Early results show turbines not exceeding noise limits, firm's lawyer says

DANVILLE — The preliminary indication from a sound study at the California Ridge Wind Project is that turbines are not exceeding Illinois noise limits, according to an attorney with Invenergy, the wind farm owner.

Attorney Mike Blazer told the Vermilion County board Tuesday night that data shows the two turbines that have been the focus of complaints from nearby residents are not exceeding state noise limits. The county board permits wind farms and determines setbacks, the minimum distance a turbine can be from a house and other structures.

Invenergy is doing the noise study in its 134-turbine wind farm in Champaign and Vermilion counties where some residents have complained that the turbines disturb their sleep and cause health problems. Two families, the Hartkes and Miles families, have retained an attorney to deal with Invenergy, which is focusing its noise study on the turbines nearest their residences.

The company hired Michael Hankard with Hankard Environmental, a noise and vibration consulting firm in Wisconsin, and Paul Schomer with Schomer and Associates, Inc., in Champaign to do the study. Schomer is an adjunct professor of acoustics at the University of Illinois and consults for industry and government. Blazer said Hankard and Schomer are still analyzing an enormous amount of data and will submit a final report later, but in a preliminary report Hankard gave to Blazer Tuesday, and Schomer reviewed, the data shows that the two turbines come nowhere near the noise limits for seven of nine frequencies. Blazer said they are 95 percent certain that limits are not exceeded in the other two frequencies as well.

County board Member Kevin Green said that although the turbines are not exceeding state noise limits, it doesn't mean the sound waves aren't affecting people. Blazer said he agreed with Green. He said his task is first to determine if his client is violating state noise limits, and second, determine what can be done about the noise complaints. Blazer said the situation may be resolved through litigation.

In a written statement after the board meeting, Ted Hartke said his family's health issues continue every day the turbines are in operation, and they are now abandoning their house.

"We are waiting for the opportunity for our experts to review the data used in this study," he said in the statement.

The complaints at California Ridge are not unique. Similar complaints are occurring at wind farms throughout the United States and the world.

Schomer has 35 years of experience measuring noise in other industries, like mining and airports, and assessing its effects on people and communities. He said the wind farm issue is a puzzling one that needs unbiased research.

"There's a lot of polarization (on this issue). It's difficult to operate in a polarized environment and conduct research but that's what's needed," Schomer said. He said he believes he is unbiased, and he has been trying to form a collaboration among key players like wind farm developers, manufacturers, citizen groups, government agencies and the medical community, to pursue unbiased research.

Schomer said many wind farms go in without any problem, and the vast majority of people live by them without any problems. 

"But it seems to be a small minority that are seriously affected," he said.

Schomer said the issue has become a very polarizing one. He said community members will pick up anything they find on the Internet and say it proves certain things, and the wind farms get epidemiologists and say there's nothing to this.

"And the truth, of course, is in between these two positions," he said. "But each side, once they get polarized, each side believes what they are doing is correct and the other side is wrong. The only way we are going to get out of this is through research that everyone participates in and buys into, and you've got to have everybody with a material interest included. I think with research we could figure out what is going on and what to do about it, but without anybody working on answers ... well, it's not healthy."

Lightning blamed for broken blades

DANVILLE - An attorney with California Ridge wind farm owner Invenergy told the Vermilion County board Tuesday night that lightning was responsible for two blades breaking off a turbine last month.

General Electric, the turbine manufacturer, had already attributed the failure of the turbine the night of Nov. 20 to severe weather, but Invenergy Attorney Mike Blazer said that GE has now determined that the unit was struck by lightning several times.

Blazer said the 10-ton blades that broke away from the turbine were not in danger of injuring anyone. He said the large chunks fell at the base of the turbine as they are designed to do, and smaller chunks of fiberglass fell farther from the unit. The farthest piece from the unit was 300 feet away, and the closest residence to the unit is 1,663 feet.

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