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Wind Power and the Thrum of Lawsuits

A wind turbine on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. Photo by Lois Parshley.

I encountered my first wind turbines in the early 1980s when, on a family holiday to the Pacific coast, my father drove through the Altamont Pass Wind Farm in northern California. Four siblings and I jammed our faces against the back windows of my old man’s Econoline van for a lasting look at those diffident sentinels, too many to count, their giant blades racing in the summer heat. They were thoroughly appealing, these towers, even as they brought to mind the villains of John Christopher’s classic Tripods Trilogy. They looked, to us, like the future.

Altamont was once the biggest wind farm in the world, in terms of power generating capacity. It is also a prodigious killer of birds, including Golden Eagles. Turns out the blades on the Altamont turbines – so giant in span to an eight-year-old – are small by recent standards. The smaller the blades, the more likely they are to kill avians.

Are the 1.1 terrawatt-hours of clean energy produced each year at Altamont worth the deaths of the estimated 9,300 birds (including 2,200 raptors) that the facility had been killing each year? In 2010, spurred by lawsuits by the state’s Audobon Society, a major operator of the Alameda turbines agreed to either convert 2,400 of the 1980s-vintage towers to newer turbines or shut them down by 2015.

Wind energy will save us, some say. It powers my apartment in New York. Wind farms slow the wind, research shows. They may (and it seems logical they would) affect pollination. Turbines might one day be replaced by fantastical high-altitude, power-generating kites, if Google has its way. But for now they are proliferating. They’re cool, they’re clean — and apparently they can be quite loud.

In this guest post, journalist Lois Parshley takes an in-depth look at the legal and cultural battle over wind turbines on the small island of Vinalhaven, off the coast of Maine, and at its implications for communities across the United States.

“On Vinalhaven, on Nantucket, in the Pacific Northwest – all across the country as green energy gains traction – reactions to wind projects are elucidating larger American values,” Parshley writes. “If Vinalhaven is any example, American individualism may struggle to find a place in the new green economy.”

Note: This piece, which was first researched in 2010 and 2011, has been revised since its original publication to reflect current electricity rates on Vinalhaven Island. The article has also been corrected to reflect that David and Sally Wylie are not parties to the current case before the Maine Superior Court. The article also initially misstated the name of the resident who suffered a heart attack at a 2011 meeting of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative. Further, due to a typographical error, the article as originally posted stated that George Baker had “founded” an entity to purchase renewable energy credits from the wind turbine project. The corrected sentence now reads, “Baker also found a third-party company to buy five million dollars in other federal tax credits that the co-op couldn’t, and wrangled a low-interest loan for the remaining funds.”

Parshley headshotOn Island

A small town in Maine highlights the stress points of the expanding green economy.

Inside the filthy truck, a grizzled man lay in the reclined passenger’s seat, fast asleep. “I’m the bird man,” Richard Podolsky introduced himself after waking, shaking the sleep from his mane. Podolsky was in charge of ornithology studies around the three wind turbines recently built on Vinalhaven Island, thirteen miles off the coast of Maine. He’d seen three eagles that morning before retiring to nap during a rainsquall.

Vinalhaven’s turbines rise almost 400 feet above the horizon, visible before the pine and granite shores of the island itself. As the largest of Maine’s fifteen year-round island towns, until recently Vinalhaven was connected to the mainland by a power cable that runs under Penobscot Bay. Energy loss from the cable and the high cost of running power thirteen miles under the ocean made electricity prices three times the national average. So when a wind project was proposed in 2008, people jumped at the chance to lower their bills. Construction started at a breakneck pace in June of 2009, and the turbines began to spin less than five months later. School on Vinalhaven was canceled for the day and children performed a “wind mill dance” at the opening ceremony. Within months, the average electricity rate on Vinalhaven dropped to six cents, below the national average. At first, the turbines worked better than anyone had hoped, actually generating excess power that was sold back to the mainland.

That’s when the trouble began. Most of Vinalhaven’s 1,165 year-round residents supported the project, but within a week of powering up, several families living within half a mile of the towers began to complain about the turbines’ noise. A few months later, battle lines were drawn and the thrum of legal filings began to compete with the whoosh of the turbines.

***

On the ferry from the mainland, the turbines slowly disappear as the boat threads its way through the lobster traps into Vinalhaven harbor. To come home here is called being “on-island.” As in, “He’s on-island.” On Vinalhaven’s narrow roads, there is an unspoken rule to wave to passing cars. Islanders often leave their keys on the dashboards of their cars. This is an island you can visit once and later be greeted in the grocery store by several people you know. Community is unavoidable.

The evening in 2010 that I arrived on the last ferry from the mainland, Dick Morehouse taped a brightly colored paper sign reading “Welcome Home!” to the panes of his weathered front door. Lee Morehouse, a sharp, small woman, pulled out the Vinalhaven phonebook, pointing to the turbines on a map pinned to the wall. The wind gusted against the single-paned windows of their unheated kitchen.

Photo by Lois Parshley.
Photo by Lois Parshley.

The Morehouses are close to the heart of the windmill conflict: their son-in-law, Philip Conkling, is president of the Island Institute, a community development organization. Maine’s Speaker of the House approached the institute when Vinalhaven applied to the state legislature for an exemption from the state’s electricity deregulation law. The law, which declared power generation companies must be separate from transmission and distribution companies, made it illegal for the island’s electricity cooperative to generate its own electricity, effectively preventing wind projects. Thanks in part to Conkling’s efforts, Vinalhaven was granted an exemption.

It was during this process that Philip Conkling met a skinny man at one of the meetings the Island Institute hosted. George Baker was a volunteer treasurer for a nearby island’s electric co-op – and a Harvard Business School professor about to begin a sabbatical. Baker wore thin metal glasses, long floppy bangs, and a charismatic smile, and he quickly became a central figure in the Vinalhaven controversy.

Baker spent his sabbatical on-island advocating for Vinalhaven’s wind project. He spent a second year on unpaid leave to finish the job. Baker was the one who decided that the project should be scaled to generate roughly the amount of energy the community would use in a year, and how much that would be, which was how three turbines, each producing 1.5 megawatts, ended up above Seal Cove. Islanders were inclined to listen to the enthusiastic outsider.

It was Baker who figured out how to finance the $15 million project. As Fox Islands Electric Cooperative was a non-profit, it couldn’t utilize the government’s tax incentives. So Baker created a for-profit electric company called Fox Islands Wind that was eligible for the 30 percent federal income tax break. Under Baker’s direction as nominal CEO, Fox Islands Wind would own the turbines and sell their power to the co-op at the cost it takes to produce; Baker himself purportedly earns nothing from the project. Baker also found a third-party company to buy five million dollars in other federal tax credits that the co-op couldn’t, and wrangled a low-interest loan for the remaining funds.

Next, the island had to decide where to put the turbines. Three locals offered to lease the community a parcel of land on the highest hill of Vinalhaven, an abandoned stone quarry with three years of collected wind data and an average wind speed of 13 miles an hour. It was not in the middle of town, not on the coast, and not around a lot of “summer people,” as islanders call families with second homes. It appeared to be a perfect site, and construction was soon under way.

Tristan Jackson, the owner of the island’s local coffeeshop, is able to sit companionably in silence with a stranger in the way of someone accustomed to time at sea. As one of the two islanders sent to research Samsø, a Danish island that uses 100 percent wind power, Tristan said he’d focused on community reactions during Samsø’s transition. No one there, he noted, complained about noise. Once the blades started spinning on Vinalhaven though, everyone soon agreed there was a basic, inescapable problem: Vinalhaven’s turbines were audible.

At most, the turbines can be heard for three-quarters of a mile. Of the thirty within that radius, some families say they don’t hear the turbines or the noise isn’t an issue. But for the Wylies, the Lindgrens, and other families, it was devastating.

***

When Cheryl Lindgren opened her front door, I didn’t know what to expect. “Who are you?” she asked, pulling her red jacket closer and stepping out onto the porch. The Lindgrens were extensively quoted in a New York Times article published in 2010, which caused tremendous stress on the island; since then Cheryl had been wary of strangers asking questions. She rubbed her hands together in the chill morning air. “I don’t really have time to talk,” she said. “One of my ducks has bumble foot, and the veterinarian is off-island. We’re going to have to cut the abscess ourselves.” She shook her head. “The noise has them constantly stressed. They’ve been off their feed for months.” She suggested I talk to the Wylies and pointed me in their direction, one or two dirt roads over the hill.

“Try to imagine if someone was tapping you all the time. At first it wouldn’t bother you. But over time you just become really sensitized and irritated,” Sally Wylie said. On her back deck, the turbines were visible, spinning slowly over the last red leaves in the maple grove surrounding their house. “They go WHOO-WHOO,” she said. “I’ve become very sensitive to it. I’ll be walking down the road and I’ll hear it. It comes through the walls, and lately I’ve been getting headaches.” Standing still, I could hear a faint mechanical rumble, like a highway heard from far away.

“We went to every single informational meeting,” Sally said. “George Baker, the man in charge, said the ambient noise of the wind in the trees would cover the noise of the turbines.” She paused to let me listen. “It doesn’t.”

In 2008, the island electrical co-op hired Resource System Engineering to do a study on the sound potential of the turbines. The only available public summary of the document shows a map circling the properties within three fourths of a mile of the turbines. The document suggests those within the boundary might have sound concerns. The co-op never shared this information with the neighbors, and hired Acentech, another firm, which produced a second study saying the noise of the turbines would be covered by ambient sound.

The Wylies say their property has lost value since the turbines were built. “We were supportive,” Sally said in 2010. “But anyone who buys out here is going to buy for the peace and quiet. If someone had said, ‘Do you support the turbines,’ we would have said yes. If they had said, ‘Do you want to throw in an extra $200,000 in support,’ we would have said, ‘Gee, no, we can’t afford that.’ And that’s what’s happened.”

The Wylies want a property guarantee from the island electrical co-operative to help them sell. “We don’t leave lightly,” Sally said. “We’ve been summering here for 18 years. We just moved here full-time. Our kids helped build this house. But we’re in a real Catch-22.”

***

The island electric cooperative has faced its own financial troubles. The complicated financial structure left some critics of the project fearing that Baker was in it for the money. When I asked Tristan Jackson if he thought Baker had acted in good faith, he said, “That’s an opinion I have no opinion about.” After the neighbors of the wind farm hired legal counsel, George Baker has refused to talk to the Wylies or to the local group opposing the turbines, Fox Island Wind Neighbors (FIWN). He declined to be interviewed for this piece.

In August of 2010, FIWN submitted data that purported to show the turbines were out of compliance with state noise regulations. A group of neighbors dug into their savings to collect their own data about the turbines’ noise. “George told the islanders at the most recent co-op meeting, ‘Every time these people complain it costs you money,’ because if we turn in a complaint, they have to defend themselves,” Sally Wylie said. “So islanders are angry. But what were we supposed to do, say nothing when our home is ruined?”

Neighbors collected data from the turbines that showed noise spikes five decibels over state limits, and an average noise that slightly exceeds Maine night-time regulations of 47 decibels – which is about as loud as an average conversation. They asked the co-op to slow the spin of the turbines, which would raise electricity costs for the rest of the island, and could potentially make the turbines quieter.

In the autumn of 2010, consultants from Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection found that in some conditions the turbines did exceed state noise limits. Fox Islands Wind disputed this analysis, claiming the state did not use standardized methods to separate turbine noise from background noise, including the sound of wind in the trees. Still, the state issued a notice giving Fox Island Wind sixty days to ensure that its turbines were in compliance at all times.

State regulations are designed to set basic minimum standards, but sound is one of those strange things that science still can’t fully explain; we know that some people are more strongly affected than others by different volumes, and no one knows exactly why. The Wylies are as upset about all the furor as anybody. Sally Wylie told me, “Who wants to be the negative person? This is not fun. We were told this wouldn’t happen.”

Then she continued, “These turbines are an assault on rural America. It doesn’t cost George a penny, and we are spending our Christmas money. Chip Farrington, the manager of the co-op, said at the most people are saving $26 a month.” Sally gestured upward as the blades continued their imperturbable spin. The wind blew through the trees. In the background was the faint industrial murmur. “We have all of this for $26 a month?”

 ***

If each family saved $26 a month, Vinalhaven collectively saved an average of $374,400 in that first year. In a community with veterans living off Social Security and lobstermen making $5 a pound, that’s a significant amount of money.

Since then however, electricity prices have climbed on Vinalhaven even as they’ve fallen on the mainland. In 2010, the first full year that the turbines were on-line, islanders paid 8.82 cents per kilowatt-hour, slightly lower than the state average of 8.94 cents, according to data from the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Since then, energy rates on the island have continued to increase while those on the mainland have gone down. The 2012 average energy rate on the island was 10.9 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with a state average of 6.91 cents.

What happened? Charles “Chip” Farrington, general manager of the co-op, said in an interview that some of the difference is due to costs the utility has incurred in defending itself against regulatory complaints and for sound monitoring. This has added, he said, approximately two cents per kilowatt-hour to residents’ power bills. Another factor, Farrington said, was variability in the price the co-op has to pay for additional power from the mainland during the summer, when the wind is low and the population more than doubles, and the income it receives for selling electricity back to the grid during the winter when demand is lower and the wind is more powerful. While rates are currently low on the mainland thanks to a glut of natural gas, Farrington said, they are subject to normal market volatility, and could go up any time. Islanders, he maintained, would benefit in the long term from the turbines.

Fox Islands Wind Neighbors has suggested a different reason for the higher rates, one that deflects responsibility from their opposition and back toward the project’s authors. Included in the project’s original plan, the neighborhood group noted in a recent blog post, was the assumption that Fox Islands Wind would earn more than $355,000 a year from the sale of renewable energy credits. The market for renewable energy credits, they say, has since crashed. “No longer would FIW receive $355,437, but more like $37,171,” the blog post claims. “This translates to an increase of about 3 cents per kwh for island energy costs.”

Citing a confidentiality agreement, Farrington said he could not comment on transactions involving energy credits. “I can say,” he added, “that any benefit from any REC transaction will go straight to the cooperative’s ratepayers.” Conkling added that rates in the Massachusetts market for renewable energy credits were in fact going up, “and will likely benefit ratepayers when  a new agreement is reached in the near future.” In May 2010, the electric co-op surveyed its members on their attitudes to the turbines. Of the 515 members who responded, 95 percent said they supported the turbines. The co-op hasn’t performed another survey since then, Farrington said.

For some opponents of the turbines, it was galling enough to be told they would have to suffer the noise pollution for the greater good of the island. At the moment, they are also seeing an increase in their electricity rates.

***

On the way from visiting the turbines and the neighbors in 2010, I stopped at the Vinalhaven Historical Society, a white clapboard building with a musty back office. Three women of indeterminable age were chatting when I walked in. “Oh the wind, the wind is wonderful,” Lorraine Bunker said. “But people have gotten pretty riled up about it. I heard one person say he won’t be happy until the turbines are shut down. I also heard someone say just wait until hunting season, maybe there’ll be an ‘accident.’” Another woman walked in behind me, wearing a silver lapel pin in the shape of a windmill. A chorus of, “Hi Priscilla’s” echoed around the room. “I love them, though,” Lorraine continued. She had a thick Maine accent, her vowels broad and her “r’s” dropped completely. “I think you are going to hear that pretty much everywhere. Even some of those who are up that way don’t mind at all.”

Vinalhaven Island. Photo by Lois Parshley.
Vinalhaven Island. Photo by Lois Parshley.

Lorraine conceded that the whole thing had gotten a little out of hand. “I think in the beginning people were concerned and felt sorry for the Wylies, but they’ve been so negative and gone so far into the media.” She paused. “Very little is said about the positive and the people who live here and really appreciate and enjoy these turbines. I think most of us have lost patience.” Priscilla piped in. Her voice was high-pitched with age. “Fox Island Wind has bent over backwards, too. They haven’t shoved it under the carpet and said ‘Tough patooties,’ you know. They’ve tried to come to a solution.”

The Historical Society has a huge manila envelope of yellowed and torn newspaper clippings, which divulged that Vinalhaven once had diesel generators. Lorraine explained, “We three were born and raised here, and when we were young there was a power plant down by the ferry that had a constant hum. It was loud, diesel generators right in town, and I remember going to sleep at night with that sound. It never bothered me. You were used to it, and you knew if you wanted to have power that was the way it had to be. No one questioned it.” Priscilla added, “People who think the wind turbines are noisy are people who came recently to the island, to get the tranquility, and that’s part of the problem.”

The third woman spoke up softly for the first time. “I hear the lobster boats leaving every morning,” she said. “But the noise is just people going to work. That’s what it takes to live on an island.”

***

In his sunny kitchen in 2010, Philip Conkling told me over a cheese sandwich that in rural areas the people who are working usually have no issue with the noise that wind projects make. It is people who have moved to the country for peace and quiet that are typically the most bothered. At the time, Vinalhaven’s electricity rates were slightly lower than those on the mainland.

“The islanders hear the noise and say wow, our power bills are going down. The transplants – who typically have much higher incomes – they hear those noises and it is an assault on their property values, their piece of mind.” He sighed, wiping an errant drop of mustard. “Most transplants know better than to take a stand because they are usually in the minority. I try to put myself in the Lindgren’s shoes. It’s driving them crazy, they are really upset. If I were really upset and everyone else were benefitting, my strategy to make the turbines slower probably wouldn’t be to piss everyone else off.”

In 2010 Conkling said, “Maybe we will have to turn them down a tiny bit. One decibel isn’t going to make a difference in what they hear. Even two decibels won’t. They want the turbines slowed substantially, and of course that will cost everyone else money.” In April of 2011, Fox Island Wind announced that the turbines would be slowed slightly to meet state standards, raising everyone’s electricity rate by $5.59 a month, about a 5 percent increase. Another increase followed in November 2012. The dispute has continued in Maine Superior Court, where seven neighbors — the Wylies not among them — are currently seeking to overturn a sound monitoring plan approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection that allows the turbines to continue operation.

“Islands are motivated by lifeboat ethics,” Philip Conkling told me in 2010. “Everyone is in the same lifeboat. People think they are going to move to islands and be hermits, and it’s just absolutely the opposite case. People are thrust together with each other. That’s why island communities are so powerful – because you can’t avoid them.” He continued, “The Wylies and the Lindgrens, their strategy should have been to say, ‘Hey. We’re your neighbors. You’ve got to help us. You can’t just throw us out of the lifeboat, you can’t feed us to the sharks.’ Instead, they went over the heads of the islanders to the mainland and the newspapers. Is it any surprise the islanders have hardened?” He shook his head. “It’s too bad, because some kind of accommodation could be made. Island life is,” he paused, looking for the right words. “You are all in it together.”

Sally Wylie later echoed Conkling’s sentiment, although from a very different perspective. “There’s an ethical question,” she said, staring up at the spinning turbines. “Do you sacrifice the small part of the population and just focus on what the majority wants? Why didn’t they just say, this isn’t really working, this is a lot louder than we thought. We’re a community. We have a problem, but we’re part of the community package. It’s not like you can throw us out with the laundry.”

The turbines were expected to be well-suited to Vinalhaven, because the benefits were predicted to be co-located with the costs. But even on an island barely fifteen square miles, it seems the costs were perceived quite differently. The crux of the matter is most apparent in the difference between Samsø’s transition to wind power and Vinalhaven’s. Samsø’s flat coastland geography is quite different from Vinalhaven’s granite quarries and ridgelines, which may amplify the noise pollution. But the difference in community reaction can’t be explained just by the landscape. Tristan Jackson said it seemed like roughly a quarter of the people on Samsø were also initially troubled by their wind projects. Yet no Danes have spoken out against the turbines, and there wasn’t ever this kind of public furor. A common Danish proverb goes, “If it’s good for everybody, it’s good for me.” This different understanding of collective good may have helped Samsø weather their transition to green energy comparatively cordially. On Vinalhaven, on Nantucket, in the Pacific Northwest – all across the country as green energy gains traction – reactions to wind projects are elucidating larger American values. If Vinalhaven is any example, American individualism may struggle to find a place in the new green economy.

The pressures causing energy prices to rise are not going to go away, on islands or in cities. Renewable energy is increasingly necessary – and inevitable. With these mounting tensions, the question remains how communities, both large and small, will adapt, and who will pay when projects fall short of their promises. The transition will be easier for some than for others. “I understand that if we run short of energy, the entire continent will be deforested and you won’t be able to hear wind in any trees at all,” Tristan Jackson said, squinting in the sunshine outside his coffee shop. “We’ve got to give a little.”

At a 2011 meeting of the island’s electrical co-op, Art Lindgren dropped to the floor with a heart attack. Another resident  leapt up and began to give perform CPR, saving Lindgren’s life. As Conkling is fond of saying, Vinalhaven can’t afford to leave anyone behind.

Lois Parshley is a freelance journalist and photographer. Follow her on Twitter @loisparshley.

Comments

  1. George Fleming
    Mount Vernon, Ohio
    June 24, 2013, 4:59 pm

    The following is excerpted from http://truth-out.org/news/item/17184-oil-industry-must-pay-for-its-waste:

    …Right now, the fossil fuel industry is the only industry in America that doesn’t pay to have its waste disposed of. That waste is known as carbon dioxide.

    As a result, you and I are forced to pay the costs for their waste; costs that come in the form of massive disaster cleanup efforts, species loss across the world, and possibly even the eventual extinction of most life on Earth.

    In an interview with Jeff Goodell for Rolling Stone magazine, Professor Harold Wanless, the chair of the University of Miami’s geological sciences department, said that if we continue to do nothing to fight the devastating effects of climate change, the city of Miami could be completely devastated.

    Wanless said that thanks to climate change and rising ocean levels, Miami is on its way to becoming the American version of the lost city of Atlantis.

    The professor went on to say that, “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed.”

    …Some way of accounting for the real costs of carbon is desperately needed if we want to have any hope of combatting the greatest threat that this planet has ever faced.

    Meanwhile, while we’re paying the costs for the fossil fuel industry’s waste, the industry is shelling out millions to lawmakers in Washington, in attempts to ensure that they are never forced to pay for their own waste cleanup.

    But it won’t be easy.

    Oil and gas companies have doled out more than $238 million to political candidates and parties since 1990, and of that $238 million, 75% has gone to Republicans.

    According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in the 2011-2012 election cycle, Big Oil giant Chevron Corporation spent more than $3.8 million on campaign donations, while ExxonMobil spent another $2.7 million.

    And, to make matters even worse, Big Oil benefits from over $4 billion in tax breaks each year, and estimates suggest that annual fossil fuel industry subsidies range anywhere from $10 billion to $52 billion annually.

    The easiest way to stop this damage to our planet is by introducing a carbon tax.

    As soon as a carbon tax is applied, all of the clean and green energy alternatives to fossil fuels become economically viable, while fossil fuels become more expensive.

    As a result, the fossil fuel industry will almost be forced to invest in cleaner and greener forms of energy, in order to stay in business.

    Imposing a carbon tax is nothing new either.

    The European Union has had a carbon market in place since 2005, and China is working feverishly to establish a national carbon emissions cap and trade program.

    In fact, that nation just launched its first carbon cap and trade program in the highly industrialized city of Shenzhen.

    The stakes are high: The fate of planet Earth versus money from the fossil fuel industry.

  2. Mike D.
    June 20, 2013, 12:19 am

    Nat.Geo. covers the road building and ruinous development in the rain forest well. How about a story on the Maine forest ? It is rapidly disappearing as the wind industry partners with the big landowners to demolish the mtns. and ridges. There is no excuse except greed. Wind turbines spew more C02 into the air while being mined. smelted, transported, etc. than they can ever repay spinning at under 20% efficiency. Make sure you do not rely on the wind industry for your facts. They are known for grossly exaggerating and outright lying. They mistakenly think by repeating something enough times it becomes truth.

  3. Mike D.
    Lincoln, Maine
    June 20, 2013, 12:07 am

    Seems like the islanders were misled by the schemers so intent on turning the island into a turbinescape. A new underwater cable could have been set for much less money than the Feds routinely hand out to the inland windsprawl cabal. The financing schemes are Enronesque. Anyone who says they cannot hear the turbines noise is not listening.

  4. Lorraine Bunker
    Up Pequot Way
    June 19, 2013, 9:33 pm

    Who are you Ms. Parshley? I have never spoken to you and if I had I would never have allowed you to quote me as saying anything. Fun fact, what I would have said would have been entirely unprintable. And furthermore, I have lived here all my life why would I even hint at such a thing as an ‘accident’? You keep your mouth shut about things like that – it isn’t an ‘accident’ if you’ve blabbed it all over town now is it?

    And another thing, what does round and stout women and one old lady with a high pitched voice have to to with anything? You didn’t comment on Mrs. Lindgren’s stature or Mrs. Wylie’s voice. Only Mrs. Lindgren’s duck’s foot, the vet being off the island and the ducks being ‘off their feed’. I did like the part about the sunny kitchen and eating a cheese sandwich, that kind of brought it all home for me

    You know what people…it is what it is; get on with living your life either here or somewhere else. Nothing lasts forever. Someday people will say (in their old person voice) remember those wind turbines….now those were the good ‘ol days.

  5. VH Historical Society
    Vinalhaven, Maine
    June 19, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Without getting into the many mistakes in Ms. Parshley’s article we’d solely like to address the couple of paragraphs that concern us. Lorraine does not now, and has never worked at the Museum. We asked if she remembered talking to Ms. Parshley and she said no, and she would never have given permission to be quoted even if she had. If she did in fact come to the museum she would not have found ‘three round women’ working in ‘a musty back office’ either. Our office is an open space in the fount of the building – it might be dusty, but we do work with some old stuff! And we don’t appreciate being labled by a shape… lease of all ’round.’ We agree with Jim Boone that snarky comments (about us or others!) are uncalled for in such an article.

  6. Bill Heller
    June 19, 2013, 11:53 am

    Their is an overarching issue besides noise, wildlife and aesthetics. Industrial wind turbines fail miserably at their purpose. IWTs require that fossil fuel plants work in tandem with them. Many days, especially the hottest days in summer at peak demand, there is not enough wind to run them. Fossil fuel plants provide over 100% backup at those times, as IWTs require a lot power from the grid for their own systems. And FYI, they cannot use their own power ever. When the wind is moving the blades, wind speed and direction constantly vary. and conventional plants have to ramp up and down constantly, much more than without wind turbines on the grid, to keep pace with demand. And just as your car gets worse mileage in city traffic and puts out more exhaust, so do the fossil fuel plants backing up wind turbines. In that way, and in others, IWTs provide dirty energy. In fact, not one coal or gas plant the world over has been decommissioned because of IWTs…and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is their stated purpose. Also, many studies have shown that CO2 and pollutants are only slightly reduced, or even increase due to IWTs.
    http://www.forbes.com/2011/07/19/wind-energy-carbon.html http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_15081808
    http://www.clepair.net/IerlandUdo.html
    http://www.thespec.com/news/ontario/article/610422–cost-of-green-energy-40-higher-than-government-estimates
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-07-25/news/bs-ed-wind-farms-20110725_1_wind-turbine-wind-farm-wind-power
    There are also times when they pump out too much electiricty and there is no demand or market for it. The wind industry is built on crony capitalism, it is the only way it can exist. Taxpayer and ratepayer subsideis builds them and power companies are mandated to buy wind generated power at much higher rates than conventionally produced power. There is no true benefit, except to wind power companies, politicians and lobbyists.

  7. David Wylie
    United States
    June 19, 2013, 8:55 am

    Resolving Moral Conflict in Wind Turbine Siting

    We hear a lot of feedback from those who consider that our responsibility to take care of our planet trumps every other moral duty. Citing the principle of collateral damage for the greater good, they excuse irresponsible siting of wind turbines. This is a clear example of what can happen when two moral imperatives come into conflict and how that conflict is resolved. While I believe in our planetary responsibility, I also believe in the principles of “do no harm,” of the golden rule, and similar dictums that allow our civilization and society to survive in the face of otherwise self-centered behavior.

    In the case of wind energy and siting of turbines we certainly have a moral and ethical duty to do what we can to protect the future of the planet, including conservation and weaning ourselves of fossil fuel. But at the same time we also have a moral obligation to do no harm and to protect everyone who needs our assistance. Underlying both of these imperatives is the social contract that we have as members of a civilization and social system not to act on purely selfish grounds. Often, many people are so committed to planet preservation that they discard other obligations feeling that planetary responsibility trumps all. They believe, it appears, that even collateral damage is forgivable.

    In the book Moral Ground , eighty thought leaders were asked the question: “Do we have a moral obligation to take action to protect the future of a planet in peril?” Everyone said yes, but for different reasons. I believe that it is our responsibility to both future generations and to those who may currently be harmed by climatic and other environmental abuse.
    • For Sasha and Malia, said Obama.
    • For God, said the Pope.
    • For future generations, said the Dalai Lama.
    • For the wild things, said EarthFirst! cofounder Dave Foreman.
    • For the love of the land, said caps-averse feminist author bell hooks.
    • For the love of the present, said farmer and writer Wendell Berry.
    • For the sake of fairness, said ethicist Peter Singer.
    • For the sake of mindfulness, said Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
    • For children’s poetry and butterfly kisses, said novelist Barbara Kingsolver.
    • For human survival, said New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
    • For the chile peppers, said ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan.

    I believe that we must treat each other, the other creatures who share this planet with us, and this planet we call home with greater respect and compassion. The most basic moral law of “do no harm” dovetails with the “Golden Rule.” Because we can feel pain and suffering, we can imagine the pain and suffering of others, and we can act accordingly to minimize the harm we cause. “Do no harm” means to that we are required to give thoughtful consideration to our actions, to consider how our actions may affect the world we all share, to be compassionate in our dealings with all creatures, and not to thoughtlessly despoil our planet. Indeed, planetary responsibility has “do no harm” as its underlying basis.

    What happens, however, when we feel that we must hurt some people when it is necessary to avoid hurting a lot? This is the concept of collateral damage that gained traction for our generation in the era of the Vietnam war, and now is frequently used to rationalize acting for the “greater good.” In the extreme case of war, I believe that there is no moral difference between acts of terrorism and of collateral violence. They are morally equivalent. Neither are acts of war but of murder. Applied on a less extreme scale, inflicting otherwise avoidable harm to even one individual is also reprehensible.

    I have even heard the idea of “greater good” misapplied to capitalism where people say the “majority rules” at the expense of the minority. This, of course is completely contrary to the principles that Thomas Jefferson articulated and as Ayn Rand interpreted as “individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

    In the case of wind turbine siting, developers have a choice, even though it may affect the economics of a project. Economics, however, should never trump our moral obligations. By accepting responsibility and pursuing options that do no harm, developers and other promoters of wind energy may transcend moral conflict and act on an ethical higher ground.

  8. George Fleming
    Mount Vernon, Ohio
    June 19, 2013, 3:10 am

    I agree that if the author wishes to be journalist, she ought to begin by studying journalism at a reputable institution. She will learn, among other things, that snide remarks can only damage her articles. This rule does not apply to those who comment on articles.

    Still not sure about what happened to the electric bills on Vinalhaven after the wind turbines went in. If the vast majority of the residents are not complaining, it appears that cost is not a problem. May those who do complain about the turbines find a solution for their misery.

    Those who disparage renewable energy always mention the subsidies. They never mention the greatest subsidy of all, enjoyed only by the fossil fuel industry, at least in the US: the great privilege of dumping their CO2 emissions and other pollutants, some of them deadly poisons such as mercury, into the atmosphere for free. If they had to pay for this damage, and the entire cost of mining the coal and obtaining the oil, they would be out of business.

    Most people understand that storage is required to make renewable energy widely effective. Solutions are in development.

  9. Sally Wylie
    Vinalhaven
    June 18, 2013, 6:19 pm

    This article presents more fiction than fact. I deeply regret that I agreed to meet Ms.Parshley and Phillip Conkling’s son when they came calling to interview us for a “research project for college.” We never gave her permission to use any comments for anything other than that project. It is impossible to address all the errors and omissions in the article, so I will stick to some comments that have not been covered by others.

    My comments were misrepresented, misunderstood, and misconstrued. It is clear that Ms. Parshley did not do any background research and her entire article is based on hearsay, several interviews, and when she did not have the facts, she simply made something up. For example, If she had made a few phone calls she would have discovered that island electric rates have doubled, not dropped as she says. While islanders were promised sustained rates of 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour for the energy portion of their bill, we are currently paying 12.8 cents KWH! If we had no wind turbines, we would be buying power from the grid at around 7 cents KWH. This all translates to about $400 per year in extra expense for the average rate-payer. As Ms. Parshley says, “that is a lot of money.”

    After a short visit on our deck on a quiet summer evening, she seems to have pronounced herself an expert on turbine noise, which she trivializes, neglecting to point out all the related health effects. Our neighbors had to abandon their home due to the turbine noise and the resulting health effects. She seems oblivious to the fact that the Maine legislature lowered the night-time noise level for new wind projects to 42 DBA due to noise pollution and these same resulting health issues. She also skips over the essence of wind shear which has repeatedly pushed the Vinalhaven turbines above state compliance levels. And, by the way, the turbines do not make a “whoo whoo” sound…that is the sound a train whistle makes!

    She also misunderstood and misrepresented the nature of the FIWN group and our role in that. She makes the completely ridiculous comment that the Lindgrens and ourselves spent $50,000 on sound equipment. We must have much deeper pockets than we ever realized! She also has us “founding” the FIWN. As a matter of fact, it is simply a very informal and rather large group of neighbors who are bothered by the turbine noise, the kind of group that regularly coalesces when a neighborhood is threatened by such an intrusion and neighbors gather to discuss a problem. Some neighbors donated some money or time, all are trying to figure out how to deal with an extremely difficult situation.

    Finally, she suggests that there is the “thrum of lawsuits.” There is no lawsuit against the town, the electric cooperative, or Fox Islands Wind and never has been.

    This article is an embarrassment to the National Geographic and the high standards it has maintained for 125 years. I would expect better.

  10. Jim Boone
    Vianlhaven
    June 18, 2013, 5:43 am

    Art Lungren made a very good point about this poorly written article. No such person as Tom Wylie and the snarky comments about the appearance of the people at the Historical Society and in town are uncalled for and do not ad to the discussion only make people for away who write such things as stereotyping snobs and jerks. I was surprised to see such writing in a National Geographic publication.

  11. Ima Ryma
    June 18, 2013, 3:58 am

    Progress is oft a noisy thing.
    Any engine that runs makes sound.
    Planes and trains and cars all do sing
    Noise that did make lawsuits abound.
    Cuz any new noise is a cause
    For sensitive ears to hear green,
    And head for a Court without pause -
    The quite noisy lawsuit machine.
    Wind turbines now do get their turn
    At being defended per suit.
    The legal system sounds do churn,
    As lawyers haggle over loot.

    If you are irked by noisy wind,
    Some lawyer wants to be your friend.

  12. Cary Shineldecker
    Ludington, michigan
    June 17, 2013, 10:45 pm

    I certainly sympathize with the neighbors who are deeply affected. You have been sacrificed. Just a not telling the truth, part of the defense is to diminish or tarnish your credibility. Living without restful sleep takes its toll quickly. The continual headaches and non-stop rhythmic pulsing 24/7 create anxiety and stress. Those who stop by for a 15 minute tour and conclude they are not bothered and therefore you shouldn’t be bothered infuriate me. It’s like saying ” I smoked a cigarette and I don’t have cancer, so cigarettes aren’t harmful”. Really?

  13. L.I. Slander
    Maine
    June 17, 2013, 10:34 pm

    The folks in Denmark are definitely ahead of the U.S. in wind power. The following excerpt from the article at the link below evinces this well.

    “Last month, unnoticed in the UK, Denmark’s giant state-owned power company, Dong Energy, announced that it would abandon future onshore wind farms in the country. “Every time we were building onshore, the public reacts in a negative way and we had a lot of criticism from neighbours,” said a spokesman for the company. “Now we are putting all our efforts into offshore windfarms.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/7996606/An-ill-wind-blows-for-Denmarks-green-energy-revolution.html

  14. Bill Brown
    England
    June 17, 2013, 9:03 pm

    This article lobs in the remark, “47 decibels, – which is about as loud as an average conversation”.

    That is deeply misleading. I might point out that in the UK we have the Noise Act which allows you to take action against noisy neighbours, its noise threshold is normally 35dB(A).

    The World Health Organisation’s ‘Night noise guidelines for Europe’ provide ground-breaking evidence on how exposure to night noise can damage people’s health, and recommends guideline levels to protect health.

    The limit is an annual average night exposure not exceeding 40dB(A). Sleepers that are exposed to higher levels over the year can suffer mild health effects, such as sleep disturbance and insomnia. Long-term sleep disruption can trigger elevated blood pressure and heart attacks.

    Low frequency noise, which peer-reviewed Danish research shows is increasing with larger turbines is even more of a problem. It is not normally measured by wind industry acousticians.

    Many European wind industry acousticians would privately admit that the sort of noise limits we see set in the US are almost guaranteed to cause noise nuisance and consequent health problems for near neighbours.

  15. Mark potter
    Camden ME
    June 17, 2013, 8:12 pm

    Been there and was not at all what many of you describe. A few days were windy and one day was no wind at all. I would have to describe it as playing golf on a course that is a few hundred yards from I 95. You can hear it but in no way is it bothersome. … They aren’t worried about their electric bill like many other islanders who are seriously struggling given the 1970′s price for lobster. In closing, not a single true blue local person can find anything bad to say about them. About twenty or so transplants hate the things. That’s 1300 in favor of, and 20 against. Don’t take my word for it. Spend a week there and go store to store and door to door. They love them. Not tied to Mideast oil spikes. Self sufficient much of the year. And kind of cool to look at.

    Note: This comment has been edited by the moderator.

  16. Gary Steinberg
    Lincoln, Maine (near a wind turbine grid scale farce)
    June 17, 2013, 7:10 pm

    Defying the laws of thermodynamics is the theme of this article, along with the religious fervor of the climate computerized theories that defy reality.
    Dense energy sources are needed to power modernity.
    How does wind meet the criteria every electrical generating source must meet?
     Any electric utility must meet the following, well known in the industry to survive.
    Defying the laws of thermodynamics is the theme of this article, along with the religious fervor of the climate computerized theories that defy reality.
    Dense energy sources are needed to power modernity.
    How does wind meet the criteria every electrical generating source must meet?
     Any electric utility must meet the following, well known in the industry to survive.
    1.The source must provide large amounts of electrons (it must be dense)
    2.The power must be reliable and predictable.
    3.The electrons must be dispatchable (high or low amount must be generated on demand)
    4.It must serve one or more grid demand elements(base load, load following and peak load).
    5.The utilization of environment must be minimal and compactness is a must, or it is non-green and damaging the environment.
    6.It must be economical

    Grid scale wind is a socialized greenwashed costly brain damged swindle, a crony capitalists dream!
    Even Europe is backing out of the farce…they are going broke partially because of this thermodynamic farce.
    Without the Production Tax Credit, it is dead and non-competitive against the natural gas revolution in the USA.
    It is industry worthy of a rapid death.

  17. alice barnett
    Carthage, Maine
    June 17, 2013, 5:40 pm

    3/4 of a mile is approximately 4000 feet. Yet DEP accepts A wind developers map at 4000 is under 42 dba. Over and over sound maps of 1.5 MW to 3.0 MW show 4000 feet > 42 Dba..

  18. Donna Davidge
    NYC and Maine
    June 17, 2013, 5:03 pm

    it powers your apartment in NY? what a blatant statement..
    my research says electricity sky rockets if wind is even a small part of your electricity bill ( is that why my NY electricity bill has gone up even when I am not there?)..it is intermittent, requires backup and I agree has assaulted the rural world..Canada, Scotland, Australia, England and many other countries are unhappy for many reasons for the invasion of these industrial monstrosities. Google wind turbines and toxicity..then research and find out that they require oil to run..and then watch the movie windfall and google wind watch and save the eagles to learn more about the other side..these are not crazy people..these are real people- and so odd to say ” it does not bother those who go to work vs those who are looking for peace and quiet”..that just is a weird divided statement. There are groups like NAPAW, EPAW and the Maine Wind Task Force that share the other side-I agree with the statement ” I hate the wind industry’s rosy spin”- People need to know the facts and decide for themselves, not be sold a bill of goods.

  19. Art Lindgren
    Vinalhaven
    June 17, 2013, 3:34 pm

    No matter what side of the wind energy issue you’re on, this “article” isn’t going to help you understand any of it any better.

    Here’s why: This author is nuts releasing such a poorly researched, error ridden “article”. Most of what should be factual information that any journalist would want to be fairly sure about is confused with other information collected in her notes, somehow. I am really amazed how little of the information is gotten right. Of course, most people from away won’t know the difference, but if you’re from the island no matter where you stand on the turbine and noise issue, you’ll recognize that the person submitting this “article” has got most of it wrong and should probably rethink her line of work. She’s gonna be found out as a sloppy reporter sooner or later, and nobody of any import will ever print her “stuff” again.

    And poor old “Tom Wylie” (sic) must have died on the floor at the town meeting, ’cause I haven’t seen old “Tom” since that fateful meeting. In fact, I’m not really sure he was actually even there. Anybody ever see this guy since?

    And then, Ms. (what’s her name again? – this author) believes rates on the island have gone down. She hasn’t done her own research, it is obvious, and seems to have taken the word of one of the biggest liars promoting this project as fact. Once again she’s making the same error… not getting it even remotely right. I assume this author (what’s her name again?) is trying very hard to write a good article. Hence my recommendation to find something else to do to earn a living, so long as it’s not trying to get my order right at a MacDonald’s.

    I should be clear, here. Based on my name, you can see my involvement in the turbine issues and you understand which side of the issues I’m on, but that’s not my point for responding and commenting. I am just saying that if anyone feels they understand what happened when, where, or by whom, or feel they have gained a better understanding of the issues and facts from reading this “article”, they are very mistaken. And this is the “author’s” responsibility.

    If the “author” feels at all compelled to brush up on some of the facts, she can track me down. Some of the stuff I don’t know – I’m not a reporter and don’t go about collecting it all. But some of this stuff I know a lot about, and she can get some of her info updated and corrected. I can’t see how any publisher of any sort would give her a 2nd chance to get things right, though.

    But Yikes! Who allowed her to put this stuff where people can read it?

    Art

  20. Dan Morrison
    June 17, 2013, 2:29 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the error in the last paragraph. It has been corrected.

  21. Brad Blake
    Scarborough, Maine
    June 17, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Yet another article from someone who doesn’t want to truly delve into the negatives of wind power and Vinalhaven is a poster child of many of the things wrong with wind power. First, let’s set the record straight. Unless the author happens to spend extra money to buy wind power specifically (and there are programs with few subscribers for that), his NY apartment is NOT powered by wind. Rather, less than 3% of the electricity purchased and distributed by ISO-NY is from wind and it would be less except for mandates and PPAs.

    Second, on Vinalhaven, his was what we call a “drive-by listen”. Stay around a while and experience the entire array of noise levels and the low frequency sound waves emanating from huge machines that have no place in a scenic area. I personally have had angina symptoms triggered by low frequency sound waves from wind turbines and find the “roar of a low flying jet that never goes away” extremely annoying.

    Third, depending on the approach, between 6 and 10 dBA difference is a doubling of noise. When night time background noise in rural Maine is typically measured in the teens, then even the state’s limit is 2 to 3 doublings of the background noise. This creates serious sleep deprivation problems and, coupled with low frequency sound waves, can cause deleterious health. It borders on criminal that machines with these characteristics are built nearly on top of people, yet no public health entity has ever pursued proper documentation. If this were a disease with clusters of common symptoms, the public health entities would be all over it.

    Fourth, noted in the article was how public funding got cobbled together, but there was no attempt to speak to the broader issue of the feasibility of so deeply subsidizing an industry that cannot compete without them. Wind power is hugely capital intensive, and swallows up enormous amounts of land per megawatt. Even out in breezy Penobscot Bay, wind power on Vinalhaven is unpredictable, unreliable, cannot be dispatched when needed, and requires 100% back up. That’s the way it is with all wind power. It is an abysmal way to produce electricity that has far more negative issues than anything positive.

    Finally, it is in bad taste to mention the heart attack incident, and even worse taste to get the name of the victim wrong. Sorry Tom Wylie! Keep your heart strong as you and Sally fight for justice.

  22. Penny Gray
    Fort Kent, Maine
    June 17, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Wow, thank you, Bill Heller, for adding that excellent information. I’m still trying to process the fact that it’s perfectly okay to ask people who are use to quiet rural night time noise to live with the sound of a conversation taking place in their bedroom at night. Here in Maine we have poor to fair wind quality and the existing wind installations are producing far less power than originally quoted by the developers. No fossil fuel powered generators have been shut down. The wind just isn’t cooperating! So, how do we train the wind to blow continuously at 28 mph?

  23. Bill Heller
    Union Beach, NJ
    June 17, 2013, 12:58 pm

    A couple of important points:
    1) In Denmark it’s the law that wind developers must compensate homeowners for loss-in-value. So, at least you can sell and move away without taking a loss. It stops a lot of complaints. However, there are more complaints than the article implies: http://www.ens.dk/node/2021 In the US, only one develper in Illinois has ever offered a home value guarantee. Even the very pro-renewables Mother Earth News acknowledges this: http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/wind-turbines-hurt-property-value-zb0z1303zpit.aspx#axzz2RXdV2YLi
    2) The noise these turbines makes is unlike other industrial noise. There is a strong low frequency and also infrasound (below the ear’s range) component, much louder than the readily audible noise that’s detected by standard noise testing. It is this component that makes these turbines hard to live with for many. Read here for more: http://oto2.wustl.edu/cochlea/wind.html
    3) After the initial drop in rates on the island, the rates soon doubled from the amount stated in the article. This is because the price for selling renewable energy credits has plummeted, and that was a revenue stream for the wind company. And just wait until the gear boxes fail…they all do sooner or later…and that will cost close to a million dollars for each turbine to fix.
    4) Unless they love long blackouts and brownouts on that Danish isle, it is impossible for them to get all their power from wind. Wind turbines generate at the whim of the winds, and a good deal of the time they generate zero power. Each MW of wind must be backed up with a MW of conventional generation, such as a gas-fired plant. Thoes plants have to ramp up and down constantly to keep pace with the wind. In fact, Denmark has recently made further investments in coal-fired plants to provide reliable power.
    5) I’m a fairly liberal musician, not a Koch Brothers devotee. I jsut hate the wind industry’s rosy spin.