The three wind turbines on Vinalhaven are currently in the process of being retrofitted with noise-reducing serrations on each blade in an effort to mitigate the impact of the sound created by the turbines on nearby neighbors. This is the third time such technology has been used in the United States and the first on turbines of this size. General Electric is performing the work on the turbines for free and residents are hoping that the work will help to relieve the noise—and tension—in the community.

The work on the turbines began in late July and, as of late August, two of the three turbines had been retrofitted with blade serrations. It is expected that work on the third turbine should be complete in early September.

In regards to the anticipated impact on the noise levels, Jay Piercy, a representative of General Electric says, “It’s hard to nail the difference down to exactly what we think it will be, but we suspect that it’s going to be two to three decibels.”

It will be difficult to quantify the impact until GE sound technicians arrive to measure the changes this coming fall, but according to Chip Farrington, general manager of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, people are already noticing a difference. “People have told me that they’ve gone up and compared the turbine with the serrated blades to the sound produced by the turbine with un-treated blades and there was a distinct difference in sound levels,” said Farrington.

This newest effort to reduce the noise produced by the turbines comes at a time when tensions are particularly high due to an appeal by neighbors of the wind farm to the Public Utilities Commission and a pending lawsuit relating to the community wind project.

In May, a group of neighbors filed a complaint with the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) objecting to an April Co-op news letter which included, a 1¢/kWh increase in rates due to unexpected costs associated with regulatory issues over the past 18 months. According to the complaint, the statements caused the complainants to suffer retribution, harassment and hostility by residents of Vinalhaven not affected by the noise.

They also alleged that the increase in rates caused by the unexpected $365,000 in expenses was unreasonable. Complainants state that if Fox Island Electric Co-op had cooperated with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in addressing their valid noise concerns, such costs would not have been incurred.

In August, the staff of the PUC recommended to the commissioners that both complaints were without merit and should be dismissed.

The decision occurred in conjunction with another complaint by the Fox Islands Wind Neighbors to the Kennebec County Superior Court on July 28 challenging the validity of a permit issued to Fox Islands Wind LLC by the DEP. The issuing of the final permit signals the agency’s resolution of a sound complaint filed in August 2010. According to the petition, “It is alleged that the order was politically motivated and issued over the strong objections of the Division of Land Resources of the DEP.”

Fox Islands Wind has filed a motion for dismissal of the case. The state has joined in that motion for dismissal.

Gillian Garratt-Reed is The Working Waterfront editor.