DEP Questions Fox Island Wind’s Noise Study
Fox Islands Wind used an unusual and possibly misleading method to calculate what area should be designated a “quiet zone” around its wind turbines, a state environmental official confirmed.
Jim Cassida, director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s land resource regulation division, said when Fox Islands Wind collected its data it excluded periods when winds were below 3 mph. This skews the results by “taking out the quietest time,” he said.
The result could be allowing a higher noise level at Vinalhaven, Cassida said.
All other Maine wind power projects have used 24-hour measurements, with no excluded periods, he said. As a result of Fox Islands’ deviation from the norm, the DEP has ordered that one of the three turbines be run at reduced power.
“We didn’t like the way they [Fox Island] modeled the sound for the project,” Cassida said.
New data will be collected, according to Cassida. Meanwhile, the permit to operate the turbines requires that one of them be run at lower speed to compensate for a noise level reading of 46 decibels, one decibel higher than is allowed under state regulations.
Fox Islands Wind, the for-profit arm of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, filed an appeal of the DEP’s decision to require reduced-power operation, and also sought an amendment to its permit allowing full power generation. Cassida said the Attorney General’s office concluded Fox Islands couldn’t appeal the DEP permit and seek to amend it at the same time.
George Baker, the head of Fox Islands Wind, acknowledged the turbines are operating at reduced power: “In order to be in compliance with state sound regulations, we are operating Turbine 2 in ‘noise reduced operations’ between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day. The project sustains a small reduction in power output as a result of this curtailment regime.”
Baker defended the method of measuring noise “during the hours that the facility will be operating,” arguing that Fox Islands Wind “should measure the ambient sound level during times when the wind was blowing, not when it was still.” He said that was a more accurate yardstick. He also said “wind in the trees is a significant source of ambient sound in a place like Vinalhaven.”
Fox Islands board member Addison Ames Jr., a Vinalhaven fisherman, said for now the appeal to the DEP is on hold. “We’re trying to determine if the science was wrong. Hopefully, we’ll answer that question,” he said.
Ames said he couldn’t deny the turbines make noise if you’re close enough to them. “The consensus around here is, it’s like a jet in the air, in the distance — I can’t see it but I can hear it — it’s a jet that never lands.”
“I’m calling this a $15 million experiment,” Ames said. “Can man and this machine get along together?”