From Friends of Maine Mountains

Long-Awaited Turbine Noise Emission Safeguards Up For Final Vote

This week the Maine Legislature has employed the “precautionary principle” in preliminary House and Senate actions on wind turbine noise emission rules.

LD 1793, which is the result of a 2011 Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) rulemaking, reduces allowable levels of turbine noise emissions for industrial wind developments, which are sometimes sited close to homes.

“Big wind projects are relatively new to Maine, but it didn’t take long for us to learn that these 45-story tall machines can keep people up at night,” said Friends of Maine’s Mountains President Chris O’Neil. “In every siting of a Maine wind project near peoples’ houses, we have had noise problems, sometimes bad enough to drive people from their homes. This new rule helps to prevent more of these conflicts, and it might help protect property values when wind turbines are built near homes.”

O’Neil applauds the BEP and Legislature for making human health a priority, as larger and more numerous turbines come to otherwise quiet places in Maine. There have been hundreds of studies about this mysterious and relatively new type of noise. While few studies have been able to conclude that the low frequency and alternating frequency turbine noise directly causes health problems, they almost universally say that the giant rotors cause sleep disturbance.  “In fact,” O’Neil said, “even as BEP was painstakingly researching and writing these rules for turbine noise emissions, a state health agency was reviewing a few recent studies that concluded the same thing: better safe than sorry.”

O’Neil referred to a February 27th memo written to the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology by Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Mary Mayhew.  In June, 2011, the Legislative Committee had asked DHHS for health information on turbine noise emissions.  In the memo, Mayhew informed the Committee that her agency (Maine Center for Disease Control) does not have the massive resources to adequately determine direct turbine health impacts, but that their light review of a few recent studies in other states confirms the occurrence of sleep disturbance near industrial wind turbines.

The BEP conducted its exhaustive rulemaking proceeding in the Summer and Fall of 2011.

“Unfortunately with such an elusive and insidious kind of noise it just isn’t easy,” O’Neil said, “toprove that windmills make people sick. But whether you’re fighting a cold or a cancer, the fight goes a whole lot worse if you’re also suffering from sleep deprivation. What we know is that people do not fare well when these things are built near them.  Acting on what we know, we took steps to protect people. It’s the precautionary principle, and it’s responsible government.  While we advocated for a quieter nighttime noise limit, this is an improvement for those unfortunate Mainers who live with 450 foot tall whooshing neighbors.”

LD 1793 is now moving through final enactment votes in the House and Senate.

 

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