On the issues that matter in Malone NY (USA)

—Wendy Todd, Maine

The following was written June 6, 2008 to the residents of the Town of Freedom, Maine, by a lady named Wendy Todd.  Wendy and her family live in the shadow of a windfarm in Mars Hill, Maine.   The letter was published in a Maine publication called Village Soup, and can be read online by clicking here.  It is reprinted with appreciation to Mrs. Tood and Village Soup—Editor.

 Wendy Todd, Mars Hill, Maine
Wendy & Perrin Todd, Mars Hill, Maine (Photo ©Boston Globe)

Dearest Freedom,

I am writing with your town on my heart. You have been through a year of turmoil and grief that I wish you could somehow have avoided.

I understand the desire of some to want the wind turbine project to move forward. You believe it will bring prosperity to parts of the community and that it will help somehow with the problems the world is facing with global warming and the energy crisis.

What I want more than anything is for you to understand what the project will truly bring to the community. I am not judging whether it is right or wrong for Freedom, but there are answers that you need before you move forward. The residents who live the closest to the proposed site have legitimate concerns.

Many in our town opposed the project in Mars Hill, but time and time again the arguments were dismissed. The developer had answers for most of the questions of concern, but other questions were avoided with the suggestion that they would be researched and answered later.

The majority of the town believed the developer and the idea that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection permitting process would protect the people and the environment. We were wrong.

My husband and I were basically “for” the project. We were cautious, but we felt we had done our homework. The developer and town manager said there wouldn’t be any health concerns or noise related to the project.

We visited a site in Prince Edward Island and were surprised at how little noise was being produced by the huge machines. The project would bring a new tax base to the town and help strengthen our local economy.

Friends, family and neighbours would be benefiting directly from rental agreements with the developer. Local businesses would be benefiting from the huge influx of workers through the construction phase.

The promise of hundreds of local construction jobs brought hope to many. The promise of carbon reduction and green energy made many feel they would be foolish not to support such a wonderful project. We were told the hardest thing to get over would be the visual impact.

There were many things that we didn’t understand. There are many things that we have learned. Please, learn from our mistakes and make a decision that everyone in your town can live with.

Construction started with the clearing of the ridgeline. About 150 acres of trees were clear-cut from the mountain. Some roads already existed to support the communication towers already in place on the ridgeline.

Those roads were added to and upgraded to accept the size of the equipment that is needed to raise the turbines. Each turbine site has to be level and have enough room (about two acres per site) for the upright tower and the three blades to be laid out on the ground before being lifted into place by the biggest crane many in Maine have ever witnessed.

Blasting had to be done to create some of the turbine sites and to reach needed depths to anchor the 389-foot tall turbines. The blasting scarred the mountain badly and shook many homes. Residents were not warned of the blasting, and for those of us who lived nearby it became a little like a war zone.

Dishes rattled, pictures fell over or swayed on the walls, sheet rock dust fell from the ceilings. Our new home has multiple cracks in the foundation and numerous screw pops and cracks in the sheet rock.

The equipment and turbine components arrived on trucks with the longest truck beds many here have ever seen. Most of these trucks come by way of police escort. Some roads had to be upgraded, straightened or extended to accommodate the turning of these huge trucks.

Disruption to residents nearest the project was great, but even people in town were frustrated by the traffic delays. Once construction of the turbines started, so did the public interest in the project.  People came from miles around to drive around the mountain to look at the progress. Many continue to stop in the roadways to look or take pictures.

Residents who grew up here are used to four or five vehicles a day going by; during construction it seemed like a constant stream of traffic, and even now the weekends and pleasant days through the summer bring many curious motorists. The roads did take quite a beating but were resurfaced last fall.

The blasting and construction phase drove most wildlife from the mountain. It was frightening to those of us who live around the mountain who are used to living with wildlife near our homes.

Because it was never talked about, we had no idea what to expect. The summer and fall during construction were the strangest my family (I am third-generation Boyd on this land) has ever seen.

Walks on the mountain on the weekends were silent—no birds, no chipmunks, no squirrels, none of the chatter that a walk in the woods would normally bring. The deer, moose, bear, coyotes, fox, porcupines, skunk, birds, etc., all disappeared. Most are recovering now that the project is up and running. We haven’t seen or heard coyotes or owls return, but are hopeful of a full recovery.

In early December 2006, the first turbine was turned on for the testing phase. Immediately noise was an issue. We called the project manager but he did not return our call.

A week later, a noise expert knocked on the door of my parents’ farm and related he was sent by the developer to take readings of noise levels from the site.

He asked me how I felt about the project. I told him that I was concerned about the noise, because we were told in town meetings that there wouldn’t be any. He asked who told me that. I told him the developer and town manager. He asked if I had read his report.

I told him that I didn’t know that there was a report. He said that he had done a study that showed there would be noise from the turbines.

The next day my husband and I started researching the permit and found exactly that. Under the heading of “Major Noise Impacts” in the permit, there was a report that showed how the turbines would affect the surrounding lands with noise. We were in shock. We felt violated. We couldn’t understand how the people of Mars Hill could have been so misled at formal town informational meetings.

We continued to dig for information on the turbines and the permitting process. To our shock and dismay, we found others who were dealing with the same things that we were.

Our neighbours starting sharing their stories, and we formed a group to help keep each other updated on new information. The best way that I can describe this process is that it is like being diagnosed with a rare disease that few professionals know little about.

You struggle to find the information that may help you. You look for others who have the same symptoms in a hope that they have found some answers to the disruption in everyday life. You hope the experts will hurry and find a cure before you lose everything near and dear to you. You wonder how you can help to keep it from happening to anyone else.

Most people do not understand the noise issue. Many drive by on a sunny afternoon, stop their car and listen for the horrible sounds that must be coming from the turbines. The gentle swooshing of the blades at the site disappoints them, and then they turn and go home.

How nice it must be to go home and have what you have always had at your home. Our homes are forever changed because of the wind project. Not only has Mars Hill’s beautiful landmark been torn apart, but the noise and visual pollution from turbines make life within a half-mile to the north and east of the mountain very different and difficult for landowners.

People in the Town of Mars Hill, which lies one to two miles from the mountain, can begin to ignore the turbines. For those of us who live the closest, the turbines demand our attention everyday.

We are a winter resource for wind, meaning the highest and most consistent winds blow in the winter months. We are a wind resource 3, which is on the low side of what most developers want with technology as it is right now.

Most of the time the wind blows from the west to the east over the ridgeline that runs north to south. Landowners to the north and east of the ridgeline are considered downwind of the project. Being downwind means the noise from the turbines will be headed in your direction most of the time.

Most residents who live on East Ridge Road to the north of the project are 2,500 feet or less from the turbines. Most residents who live on Mountain Road to the east of the project are 3,200 feet or less from the site. There are only two homes that exist beyond that on either road. Both are about a mile from the project.

All property owners 3,200 feet or less from the site have heard the turbines inside their homes. Those who are closest have been woken up by them and have noise levels inside their homes that make concentrating on anything quite difficult.

Why, you ask? It is the low frequency nature of the noise that penetrates lightweight buildings, unlike other noises that many of us are used to hearing.

The other issue, which is maybe the greatest for many of us, is the repetitive, pulsating nature of the noise being emitted. People describe it as a giant heartbeat, sneakers in a dryer, a ship’s propeller underwater, the chug-chug of a freight train, etc. It can be heard and at times it can be felt. It is a bit like rap music. If you have ever pulled up beside a car with teens playing rap, you probably know what I mean when I say that you can feel the bass beat of the music in your chest, head and feet.

Turbine noise at its worst can be a lot like that. There are times that nothing helps.

You can hear the turbines over the TV, computer games, washing machine and three kids. We go to bed each night with a fan at our head and the windows draped. This noise may be present for a couple of hours or for days on end. The longer a person is subject to the burdensome noise levels, the more symptoms they exhibit.

Sleep deprivation, loss of concentration, anger, frustration, rage, ringing in the ears and headaches all result from turbine noise. Those who suffer from migraines have more and suffer longer because of the pulsating of the turbines.

All of these things lead to high levels of stress, which has translated into sleep aids, anxiety and depression medication for some residents.

One resident has developed a skin condition that her doctor attributes to the stress and frustration over the noise and shadowing of the turbines. One couple has decided not to build their dream home. Three other couples that had dreams of building, on either family land or land that they purchased, don’t know what to do. One family has split—the wife not wanting to go on living beside the turbines while the husband wants to fight for the right to stay on the land where he hoped to live out the remainder of his days.

Many of us toy with the idea of moving but can’t believe that our hopes and dreams of living in such a beautiful place could be destroyed by something as “benign” as an eco-friendly, CO2-reducing, tax-base-increasing, world-saving wind turbine (all of which we believed and now know to be greatly misleading).

Just so you have a few numbers at your disposal—our quiet before the turbines has been found to be between 25 and 30 decibels depending on weather conditions and season.

Ambient levels can be considerably higher depending on weather, season, traffic, insects, etc., but when the winds are calm our quiet was “deafening.” The mountain acts as a natural fence from winds for us when the winds are blowing west to east. Often the winds are high on the mountain and are little to nonexistent at our homes.

Beginning at around 42 decibels of outside turbine noise, the sound penetrates our home and can be heard inside. We have taken readings as high as 56 decibels of nearly pure turbine noise outside, which relates to around 51-52 decibels of noise inside my house with the windows open, or 45-46 decibels of turbine noise with the windows closed.

What does that sound like? A few examples: The turbine developer described 45 decibels as the sound of songbirds, and 50 decibels as a quiet conversation. When I stand on my front porch, a squirrel in the tree about 30 feet from the house chattering at the cat registers 45-46 decibels.

Today is overcast with a gentle mist in the air, and across the road they are planting potatoes. A John Deere is pulling a disc to prepare the ground, and a huge New Holland is pulling a four-row planter. The road is about 550 feet from the porch, and the field is 15 or 20 feet on the other side of the road.

The two tractors working the field yield 51-53 decibels of equipment noise when they are at the ends of the field farthest from me, and yield 58-63 decibels as they pass each other in the center of the field that is directly across from where I am standing on my porch.

The smaller tractor with the disc puts out 51-53 decibels when it goes by alone, the bigger tractor when it goes by alone puts out 57-61 decibels when it goes by. When I go inside and close the door, the noise from the tractors all but disappears.

It’s not like that with turbine noise. Turbine noise penetrates everything. Last winter I stood at the IGA on Main Street in Mars Hill very early in the morning. There were three tractor-trailer trucks idling at the truck stop. Two of the three had refrigerated trailers. The noise from these units was right around 56 decibels. How would you feel about having three tractor-trailer trucks idling in your yard any time of the day or night? How would you feel about having songbirds or two people carrying on a conversation in your bedroom at 2 a.m.?

The next time you are listening to birds outside, think for a minute—what kind and size of birds are they, how far away are they, how many are there, are they happy or territorial—think of all the things that affect what you hear when you hear a bird’s song.

Turbine noise can range from barely audible to a gentle whooshing, to a high range jet overhead, to a number of jets overhead, to a wailing thumping beast that you can’t escape.

What everyone needs to understand is there are many things that affect turbine noise, and a couple of visits to a turbine facility are not going to give you a good idea of what to expect. We made the same mistake. We should have spoken to people who live beside the project, not the people who run the project. It is a horrible thing to lose the peace and quiet of the land that was ours for generations but it is completely unacceptable to lose the peace and tranquility of our home.

The size of the turbines (GE 1.5 megawatt, 389 feet tall) is definitely something to attempt to get used to, but what the pictures don’t show is when the wind blows they are in perpetual motion, twirling and whirling.

Shadowing of the land and homes occurs in the morning and evening when the suns rays cast shadows from the moving blades onto the surrounding grounds up to a mile or better away.

That movement, as well as the shadowing, has been the subject of some medical studies that are trying to prove the motion puts children and adults who suffer from seizures at risk. Autism and epilepsy are near the top of the list.

For those of us who do not suffer from those disorders, the loss of visual peace has been hard to accept. I hang curtains “just so” in the windows to block the site of the turbines but still be able to see some of my backyard. If you don’t, the only thing you can see are the turbines. Your eyes are drawn to the movement of the blades and all else, no matter how beautiful, can’t compete.

We fear our properties are no longer worth what they were. If we don’t want to continue living here and it was the dream of a lifetime for many of us, who will be willing to buy our homes for what they were worth before the turbines?

Disclosure laws dictate we have to tell the truth to a potential buyer or we are held accountable. How many people would buy your house if you had almost 400-foot-tall, spinning noisemakers in your backyard that disrupted sleep patterns and could potentially cause headaches and a number of other disruptions to normal daily patterns and routines?

There is no firm documentation on the effects of a turbine project on land values that we can find. The only black-and-white document that we have found is one that shows a lawsuit that was filed by a new property owner claiming the seller did not disclose the potential risks of the wind farm. The seller had to pay the new owner 20 percent of the purchase price.

Developers say it doesn’t affect property values—some even say it increases property values. You need to reason that one out for yourself.

The political side to wind turbines for me is better left untouched. The government subsidies, green credits and whatever else make it lucrative to the developer I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around.

So do some research and decide for yourself. Carbon reductions are minimal for the Mars Hill site because they are not offsetting a carbon-producing plant. A friend who works at Maine Public Service stated the wood-burning plants in Fort Fairfield and Ashland continue to operate the same as they always have. So do the plants from Canada that we call on when we need more power than the two wood-burning plants can provide.

The Mars Hill facility will sell green credits to carbon-producing plants elsewhere, but that doesn’t reduce carbon emissions, it just offsets them. The numbers they give are numbers only until they are backed with proof that they have shut down or mothballed a carbon-producing plant. That information will be different for each wind facility depending on its proximity to a carbon-producing plant and how much it can offset the operation of that plant.

When the wind doesn’t blow, there has to be something to back it up and take over production of electricity until the wind picks back up again. Here in Mars Hill days go by when the turbines don’t turn at all for lack of wind. Thank goodness the old supply is still the reliable supply.

Understand that wind turbines are only between 17 and 40 percent efficient, depending on the wind resource. The GE 1.5 megawatt turbines that are here need to be spinning between 16 and 18 revolutions per minute before the turbine kicks on and produces electricity that can be sent into the grid. That means that when you drive by and the turbines are rotating at a quiet, almost serene, 10 to 12 rotations per minute, they are not producing power. That information comes directly from one of the chief engineers for GE who visits here and has been more helpful than the developer or the town.

As for all those construction jobs, most went to construction companies in the southern part of the state because they were the only crews large enough, with the proper equipment and training to complete this huge job.

Some local crews were used for building the maintenance/office structure, landscaping, security and plowing of roads in the winter. Local businesses were used and did benefit from the construction phase. (Cement, cement forms, electrical, construction materials, local restaurants, local hotels, etc.)

Town officials and others rented property, worked for, leased land to and profited from the developer. Many in town felt that town officials should not have profited as they did from the development because of their involvement with the approval phase. Many relationships have been hurt and severed in this community over the turbines.

There was never a vote or poll taken to get a firm understanding about how the people of Mars Hill felt about the project. The planning board and the town council, who believed everything the developer told them, decided to go ahead with the project.

They never bothered to read the permit to see if there were any discrepancies nor did they do any thorough research on their own to determine the truth.

The $500,000 TIF agreement sounds great, but because of the increase in tax base, our local schools will lose about $249,000 in school funding from the state. That will need to be made up by the town. The reduction in mill rate for the town from 24 to 20 mills is expected to be lost within the next couple of years, partly because of the school funding issues.

Mistakes were made. The town manager attests to that, but most of the problems are left for those of us who live the closest. We have asked for help from the developer, the town and the Maine DEP [Dept. of Environmental Protection], but none has come. We have been asked to be patient while the developer and the DEP figure out through testing what the noise levels are and what they can do about them, if anything.

We are saddened there seems to be no one who is willing to help the people of Mars Hill who are being so negatively impacted by this project. We are saddened the state isn’t doing more to protect future projects from the same fate as ours.

We hope other communities will listen to our warnings and develop ordinances and laws to protect themselves from the truth about wind turbines. Proper setbacks remove most of the negative impacts, but setbacks need to be measured in a mile or better to be successful in the areas of noise and shadowing. Disruption to TV, cell phones and Internet services were experienced in Mars Hill because of the project.

The risk of turbine collapse, blade throw, ice throw and fire can be reduced with proper setbacks. Manufacturers normally recommend one to two times the height of the turbine. In my opinion that is nowhere near far enough if you watch the video of the turbine that basically blew up and collapsed in Denmark.

The developers would like for you to believe those things don’t happen, but they do. A man was killed last year in Oregon while he and two others were working on a new turbine when it collapsed. Developers do not always follow recommendations of the manufacturer. In Mars Hill, Turbine No. 1 sits so close to East Ridge Road that a turbine collapse could be catastrophic.

If you think the developer and the permitting process will protect public health and safety, property values or how you live in your home, you will be greatly disappointed. You need to understand the reality of turbines and develop local laws and/or ordinances that will protect the citizens of your community.

Yes, people should have the right to do what they want on their property but it should not do harm or rob their neighbour of the right to enjoy their property.

People who understand the risks and choose to accept them should have the right to sign an easement, but no one should be forced to live with an industrial wind turbine site in their back yard. They can be dangerous and are torturous to those who live as close as some of the people do in Mars Hill.

If you have questions, please visit or talk to one of the families that live close to the project in Mars Hill. They are the ones living it day to day and will be truthful about the reality of industrial wind turbine sites and the effects on the surrounding lands. If you want help with contact information for the other families you can reach me at [email protected].

Please, use caution as you decide what is best for your town. Remember to treat each other with respect. Each side is fighting for what they believe is their right. I know if the Town of Mars Hill had understood everything about the project that it would be different than it is today. What if it was your property and your home that were going to be affected? Most people don’t think about it until it happens to them. I know I didn’t.