Vermont cabin becomes lab to study wind turbine noise
SHEFFIELD, VT. >> Once it was just another cabin on a Vermont hillside. Now it’s an emblem in the debate over noise from the growing wind energy industry.
Studies have repeatedly found no evidence connecting noise from wind power turbines to human health problems. But critics question the soundness of those studies. Among them are Steve and Luann Therrien, who say a wind farm near their home made their lives hell.
The case has created a fissure among environmentalists in this liberal state with a reputation for green thinking, pitting those who see wind energy as key to reducing reliance on pollution-spewing fossil fuels against those convinced audible noises and inaudible “infrasound” present health threats to those living nearby. And each side questions the objectivity of the other’s research.
The Therriens’ old cabin is up 5 miles of dirt road from town, but is just a quartermile from a rural stretch of Interstate 91. The highway noise largely didn’t bother them.
But after the 16 turbine towers of the Sheffield Wind Project went up on a nearby ridgeline in 2011 — the closest about three-quarters of a mile away and five within a mile — things changed, the Therriens say.
Deep in the night, when things were quiet on the highway, a low hum came from the opposite direction, punctuated occasionally by louder noises, the Therriens say. Soon, they say, they and their two small children were plagued by sleeplessness, nausea and other problems.
“The vertigo was pretty much all the time, but if we had a lot of noise, the dry heaves would be more often,” Luann Therrien said.
Steve Therrien gave up his job as a trash truck driver — too sleepy to drive, he said. They abandoned their home in 2014 and have been unable to sell it.
A group opposed to largescale wind projects, Energize Vermont, is planning to set up sound monitoring equipment at the Therriens’ former home to try to document their concerns with data.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature have promoted renewable energy. Three big wind power projects — all of which have drawn complaints similar to the Therriens’ — have been built on Vermont mountaintops during Shumlin’s six years in office, with five more in planning or construction. The state is pursuing a goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Luann Therrien said the couple has not sued turbine owners because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer and have not found one willing to take the case for free.
But another person living near the Sheffield Project, Paul Brouha, has sued, saying the noise is “out of character with the surrounding area, is excessively loud and continues unabated for long periods of time both day and night.”
Brouha declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit. Lawyers for the turbines’ owners have denied his claims in court filings.