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Wind Turbine Setback Limits Debated in Maine, New York, Wisconsin

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Debate continues to swirl around wind farm development across the US, as local communities struggle to find the right balance between green energy and minimizing impacts on wind farm neighbors.  At the crux of the issue is how close to homes turbines should be built.  The wind energy continues to push for setbacks as small as 1000 feet, while local residents report significant noise impacts up to a half mile or mile.  In Wisconsin, where five wind farm proposals have been derailed since 2007 by local setback ordinances of 1800 feet to a mile, which the industry deemed too severe, a push is on in the state legislature to transfer all decision-making power to state authorities, stripping localities of regulatory authority.  In Maine, two physicians have urged the state to take note of clear health effects caused by audible noise from the Mars Hill windfarm: “We state with some confidence that ill effects are likely when homes are placed within 3,500 feet of a ridgeline arrangement of turbines…we note there is no research about effects on residents living between 3,500 feet and 1.25 miles or so from turbines. As such, we cannot state what distance ill effects might abate, if they do within that range. Sound regulations in European jurisdictions therefore effectively result in setbacks of between one to 1.5 miles, depending upon the topography.”  (Ed. note: I am not so sure that there is such a large standard minimum in Europe, though limits of less than 1km (a bit over a half mile) are rare, and 1.5-2km is not uncommon.) They call on the state to either place a moratorium on new wind farm development until such effects can be addressed, or to move quickly to adapt more precautionary European-style setback limits.  In Naples, New York, the town council heard from Cohocton Town Justice Hal Graham, who signed a lease allowing a wind turbine to be built 2000 feet from his home; a second turbine on a neighbor’s property is 1050 feet away. “We thought we were going to do something good – that these things made good, clean, green energy,” he said.  “We said from day one, we don’t want noise,” he recalled. “We were constantly assured that at 900 feet, the noise would only be like the hum of a refrigerator. We believed that.”  But instead, they now feel they made a mistake: “It’s a constant grinding, whining noise,” he now says. “You walk outside the house and it sounds like planes are in the sky all the time. You wake up at two or three in the morning, and it’s impossible to get back to sleep.” 

To read more:
Good relatively in-depth article on local resistance in Wisconsin; features cartoon by local wind turbine opponent Linda Barry.
Report from New York state
Lewiston, ME, Sun Journal guest column from local doctors

3 Responses to “Wind Turbine Setback Limits Debated in Maine, New York, Wisconsin”

  1. David The Solar Dude Says:

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  2. Wind Woman Says:

    Hal Graham signed an agreement allowing the turbines to be just over a thousand feet from his house, so I do not feel sorry for him. I have been to his home and from his back deck that looks out to the windmills, his air conditioning unit made more noise than the turbines.

  3. aeinews Says:

    I can well imagine that, when the AC is running right there. As I understand it, Hal isn’t looking for sympathy so much as sorry for the unexpected noise for his neighbors, and wanting others to know that that distance may not work for everyone.