Speak Up….I Can’t Hear You Over the Blades!

8 09 2010

This was written for and originally published on www.cleanjourney.com and can be found under Commentary. For the purposes of considering “green issues”, I have called it Some Maintenance Required – which is a seemingly defunct blog title.

Are you busy, Arthur? Sort of, I'm protesting!

David Wylie is not a happy camper. He moved to Vinalhaven, Maine to escape the pressures of living in Concord, Mass and has owned property on the island for a number of years. But a three- bladed monster that only needs a gentle breeze to make it happy has ruined his perfect life.

I didn’t come up to Vinalhaven to live next door to a dishwasher,” whines Wylie, who actually believes that he can feel the noise of the wind turbines that have formed a part of the landscape on this picturesque piece of New England.

And Wylie is not alone in his irritation.

It feels like we are the guinea pigs for an experiment in public policy”, “You can feel the pressure on your chest”, “In the winter, it makes the hairs on your head stand up”, “there’s a whir, there’s a whoosh, and there’s a pulse like the bass from an annoying car radio”, “we were hoodwinked into this”, “we just want our lives back”.

To read these comments from residents in Vinalhaven in the Boston Globe last week you would think that one morning they got up, sleepily looked out of their window, thought “blades” and saw that (overnight) three 39 story wind turbines had appeared.

For anyone familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, this was exactly what happened to Arthur Dent when his house was to be demolished to make room for a bypass. Arthur then did what any reasonable person faced with an unexpected bureaucratic mess would do, he went outside and lay down “in the mud” in front of the bulldozers.

So why did the residents of Vinalhaven not make a stand when this renewable energy project was proposed? Why didn’t the town get together as a unit and take a vote as to whether they wanted these turbines in their backyard?

They did.

In July 2008, the ratepayers in the town voted by 383 to 5 IN FAVOR of allowing Fox Islands Electric Co-Operative – a company that is owned by ratepayers – to build the wind farm. One assumes that they were provided with all the information required to make a reasoned decision, including the decibel level that the blades would produce.

Apparently not.

According to Mr. Wylie “we were told we wouldn’t hear them,” a claim backed up by another unhappy resident, Art Lindgren, who spends his free time measuring the noise levels with self-bought equipment. According to this retired software consultant, the noise of the blades has reached an ear-shattering 49 decibels.

This is the equivalent of an air-conditioning unit operating constantly. It is below the level of a normal conversation occurring 5 feet away (60-70 db) and way below the level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss (90-95 db).

It is significantly quieter than the vuvuzela!

Sssssh.....I'm listening to the wind turbines.

Now, if the residents are correct and the operation/noise of the blades vastly outweighs the environmental benefits of electricity delivered through a renewable energy source or the price that they are currently paying for electricity, then they might have a valid argument.

But the residents of Vinalhaven aren’t even united in their opposition to the noise of the turbines. Some people actually like the sound that the blades make, they consider it to be relaxing!

So is the Vinalhaven wind farm actually breaking the noise limit – 55 db during the day, 45 db at night – imposed by the state to ensure that businesses and residents do not constitute a noise nuisance to others?

According to Fox Islands Co-Operative the answer is an unsurprising No, but there have been more than a dozen complaints filed with the state. This is where the problems begin, as it leads to other communities questioning as to whether they would be happy with the technology being implemented/installed in their region.

For every person that sees the benefits of renewable energy there is another who asserts the time-honored cry of “Not In My Backyard!”

Wind turbines and the power generated by them are a hot news topic at the moment.

Cape Wind, the proposed building of 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound (Mass), is currently the subject of key state hearings where the utility pricing will be decided. Several weeks have been set-aside for those for and against the wind farm to present their arguments and to (hopefully) progress the project to a state where some sort of construction can take place. It has taken 9 years to get to this stage.

Vinalhaven residents have 3 wind turbines to worry about. Cape Wind will be a maximum of 130 turbines across 25 square miles of Nantucket Sound, which (when operational) will be enough to meet 75% of the power needs of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

And will be built 5 miles offshore from Cape Cod.

Whilst noise levels may not be the overriding factor in a project such as Cape Wind, there are still legions of NIMBY’s such as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, who have bitterly opposed the “wind park” since Day One, that seem to be concerned not with the benefits that such a venture may bring but with the disruption that it will cause in their own lives.

We are in a transitional period in energy creation and, at this moment in time, we don’t have a blueprint to follow. All we can do is take faltering steps into the wilderness of uncertainty and hope that the direction we take will be the right one.

Renewable energy sources must become a functional replacement for what we already have, have parity with the prices that consumers are accustomed to paying and ultimately (in order to gain support from the majority) be seen to bring as little disruption to communities as possible.

Some residents of Vinalhaven may not want to live next door to a dishwasher, but that piece of machinery operates at a decibel level of 50. And only for a short time.

Future generations may not want to live on a planet that has been ravaged by previous inhabitants, more concerned with the noise of a wind turbine than with the damage that long-term reliance on non-renewable energy sources will continue to inflict upon the environment.

The Locust Generation needs to start thinking beyond their relatively short lifespan.

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