exactly what woke me up.”
When he’s not traveling around the world on business, Kevin McGrath lives on the other side of the mountain on the Farm Road in Lowell. He recalls a visit from a friend, another Lowell resident who had voted in favor of the wind project. Mr. McGrath was complaining about the turbine noise.
“He said, ‘We’ll listen for the noise as soon as the jet plane goes away.’ I said, ‘That is the noise.’”
“It sounds like a plane that never lands,” he said. He measures the sound with a hand-held meter.
“At times it is under 45 decibels outside,” he reports. “You don’t have anything to say. This is the way it is.”
“People like myself, who have had the land for 20 or 25 years, aren’t used to this new intrusion into their lives. If you have a leaky faucet in your sink, is it below 35 decibels? Yes it is. But not being able to turn it off will drive you crazy. It’s an intrusion.”
Mr. McGrath has bombarded the Department of Public Service with complaints that the turbines have kept him and his guests awake at night. He’s currently asking Green Mountain Power (GMP) for detailed data about wind speed and other weather conditions, which he wants to pass on to his own, independent noise expert.
“They’re kind of waffling on that,” he said of GMP in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“We’re talking to Kevin,” GMP spokesman Dorothy Schnure said Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to talk with Kevin.”
But Ms. Schnure didn’t say GMP would provide the data he’s seeking. Instead, she emphasized that the utility stands ready to test any home near the project, to see how much its structure reduces outside noise. Then the utility would put an outside meter near the house, to provide an approximation of turbine noise inside the home.
So far, she said, “no one has taken us up on the offer.”
GMP announced last week that in a test period from May 22 to June 5 its project did not exceed the PSB noise limits.
However, in two earlier test periods noise exceeded the limits for a total of just over four hours, the release said.
The PSB has scheduled a hearing for August 8 to decide what sanctions should be imposed on GMP for the violations.
contact Chris Braithwaite at [email protected]