Friday, January 22, 2010

Are wind developers turning off the generators when hosting site visits?

There has been much discussion lately about industrial wind power on Vermont’s mountains. The Lempster, N.H., turbine site is often used as an example of a typical wind tower site, especially after Green Mountain Power’s Dec. 5 bus trip for Lowell residents.

I am a Vermont resident, but I have an insider’s perspective of the Lempster site. I own two pieces of land on Lempster Mountain, one of which has been in my family for over 70 years.

There are 12 turbines in Lempster, but because they are artfully sited on a mountain with a wide top, most of them appear to be tucked into the terrain instead of strung along a steep ridge in an intimidating line, like marching metal monsters from War of the Worlds. Because of how they are sited and the rolling terrain, it is difficult to see more than a handful of these towers from most viewsheds in Lempster.

I was in Lempster on Dec. 5 when Lowell area residents were visiting the site. During the entire time I was there, the blades of the turbines were most likely free-wheeling (not generating electricity) in the gentle breeze. When a turbine is free-wheeling it hardly makes any noise, and the blade tips are only barely bent backwards, such as was the case that day. I recently read a comment from one of the Dec. 5 bus riders, expounding on how quiet wind turbines are, based on what he heard that day.

Oh, I wish it were true.

When turbine blades are spinning in an average decent wind, the tips of these blades are moving at about 180 miles per hour and are bent back severely because of resistance to the wind. This resistance to the wind, plus the high speed of the tips, causes turbulence, which creates noise. The noise sounds like that of a stiff wind when one stands only a couple hundred yards away from the towers. But when one stands at a spot ½-mile to over 2 miles away, the sound is a low, dull, penetrating, throbbing series of never-ending pressure waves—hour after hour, day and night, sometimes for days on end, like Chinese water torture.

The Lempster turbines have been operating for about a year now. While I was hunting there this year, I noticed that I didn’t need a compass to orient myself in the deep, dark woods 2½ miles away so long as the turbines were throbbing.

On Dec. 5, I talked to two people who work for the town of Lempster. They told me that people are grieving their taxes because of noise. They also told me that the wind company has turned from being Mr. Friend before the project to being Mr. Foe now. The company is contesting the town’s assertion that the company’s massively heavy machinery caused road damage.

Will Vermont learn from the experiences of others? Not if people don’t have the facts. I submitted this piece to the Burlington Free Press two times and they never even contacted me.

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