Study finds wind turbines in violation of sound ordinance

February 19, 2014

wind turbineBy Lisa Enos. MCP Correspondent.

SCOTTVILLE — The Lake Winds Energy Park post construction sound survey report is in and it’s not music to anyone’s ears. Some residents are calling for an immediate shut down of the turbines in question. Others want answers.

The findings show that at least some, if not all, of the wind turbines produce sound which exceeds the maximum level allowed under the Mason County noise ordinance. Sound was recorded at five test sites located on non-pooled/non-participating property owners’ land. The data was collected and analyzed by an independent party, HGC, chosen by the zoning board and paid for by Consumer’s Energy as per the guidelines set forth prior to construction of the turbines. Four of the sites tested were found to be in non-compliance with the 45-decibel limit as per the zoning guidelines. The fifth site was not properly monitored and the data from that site was not taken into consideration in HGC’s report.

Jim Dittmer, a fourth generation Riverton Township resident represented his friends and neighbors at a Mason County Planning Commission meeting in Scottville Tuesday night when he spoke up during the public comment portion at the onset of the meeting. The small meeting room was filled with those who gathered to voice their concerns. Dittmer has been part of the advocacy group for the turbines since the beginning.

“I have (several turbines) in view from my property, within 1,300 feet, and they are running and they don’t bother my family or my peer group,” Dittmer said. “What I can tell living in the area that I do, it is apparent that those who are complaining are in the minority.”

While that may be true, the majority of the people who spoke out during the public comment portion of the meeting were not in favor of the industrial wind farm located near their properties.

“It’s like a fog horn going off every 15 seconds,” said one unhappy Riverton resident. Another described the sound as a “wong” and another also used the word, “wonging” when describing the sound of the blades rotating. There were also reports of the sensation of strong vibrations and concerns about shadow flicker distracting motorists. Some who spoke have been opposed to the project since the beginning. Evelyn Bergaila of Riverton recalled a 2003 zoning meeting during which she was assured that the if the turbines didn’t comply with noise regulations they would be shut off. There are three turbines near her property located 950, 1100, and 1200 feet away and those weren’t even included in the sound study, which means there’s no plan whatsoever to mitigate the sound coming from those turbines or any that were not included in the sound study.

“It isn’t possible to test all the sites,” said Mary Reilly, Mason County Zoning and Building Director.

The World Health Organization recommends placement of turbines in relation to dwellings so that noise never goes above the 30- to 40-decibel level, ergo, in most cases this would suggest a physical setback in the range of 2 km (6561.68 feet). Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturer recommends a distance of one and a half times the height of the turbines, which are 476 feet tall. Many of the people now complaining about the noise own land within the area that would have to be cordoned off in case of a large-scale accident involving the turbines. None of them were a party to the agreement with Consumer’s Energy (i.e. they are not receiving significant compensation). For others, with yearly payments rumored in the range of $15,000 or more the Lake Winds Energy Park was a god-send. Revenue from the industrial wind turbines on their land couldn’t have come at a better time. Allegations of a breach in protocol pertaining to the collection of sound data in the study has some doubting the results of the study.

“The county’s consultant did not follow the protocol to exclude background noise,” Dittmer said. “The consultant first reported that Consumer’s (Energy) was not out of compliance. Then they said they were, which led to the mitigation plan.”

According to Lake Winds Energy Farm adversary Cary Shineldecker of Riverton, who resides on Kistler Road under a towering turbine on his neighbor’s land, the mitigation plan submitted by Consumer’s Energy doesn’t detail how the turbines will be modified in order to comply with noise ordinances. Representatives from the company stated at the meeting Tuesday that the angle or “pitch” of the blades could be adjusted to decrease the level of noise when the wind reaches a speed of 7 meters per second. They indicated that turning the turbines off due to noise complaints can’t be done in a short amount of time. It takes 48 hours, they said (though some questioned why the turbines can be shut off immediately when ice build up becomes a concern). Turning off the turbines will be necessary in order to conduct another sound study. The logistics of doing so may cause a delay of several weeks at which time the atmospheric and weather conditions that cause the excessive noise are likely to have changed.

Summit Township resident Colleen Plummer closed the meeting with a comment about how she and her husband built a porch on their home which was found to be non-compliant with the zoning laws, and they were forced to tear it down, and noted that Consumer’s Energy has been proven non-compliant with the noise ordinance, yet they are allowed to keep operating.

There will be another meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Scottville branch of the Mason County District Library to discuss another sound study and to hear more about how Consumer’s Energy representatives propose to fix the turbines to comply with the noise ordinance. In the mean-time, the turbines will operate without interruption.

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