Wind turbine will go up, school board says after noise concerns

Posted Dec. 07, 2011, at 10:03 p.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — After a high-tension meeting, the school board decided that high school students will be allowed to erect a wind turbine on campus next week. The board already had approved the project, but as the groundbreaking neared, a board member raised concerns about noise.

Apparently Jim McKenna was alone in his concerns. After about an hour of presentations, deliberation among school board members and public comment, the Five Town Community School District board overwhelmingly voted to allow the project to continue without interruption.

McKenna had wanted to stall the project until an acoustic engineering study could be conducted on site.

McKenna was particularly disturbed after talking to a man who lived on Vinalhaven, where there are three industrial wind turbines. The man told McKenna the turbines make noises like a jet plane, a concrete mixer and then various “whop whop whop” and “thrum thrum thrum” noises that local homeowners find unbearable.

“Mr. McKenna, you are talking about large-scale wind. You are comparing apples to oranges,” said Margo Murphy, a science teacher at the high school and the adviser to the Windplanners, a student group that has worked to get a wind turbine on campus to generate energy for the school.

“Unfortunately that’s not correct,” McKenna rebutted. “It’s apparent to me that after eight years of wind planning, I’m the first one to talk to an acoustical engineer.”

According to a student presentation given Wednesday night, the turbine will make no more noise than a dishwasher. Local homeowners should not hear it. This is partly because the Northwind 100 tower does not have a gear box like many larger turbines.

A few board members, students and community members were upset that the issue popped up so close to the groundbreaking date. The students won a $50,000 federal grant that requires them to finish the work quickly or lose the funding.

“You say if something goes wrong, it will be failure,” said Windplanner Mary Caitlin Parks, 17, of Rockport. “But if we don’t go through with this we will have to give money to our donors and can’t accept a federal grant and a project we worked on for eight years won’t go through.”

Cynthia Hunter of Rockport agreed.

“Why are you bringing this up a week before they break ground?” she asked. “The community needs to stand behind these students. What kind of message do you want to send?”

McKenna argued that if the school doesn’t take every precaution before the turbine goes up, it might get complaints and have to take it down.

“We all agree that no one wants to see this shut down. It takes proper planning,” McKenna said, arguing for an acoustic study. “If this one step avoids taking the wind generator down, we should do it.”

In the end, the Windplanners left the school board meeting and gave each other high-fives and handshakes in a nearby atrium.

“Significant,” Murphy told the elated group. “We need to prepare for groundbreaking. We will celebrate soon.”

The Windplanners still plan to break ground and erect the 155-foot-tall turbine near the sports fields outside Camden Hills Regional High School next week. The turbine will act as a learning tool for the school’s math and science programs. It also will fulfill about 10 percent of the school’s energy needs, according to the Windplanners’ research. The $510,000 project was funded by donations.

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