It took a decade to approve a proposed wind farm along the ridgelines on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain. Residents of Antrim and Stoddard, along with Stoddard’s conservation commission and interests of existing power companies, fought the project tooth and nail, killing it once and getting its scope reduced a bit.
Among the concerns they raised were the potentially negative effects the project could have on property values, public health and safety, the environment and wildlife. Ultimately, though, Antrim Wind Energy was given approval in 2016 to install nine turbines in Antrim and Stoddard off Route 9 to generate a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity. The project was built and went online on Christmas eve last year.
During the whole, heated affair, opponents of the project threw out all kinds of objections, from assailing the efficacy of wind power itself to the prospect that winter snowshoers and skiers on nearby trails would be crushed by random chunks of ice hurled at high speeds from the spinning arms of the turbines. There are realistic dangers and annoyances to such a project, and then there are scenarios that, while possible, are so unlikely as to be nonfactors. Fortunately, no stable geniuses proposed the turbines to be a cancer threat.
There are, however, some very real issues with a wind farm. The visual impact – both aesthetically in the context of 500-foot-high metal blades erupting from an otherwise rustic country setting and in the flickering shadows they cast throughout the day – is a real issued to be weighed against the potential benefits and rights of the developers. So, too, is the necessary lighting at night to keep aircraft from hitting the towers or blades.
Then there’s noise.
When in operation, spinning turbines can generate a substantial noise, in addition to the hum of the generator. The blade sound might be described as a “swishing” or “whooshing” (by proponents) or a “whining” or “roaring” (by detractors). The noise varies with the speed at which the blades turn, but also with the direction of the wind, the temperature, even whether it’s raining or not.
The state set noise restrictions on the project in its approval; the sound measured at residential or other locations within a mile radius of the turbines cannot exceed 45 decibels during the day, or 40 db at night. The alternative noise limit is that it can’t be more than 5 db above the ambient noise.
Within a week of it going online, Antrim Wind had generated noise complaints from a neighbor. After a couple more residents added complaints, the SEC said it would have the sound engineer who originally measured the noise take new measurements at the complainants’ homes. That might seem a simple task, but months later, it was still bogged down as the SEC’s administrator negotiated with the company and the engineer over what protocol would be followed – where, how, when and for how long the sound would be measured, among other details.
By April, more complaints. One resident said the noise was scaring her children at night, and another said at one point, it sounded like a jumbo jet. Area lawmakers weighed in, writing to the SEC and taking issue with the noise testing, lighting issues and the lack of transparency with which the whole thing had been handled.
At a July 29 remote meeting, the SEC approved a request to retain expert technical support to review a post-construction sound-monitoring report. It also – again – delegated the job of investigating future noise complaints to Pamela Monroe, its administrator.
Allowing the wind farm to proceed was a controversial call by the committee and came after a decade of debate. We think it was the right call for the state, though destined to come at some quality-of-life costs for those nearest to the site.
Those residents have been complaining about the noise for more than half a year now, and seen little progress on evaluating their complaints. Sometimes, there isn’t a happy resolution. But the state needs to ensure the operator is being held to the standards set when the project was approved.